Mother of Pearl Meaning, Facts, & Cleaning Tips

Updated April 1, 2021
Mother of pearl

Mesmerizing and iridescent, mother of pearl is one of the most ethereal materials ever to be birthed from mother nature's maw, perhaps inspiring you to wonder about the various mother of pearl meanings a time or two. Formed inside the shells of mollusks, this nacre has been harvested and set into various pieces of jewelry for hundreds of years. Yet, its beauty belies a unique symbolic history that can gift wearers with balance; so, take a deeper look at this milky material and its natural properties.

How Mother of Pearl Is Made

Mother of pearl is actually created by a secretion from certain types of mollusks which is released to protect the lining of their shells from bacteria, parasites, and a host of other debris. This mixed compound of calcium carbonate crystals, silk proteins, and other organic materials are layered like brick work over the inner lining of the shells, resulting in the waves that can be seen on freshly harvested mollusks. The rainbow iridescence of the nacre comes from the way that each successive layer of the secretion thickens based on the amount of visible light available. This varying thickness of nacre layers causes light to bounce off the material from different depths, causing the visible layers to appear as different colors.

Pearls shell, riches, mother of pearl

Pearls vs. Mother of Pearl

Although pearls and mother of pearl come from the same location - within the mollusk's shell - they are formed in different ways. Similarly, mother of pearl is formed on the inside of all of the shells of the mollusks that release the necessary secretion, while pearls are a rare occurrence, particularly in the wild, which only form in some of these shells.

Pearl inside oyster

Mother of Pearl's Endless Colors

A major part of mother of pearl's appeal is its rainbow of light that reflects off of the nacre; here are some of the common color combinations that appear in mother of pearl:

  • Mat - Mild silvery gray tone, lacking lustre
  • Stone - Nearly white, and mildly reflective
  • Chip - Multi-colored variety
  • White - Very iridescent and the most widely used for jewelry
  • Iridescent - Largely a glossy mix of pink and green
Ormer shell

Mysticism Surrounding Mother of Pearl

Ancient cultures attributed different meanings and spiritual purposes to the materials from their natural world, and according to the tenets of feng shui, mother of pearl symbolizes good luck and prosperity. Wearing jewelry made with mother of pearl will attract wealth to the person wearing it. Due to this, nacre accessories have been gifted to people as tokens of good luck.

Mother of pearl

Balancing Properties of Mother of Pearl

Supposedly, mother of pearl has a profound calming quality that many wearers benefit from. In a way, the mother of pearl mixes with the fluctuations of your emotions to bring you back to a centered place. By centering yourself, you're able to have better mental engagement as well as communicate your thoughts and feelings more clearly. So, if you've found yourself struggling to regulate your emotions, maybe it's time to add a mother of pearl pendant or ring to your daily wardrobe.

Abalone shell close-up

Jewelry Applications Using Mother of Pearl

Mother of pearl is a natural candidate for jewelry manufacturing. The lovely glow caused by the interplay of light and layers is like a magnet for the eyes. This beautiful nacre is a favorite material to be used as a background on watch dials, but it can also be cut and inlaid on metals and woods to form attractive patterns. Mother of pearl necklaces, earrings and rings are all highly desirable in the jewelry marketplace, and cost a fraction of the price of pearls.

Mother of Pearl Shell Circle Slice

Tips for Cleaning and Storing Mother of Pearl Jewelry

Pearls are organic by nature and easily damaged without proper care. Here are a few tips you can use to clean and protect your own nacre jewelry.

Cleaning

Given the fragility of mother of pearl, you should be careful how you clean the material. Here are some safe ways to wipe away the everyday dirt and grime that'll dull your mother of pearl's shine.

  • Nacre is easily scratched, so clean it gently with a soft dry cloth, and a very mild solution of soap and water.
  • Allow the jewelry to dry completely before storing.
  • Do not use an abrasive cleaner that can wear off the nacre; if you don't have a specialty cleaner made for pearl jewelry, a mild soap and warm water mixture will work.
  • Do not use an ultrasonic cleaner because it will also deteriorate the surface.

Storage

Plan to store your mother of pearl jewelry away from your other jewels and accessories because even the softest edges can chip or damage the mother of pearl's surface. The best way to prevent any marring to your mother of pearl jewelry is to store the pieces in a soft cotton or velvet bag.

Embrace Mother of Pearl's Tranquil and Beautifying Properties

While most people admire mother of pearl jewelry for its uniquely lustrous beauty, there are some people that recognize the healing and balancing properties that it can bring to the wearer. While you may not be inclined to believe in gemstone symbology or the energies emoting from natural objects, there's no harm in adding a truly breathtaking piece of jewelry to your wardrobe in hopes that it might help center your emotions; at the very least, you should get a few compliments on your new accessory.

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Mother of Pearl Meaning, Facts, & Cleaning Tips