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Mother of Pearl Meaning & Cleaning Tips

Mother of pearl

Luminescent and mesmerizing, mother of pearl is one of Mother Nature's finest creations.

About Mother of Pearl

The iridescent kaleidescope of colors in mother of pearl, or nacre as it is also referred to, can be positively breath taking, but have you ever wondered how it's formed?

What Is It?

Mother of pearl is actually a substance secreted by certain types of mollusks to protect the lining of their shells from bacteria, parasites and a host of other debris. It's a compound of calcium carbonate crystals, silk proteins and other organic materials that are layered like brick work over the inner lining of the shells.

Now here is where the explanation gets a little complicated. The thickness of each successive layer of mother of pearl is equivalent to the wavelength of visible light, so the staggered layering of the nacre allows different wavelengths of light to penetrate and reflect off of it from different angles. This is what causes that almost supernatural change of colors as a piece is tilted and viewed from different angles.

Nacre colors include:

  • 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

This same nacre is also present in the formation of pearls. The process begins when a single grain of sand or some other debris becomes trapped inside the mollusk, causing irritation. To remove the discomfort, the mollusk begins to coat the gritty intruder with increasing layers of nacre until eventually a visible pearl is formed. The longer the process is allowed to continue, the larger the pearl grows.

When pearls are formed by a happy accident of nature, they are considered genuine, but when a person purposely inserts an irritant into the mollusk, the process is called "seeding", and the resulting pearls are referred to as "cultured". Whether genuine or cultured, the quality of each pearl varies, some having greater value than others.

Jewelry Applications

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 used as a background on watch dials, but it can also be cut and inlaid on metals and wood to form attractive patterns. Mother of pearl necklaces, earrings and rings are all very desirable in the jewelry marketplace. In fact, in some cultures, this nacre by itself is even considered more desirable than a true pearl.

Chinese Lore

In Chinese lore, some minerals have the power to affect energy in positive and negative ways.

Practitioners of the ancient art of feng shui believe that mother of pearl symbolizes good luck and prosperity, meaning that it has the power to attract wealth to the person wearing it. This is why nacre jewelry is given as good luck tokens. Think of it as a pearly rabbit's foot.

Cleaning and Storage Tips

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.


  • Nacre is easily scratched, so clean it gently with either a soft dry cloth or 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.
  • Do not use an ultrasonic cleaner because it will also deteriorate the surface.


  • Mother of pearl jewelry is safer when stored in a soft cotton bag. This will keep other metal and gemstone jewely from scratching and damaging the surface.


Mother of pearl is truly a natural treasure. Take good care of your pieces, and you'll be able to pass them on to the next generation.

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Mother of Pearl Meaning & Cleaning Tips