Your Complete Guide to the Amazing Mother of Pearl Gemstone

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Mother of pearl is similar to pearls in that it’s made of the same stuff. But in many ways, mother of pearl is its own ‘gemstone’. Perfect for unique jewelry, stylish craft and beautiful décor, mother of pearl has many uses.

It’s versatile, affordable and abundant, making it an ideal option for jewelry. If you’re intrigued, keep reading. We cover everything you need to know about buying mother of pearl jewelry.

What is Mother of Pearl?

mother of pearl iridescence

First things first, what exactly is mother of pearl? Mother of pearl is an organic gemstone and refers to the iridescent lining that’s found in the inner surface of a nacre-producing mollusc’s shell. Another term for mother of pearl is nacre, which is the substance that forms pearls

Mother of pearl is made of aragonite, a type of calcium carbonate, formed by the pearl oyster, as well as freshwater pearl mussels and abalone. Nacre is secreted by the mollusc as a defence mechanism against irritants and abrasions that find their way into the shell. Over time, the creature secretes layers of nacre which smoothen the surface of the shell and entombs any irritants that cling to the inner surface of the shell.

Mother of pearl earring
Notice the luster on these earrings. See them here.

The distinctive iridescent luster of mother of pearl, also called orient,  is caused by the interaction of light with the many layers of nacre. It has a smooth, silky texture and stunning creamy white color.

Mother of Pearl Color

Mother of pearl is generally opaque to translucent in appearance and is typically white, cream or off-white in color. However, you’ll also come across gray, silver, yellow, black, blue-green and red varieties.

The color of the gemstone depends on the mollusc, with abalone producing the most vivid, lustrous and colorful varieties. Abalone mother of pearl is blue, green and purple in color.

What is Mother of Pearl Worth?

When sold wholesale, mother of pearl is sold in kilograms, at a rate of about $10 to $15 per kilo. A lot of the demand comes from Europe, where it’s mainly used in watch faces and buttons. Taken this way, mother of pearl isn’t highly valuable.

However, you’ll come across expensive mother of pearl jewelry like this mother of pearl necklace and earring set that costs a whopping $40,000! When purchasing mother of pearl jewelry, you’ll find that prices range from a few dollars to thousands of dollars. There are many variables that impact on this, including the quality of craftsmanship, the materials used to create the jewelry and also how old the jewelry is.  

Mother of Pearl vs. Pearl

Pearl ring yellow gold
Pearls are known for their spherical shape. See this ring here.

Is mother of pearl better than pearls, because it’s the mother? No, mother of pearl isn’t better than pearls because it’s quite a different type of stone. Although the two are made of the same material and from the same creature, there are many differences in how they’re formed and valued.

  1. Location: Mother of pearl is located on the inner lining of the shell, whereas pearls are often formed within the creature’s tissue. Pearls form around a nucleus or bead, which helps it to gain its spherical shape.
  2. Shape: Pearls are typically spherical in shape, with some pearls forming into random or baroque shapes. Mother of pearl is large and takes the shape of the shell. When creating jewelry, designers are able to use mother of pearl in a variety of ways due to its size, which makes it much more versatile than pearls.
  3. Value: Pearls have always had a higher value than mother of pearl, because of their rarity.
  4. History: Throughout history, pearls have been featured in the realms of royalty and wealth. Pearls have also been immortalized in art and stories. Part of this allure is because of pearl’s distinctive shape which makes it easily recognizable.
Girl with a Pearl Earring, painting by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer
The Girl With the Pearl Earring

For more details, check out our article that highlights the top 5 differences between the two.

Mother of Pearl vs. Abalone

What is abalone in jewelry?
A Polished Abalone Shell

Although often used interchangeably, mother of pearl and abalone are quite different.

  • Abalone is a type of marine snail, also known as a marine gastropod mollusc. It’s famous for its delicious taste and beautiful shell.
  • The colors found on abalone shells are highly iridescent and have a range of strong, vivid colors.
  • Abalone shells have a spiral structure with a number of respiratory pores near the outer edge.
  • It’s illegal to harvest abalone from the ocean as the numbers of wild abalone is at critically low levels due to over-harvesting.
  • Abalone is a source of mother of pearl as this is a nacre-secreting mollusc.
  • Abalone is very rare and can be quite valuable and difficult to source.
  • Other names for abalone include paua (given by the Maori) and ormer shell (used in the UK).
Abalone pendant
Abalone jewelry is known for its colors and luster. See this here.

So, to summarise the difference, abalone is a source of mother of pearl, just like the oyster.

Mother of Pearl Jewelry

Mother of pearl is highly versatile and has many jewelry applications. It can be used in a number of ways, including in free form shapes, inlays or carvings. Mother of pearl jewelry is generally affordable, and you can find beautiful pieces for under $50.

However, some mother of pearl jewelry can cost massive sums of money, like this eye-popping $40,0000 mother of pearl earring and necklace set! The price, as with any gemstone, is largely determined by the quality of craftsmanship and materials used.

Map of the world pendant using mother of pearl
Mother of pearl backing in stylish world pendant. See it here.

Because of mother of pearl’s neutral hues, it pairs well with any metal color. When combined with yellow or rose gold, mother of pearl looks rich, sophisticated and chic while white metals give it a modern, stylish contrast.

Boho mother of pearl earrings
Boho styled mother of pearl earrings. See them here.

One of the best things about mother of pearl is that it lends itself to any style of jewelry. Whether boho and casual or chic and unbelievably sophisticated, the gemstone blends in well and partners perfectly with the setting.

Mother of pearl is typically used as the watch face for high end watches but can also be found in mid-range prices. The gemstone gives the watch face a unique luster and a sophisticated appearance, making it stand out from other watches.

In addition to jewelry, you can also find amazing craft ideas made using mother of pearl, like this stunning mosaic picture frame.

Mother of Pearl Care

Mother of pearl is a very durable substance because of how the nacre is formed. It lacks cleavage, meaning that it doesn’t easily chip or fracture. Although it has a low Mohs ranking, at only 2.5 to 4.5 on the scale, it’s highly durable and wearable.

Mother of pearl can yellow or dull with time and improper care so some general steps should be followed to make sure that mother of pearl jewelry remains lustrous and shiny for a long time.

Cleaning Mother of Pearl Jewelry

After wearing mother of pearl jewelry, simply use a lint-free cloth to wipe away sweat or body oils which can dull the luster of mother of pearl.

You can dampen the cloth for a more effective clean. If you need a deeper clean, use a jewelry cleaner that’s recommended for pearl jewlery or a mild soap and warm water.

If necessary, take the jewelry to a professional jeweler for a thorough clean.

What to Avoid

  • Avoid harsh cleaners or abrasives that could damage the surface of the gemstone and cause scratches.
  • Avoid using ultrasonic cleaners because mother of pearl is too soft to be used in these machines which would probably do more harm than help
  • Don’t use ammonia or baking soda to clean mother of pearl.
  • Avoid contact with cosmetics, hairspray and perfumes. Always put the jewelry on last after everything else.
  • Don’t wear mother of pearl jewelry while engaging in vigorous or water-related activities, like swimming, cleaning or playing sports.
  • Avoid exposing mother of pearl to heat, including direct sunlight, as this can cause the gemstone to get dull.

Storing Mother of Pearl

Mother of pearl jewelry can easily scratch, so never store it with other objects. Always place it in a separate pouch or fabric lined box and keep it free from moisture.

Don’t store mother of pearl in plastic bags or sealed boxes where moisture can get trapped and damage the nacre.

Mother of Pearl Symbolism

Mother of pearl pendant on beach

Mother of pearl is seen as a protection stone, one that brings with it healing powers. It’s able to relax and soothe a stressed mind, and simply by holding or wearing mother of pearl, you’ll immediately feel it calming and soothing you.

Mother of pearl is believed to stimulate imagination and creativity, as well as sensitivity. It’s believed to help bring emotional balance and enhance harmony between the emotional, spiritual and physical world.

In Feng Shui, mother of pearl is believed to symbolize wealth and good luck. Wearing mother of pearl is thought to bring in good luck. As a result, giving a gift of mother of pearl is seen as an excellent good luck charm.

Mother of pearl is seen as an alternative June birthstone.

*Disclaimer: Jewelry Shopping Guide does not guarantee or validate any of the claims related to the metaphysical and alternative healing powers of this or any other gemstone. This information should in no way be used as a substitute for medical advice.

Where to Buy Mother of Pearl Jewelry

Mother of pearl jewelry is easy to find due to its abundance and use in the jewelry world. Taking your search online will give you even more options and access to competitive prices. You can easily compare across sites and choose the best jewelry for you.

Always check the returns and after sales policies and make sure you’re purchasing from a reputable retailer.

We recommend starting your search on Etsy as they have a stunning collection of mother of pearl jewelry and craft, ranging in designs and prices. There’s something for every shopper, with jewelry starting at a few dollars and going all the way up to thousands of dollars.

Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years in the jewelry niche. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education. She has always been interested in expression through fashion and accessories, and her extensive experience in the field has made her a respected voice in jewelry trends and education. As the chief editor of Jewelry Shopping Guide, she not only leads the content strategy but also shares her insights through engaging articles. Her passion for storytelling is reflected in every piece she curates, exploring the intricate relationship between jewelry and personal identity.

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