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Mother of pearl, like bead-shaped pearls, is made by certain types of mollusks but is more readily available than pearls and less expensive.

Mother of pearl is used for ornamentation on guitars, furniture, jewelry, and so much more.

Mother of pearl was used by ancient Egyptians and Chinese for jewelry and is said to be found on pieces in Mesopotamia dating back to 2600 B.C.

I am intrigued by mother of pearl and love the look and the extensive variety of uses for this unique material. The first time I encountered mother of pearl, was as ornamentation on guitar frets and around the sound hole. The more I explored this shiny substance, the more uses I found. This blog will define mother of pearl, its uses, a little history, where it is found, and caring for mother of pearl.

cabinet knob made with mother of pearl


Mother of pearl is an iridescent coating (nacre) made from a blend of materials secreted by certain mollusks – pearl oysters, freshwater mussels, and abalone – in the lining of their shells. This coating forms a protection from parasites and other foreign objects and is a combination of calcium carbonate crystals, silk proteins, and other materials.

The outer coating of pearls is also a nacre coating that forms in a bead shape, while mother of pearl takes the shape of the inside of the shell. It takes three to four years for a pearl to form and only few are gem quality. With a very low percentage of mollusks that produce pearls, pearls are much rarer and more expensive than mother of pearl.

Mother of pearl has a distinctive multi-colored effect that is similar in appearance to moon-like gemstones. The thin layers are used as decorative accents on anything from car dashboards to guitars, to home décor to distinctive jewelry pieces. In addition to women’s rings, buttons, and broaches, mother of pearl is popular on men’s cuff links and watch faces.

Decorative cabinet knobs with mother of pearl inlays add an elegant touch to cabinets, dressers, and other furniture.

This Mother of Pearl Table Lamp adds a stylish look in any decor.


There is evidence the inner lining of mollusk shells was used for ornamentation as far back as ancient Mesopotamia in 2600 B.C. Mother of pearl was a popular accent on jewelry in ancient Egypt and in China during the Shang and Ming Dynasties.

Native Indian tribes in America traded mother of pearl and used it to make jewelry. Jewelry-making using mother of pearl is still popular in many tribes today.


Freshwater pearl mussels are found in many rivers around the world and abalone are mostly found off the coasts of Japan and Malaysia, as well as California.

The Indian Ocean around Sri Lanka, and other tropical seas are popular areas for pearl oysters.


The thin, delicate pieces require proper care. While nacre is a fairly hard substance, it is best to avoid a hard hit on the piece.

  • Do not wear mother of pearl jewelry when applying lotions or perfumes.
  • Avoid exposure to direct sunlight to prevent fading or discoloring the shell.
  • Do not clean with alcohol, ammonia or strong chemicals and do not put in an ultrasonic cleaner.
  • Clean with a soft or microfiber cloth.


Van Dyke’s Restorers has a nice selection of stunning cabinet knobs and pulls with mother of pull accents.

If you have a cabinet knob or pull purchased from Van Dyke’s, show us your finished project on our Facebook page.