Perhaps you’ve had occasion to observe the inside of an oyster’s shell. That smooth, glossy, iridescent surface comfortably protects the soft-bodied mollusk inside and gives strength to the shell as a whole. But what marvelous wonder of nature is this? That surface is composed of nacre and when nacre coats the inside of a shell, it is known as mother of pearl.
Nacre (pronounced: nay-kər) is a composite material of organic and inorganic elements, like aragonite, stacked in microscopically thin layers. When bound together with biopolymers such as lustrin, chitin and silk-like proteins, the resulting structure is as strong as silicon and as beautiful as, well, pearl. This lustrous surface creates an environment conducive to the delicate, sensitive folds of a mollusk’s body.
Why is nacre called mother of pearl?
When an irritant penetrates the protective shell of a mollusk, the mollusk gets to work. To protect itself from the intrusion, the mollusk secretes the only material it has at its disposal: nacre. From shell lining to crime fighting, the mollusk wraps layer after layer of nacre around the irritant, soothing any abrasion or aggravation. In time, as layers build and wrap around the irritant, a lustrous organic gem is formed: the pearl.
Thus nacre is called mother of pearl, because it is the same material that gives us the fabulous pearl. But just because some nacre does not form part of the lustrous Spey collection of fine pearl jewelry, does not mean it does not have value. Mother of pearl (stripped from the lining of a shell) has been used for centuries to make buttons, collar stays, decorative inlays, and serving utensils (a mother of pearl caviar spoon is an essential).
Our hero the mollusk is certainly one of the environment’s hardest workers – and one that is most beneficial to the success of marine ecosystems. So don your Spey pearls and embrace the character and utility of sustainably harvested mother of pearl. Another way to bring a little luster to your life!