Mother-of-pearl is the hard internal layer of several kinds of shells which serve as the external protective shield of various mollusks.
This material, also known as nacre, is made up by an organic-inorganic composition. It has a nature similar to that of porcelain, with an iridescent white or, off-white hue. It is simultaneously strong and resilient.
Mother-of-pearl was termed as such, because the precious pearls, very well known to all, are extracted from a certain species of shells. The outer coating of pearls, is identical in composition to the inner layer of all the so named mother-of-pearl shells.
Mother-of-pearl, or similar shells, are being fished predominantly either along the Persian gulf coasts, or the shorelines of southeast Asia. The processing of this material has been widely developed in the countries sharing the shores of the above mentioned areas. As a result of the mother-of-pearl crafting tradition there, the production of fantastic artifacts from this material is impressive, both in decoration items, or in accessories for household use.
Humans have been attracted, way back in time, by mother-of-pearl.
The account may begin by the mother-of-pearl ornaments dating from 4500 BC, discovered in the Egyptian Pyramids, and continue with many mother-of-pearl tools and utensils found inside the Minor Minoan palace of ancient Knossos.
Examinations of various excavations that have taken place around many parts of our world, regarding the habits of a variety of peoples, ranging from the prehistoric age up to the historic period, have revealed to us, that they all attributed a special high value to shells having as an internal layer that organic composition, similar to what we now refer to as mother-of-pearl. In particular, we should mention as such peoples, the ancient Sumerians, the natives of pre-Colombus America, as well as the indigenous inhabitants of most of the Pacific ocean islands.
When we examine the pre-modern era, focusing on the Ottoman Turks who possessed the southern shores of the Persian gulf, which are abundant in mother-of-pearl shells, we note that they were utilizing various objects and artifacts made from this material, such as, pulpits for their mosques, Koran cases, lecterns, writing desks, window shutters, as well as various other elements appropriate for decorative or architectural uses. Their Greek subdued subjects too, obtained eventually something from this Ottoman melting pot, by applying mother-of-pearl garnishes to their bouzouki and baglamas musical instruments.
During that same period, mother-of-pearl was used widely throughout Europe. It served as supplementary additions to furniture, and internal surfaces of buildings. It was was also turned into remarkable artifacts of purely European finesse, created by various artisans. A few of these may be mentioned, such as jewelry cases, gun or sword holders, spoons, forks, bowls, plates, and various decorative items, or accessories for lounges, dinning rooms, and bedrooms.
However, the reason that mother-of-pearl was widely known among the wealthier class of Europeans were the buttons made from it. During the 17th century, a person who had clothes with mother-of-pearl buttons, was either an aristocrat, or a very rich bourgeois.
Taking into consideration all noted above, it is fair to conclude that in the past, mother-of-pearl was considered being a luxurious material, available exclusively to the rich.
However, luckily enough for us Europeans (including the rest of the Westerners) of our modern era, it is now possible for us to enjoy the lavishness of this commodity, at affordable prices, and with no need for us to be affluent. This has been made possible, because nowadays, their production is fully rationalized, primarily in countries of lower labor costs, resulting simultaneously to low artistic fees.