What is Mother of Pearl?
You know how we agonise over what colour to paint our walls? Spend days looking at tester patches of almost identical colours, agonising over the nuances between more or less chalky? Well molluscs have a much better plan. They go for pearly white, every time. No namby-pambying around. And they make it themselves at home. Genius.
You see molluscs (pearl oysters, freshwater mussels, abalone, etc) paint their walls with mother of pearl. I’m absolutely sure it’s primarily aesthetic, but it also acts as protection against parasites and unwanted visitors. Paint with an integral-burglar alarm system (…Dragon’s Den WATCH OUT).
And a pearl is when an imposter makes it in, but gets coated in mother of pearl and pinned to the wall sharpish to prevent it making a dash with the silver.
What’s all the fuss about?
I wonder if they know how beautiful their anti-burglar primer is. And how adored it has been by humans for over 4600 years. Mother of pearl was used to embellish silver way back in Mesopotamian high-society, and was an important mark of sophistication for the Ming Emperors. Native Americans used it as currency for centuries, and we’ve been making buttons and cutlery with it for donkeys.
How do I know if it’s real?
Now like anything with a wide commercial value, you’ll find a fake version all over the place. Here’s how you know you’ve got your mitts on the real deal:
1 - It should be cold. Stroke it on your cheek and enjoy the soothing coolness.
2 - It should be heavy. Satisfyingly so for its size.
3 - It back should look different to the front. If it’s even all over it’s a knock-off.
4 - When you tap it against your teeth it should click, whereas a fakey will make a muted thud.
And how should I look after it?
Like anything beautiful, it needs careful handling. You can clean it in warm soapy water, but you must dry it straight away. If it needs some extra TLC, dip a soft cloth in olive oil and rub it gently over the mother of pearl, before polishing with a piece of silk. Or if you don’t have polishing silks hanging around (….Carson?!) cotton will do. Make sure it’s dry as a bone/shell before putting it back in the drawer.