One question we often get from our readers is about the difference between pearl and mother of pearl. The quick response is that these two consist of the same material. The long answer is that there are several distinctions between pearl and mother of pearl.

In fact, the differences between these two terms are not always understood correctly. The purpose of this article is to help our readers better understand the difference between pearl and mother of pearl.


First, What is Pearl?


Both mother of pearl and pearl gemstones are made of nacre, but mother of pearl refers specifically to the nacre-coated inner-shell of the mollusk.

On the other hand, a pearl is entirely constructed of nacre. A mollusk coats an irritant trapped within it with numerous layers of nacre until it transforms into a pearl after three to four years.


What is Mother of Pearl?


Mother-of-pearl is the iridescent interior lining of a mollusk shell. It may be found in pearls oysters, freshwater mussels, and abalone, three distinct species of mollusks. The mollusk coats the inside of its shell with nacre—an organic substance that gives mother-of-pearl its iridescent effect and distinct beauty—to protect it from parasites and foreign irritants. The multicolored iridescence is caused by the structure of nacre, which has layers of varying thicknesses.


Pearl vs Mother of Pearl: Color


Like pearls, mother-of-pearl is available in shades of white, gray, silver, yellow, blue-green, bronze, pink, red, brown, black or banded. Abalone is known for producing some of the most gorgeous mother-of-pearl hues. It's easy to see why. These have iridescent and deep purple, blue, and green hues that are highly valued. The iridescence of mother-of-pearl is known as "orient" and results from light interference (interaction of light that has a similar source or frequency) and dispersion (separation of light into its various hues).


Pearl vs Mother of Pearl: Shapes


Pearls are typically spherical, although they may occasionally take on unusual and strange forms, as seen with keshi pearls. Typically, when jewelers work with pearls, they may go wild with the outer setting but not so much with the pearl itself owing to its spherical form. However, with the increase in popularity of baroque pearls, there are now more diverse pearl forms to work with.

On the other hand, the surface of mother of pearl is flat and lacks structure. It typically resembles the shell's form. As a result, mother of pearl's uses include a variety of applications that aren't utilized with pearls. The most popular usage for this material is in the decoration of a wide range of objects, such as dials, knobs, doorknobs, picture frames and other decorative items.


Pearl vs Mother of Pearl: Luster


Mother-of-pearl has the same if not better luster than pearls due to their reflective nacreous coating and it's capable of producing a variety of colors in different lights and viewing angles. Although, the most common color is white with some shine of pink or silver when they're inlayed into pieces of jewelry or artwork.


Pearl vs Mother of Pearl: Hardness


In terms of physical properties, both Mother-of-pearl and pearls have a hardness of 2.5 - 3 on Mohs scale, which means they can easily be scratched or damaged by harder materials.


Pearl vs Mother of Pearl: Value


Pearls have always been more valuable than mother of pearl, because they are rarer to locate. Despite the fact that costs have risen in recent years, pearls remain the more valuable of the two options and thus are often chosen for jewelry design. Furthermore, to put the rarity of the two in perspective, consider that every mollusc that produces nacre will have mother of pearl in its inner shell lining, whereas only a few produce a genuine pearl.

Nacre shells are available for purchase in bulk from manufacturers online. A 100-piece package of nacre pearl shells (discs/circular) costs between $7 and $9 per piece. You'll see how inexpensive nacre is when compared to fully formed pearls, which can fetch thousands of dollars each.


Pearl vs Mother of Pearl: Jewelry Care


Pearl and mother of pearl jewelry are very delicate, so it's important to care for them properly. Over time, the moisture from your skin will seep into your pearl or mother of pearl piece. This is completely natural and expected over time, but you should follow some general guidelines to keep them looking their best.

- Avoid wearing your pearl or mother of pearl pieces when you're doing activities like swimming, cleaning, gardening etc.

- Avoid getting them too wet with sweat/oils while wearing them, as this will cause the colors to fade.

- When taking them off for activities listed above or while sleeping, store them in a dry soft cloth so they don't get scratched or jostled.

- You can wipe them down with a soft cloth and warm soapy water if they become dirty – you don't need to do this very often, just occasionally for your peace of mind.


Final Thoughts


In conclusion, pearls and mother of pearl are similar in that they're both made by mollusks, secreted from nacre and iridescent. However, pearls originate inside the mollusk's body tissue while mother of pearl is on the interior layer of the shell. Pearls are also more valuable than mother of pearl because they're rarer to find.