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What is now the United States
became famous for two products. Its best freshwater pearls fueled a ready market
overseas, purchased by people who, unlike the then less sophisticated frontier
Americans, knew the rarity and value of large, round, lustrous pearls. Many of
the best examples made their way into Europe's royal gem collections, where they
can still be seen on display, usually misidentified as saltwater pearls from the
Orient. America also produced mother-of-pearl buttons, which it exported all
over the world. Iowa became the center of the trade, shipping billions of
iridescent fasteners until World War II, when newly invented plastic virtually
drove quality buttons out of the market.
In more recent times, among the most
prolific users of mother-of-pearl were the Ottoman Turks, masters in the art
of mother-of-pearl inlay -- as evidenced by the plethora of Koran cases,
writing desks, chests, window and door shutters as well as pulpits, lecterns
and various architectural pieces.
As one of the most readily
available and easily accessible resources available to early man,
mother-of-pearl was among the first materials used by ancient craftsmen for
decorative and ritual purposes.
Mother-of-pearl is a soft organic substance which can easily get
Clean with a mild soap. Do not expose to harsh detergents or chemicals. Do not
clean in ultra sonic jewelry cleaner.
the iridescent coating inside oyster shells, once formed the foundation of a
thriving button industry in the U.S.
While North America set a new standard for large freshwater pearls, white
saltwater pearls from the coasts of Panama and Venezuela competed with pearls
from Bahrain, and black saltwater pearls from the Bay of California (in what is
now Mexico) provided an alternative to Tahitian blacks. More pearls arrived in
Spain than the country's aristocratic market could absorb. As with the emeralds
it was mining in Colombia, Spain found ready buyers for its new pearls across
Europe and in India.
Sometime in the late 1800's or
early 1900's, mother-of-pearl was added (along with cowry and green trocus
shell) to the time-honored carving materials of Southwest Native Americans who
traditionally used antler, bone, clay, red abalone, conus, spondylus (spiny
oyster shell), and glycemeris shell.
Those pearl supplies continued
into the 1800s, until over fishing in Central American waters and in North
American streams depleted the beds. Pollution also took its toll as the United
States industrialized. Then, toward the end of the last century, the single
event that forever reshaped the pearl trade slowly unfolded in the isolated
island nation of Japan.
Paua (abalone) Shell veneers are made from the finest grade (A) abalone and
Paua is one of the world's most beautiful shells because of its incredible and
intense variation of color.
Paua shells remind us of a kaleidoscope or hologram, with the colors dancing and
sparkling as the iridescent patterns of the nacre catch the glints of light when
viewed from different angles.
Shell veneer is used in the fishing lure, drums, guitars, knives, cars, boats,
crafts, fine marquetry trades and most any hard surface needing decor.