Colour

The nat­u­ral iri­des­cence of pearl is bring­ing opu­lence to homes

ELLE Decoration (UK) - - Contents - COLOUR

It would take a hope­lessly mun­dane soul not to find po­etry in a pearl. Each usu­ally be­gins life as a hum­ble piece of grit caught in the shell of a mol­lusc. The poor crea­ture, ir­ri­tated beyond en­durance, en­robes the in­truder in layer upon layer of nacre (also known as mother of pearl), trans­fig­ur­ing the frag­ment of grit into a smooth, iri­des­cent orb, which may later be prised from its shell and worn as a dec­o­ra­tive bauble, al­low­ing the wearer to bask in its re­flected glow.

But even if nei­ther po­etry nor pearls are your thing, nacre, from which the sur­face of a pearl is made, should im­press you. If you were to ex­am­ine a sam­ple un­der a mi­cro­scope – as many spell­bound sci­en­tists have – you would see it is com­posed of hexag­o­nal platelets laid in brick-like lay­ers and fixed to­gether with a mor­tar-like sub­stance. The platelets are made of cal­cium car­bonite, like chalk, while the mor­tar’s a mix­ture of biopoly­mers: chitin, lus­trin and silk-like pro­teins. It’s these lay­ers, which are be­tween three hun­dred and five hun­dred nanome­tres thick, that pro­duce the iri­des­cent ef­fect – they in­ter­fere with wave­lengths of vis­i­ble light, mak­ing them shift and shim­mer.

Nacre is one of na­ture’s su­per-ma­te­ri­als. Quite apart from its un­ques­tion­able beauty, it is im­pres­sively tough. Some species of mol­lusc use it to line the in­te­rior of their shells as a form of pro­tec­tion. Squeezed by a crab’s nutcracker-like pin­cer or a pair of re­searcher’s tweez­ers, nacre demon­strates an ex­tra­or­di­nary re­silience. Small cracks may ap­pear, but they are in­hib­ited by the form of the nacre, and, be­cause the cracks don’t spread, the struc­ture stays largely in­tact, pro­tect­ing what­ever lies within.

Pearl is rare­fied and ex­pen­sive, but should you find your­self over­whelmed with the de­sire to make like a mol­lusc and coat the walls of your home with it, there are op­tions. The most lit­eral – and lux­u­ri­ous – way to do so is with tiles made from the real thing. Maya Ro­manoff has a range of shim­mer­ing tiles made from hand-in­laid capiz shells in var­i­ous coloured fin­ishes, from the bright white ‘Nat­u­ral Pearl’ to the creamy ‘Oyster’ (ma­yaro­manoff.com). It’s also pos­si­ble to buy home­ware made from mother of pearl. Mi­lan-based de­signer Lorenzi Mi­lano crafts pearly table­ware, from spice spoons to curlicue but­ter knives, avail­able at Mr Porter (mr­porter.com).

A less on-the-nose, cheaper and more con­tem­po­rary take can be found in the rise of prod­ucts with iri­des­cent fin­ishes. This is some­thing of a slow-burn trend – LSA’S ‘Pearl’ glass­ware, for ex­am­ple, which has the rounded shape and colour­ful lus­tre of soap bub­bles ( lsa-in­ter­na­tional.com), has been around for some time – but it has re­cently been gather­ing steam. Pa­tri­cia Urquiola, Tom Dixon and ce­ramic artists Dim­itri Bäh­ler and Mau­r­izio Tittarelli Rub­boli have all been play­ing around with oil-slick pearles­cence. No mat­ter how adept these de­sign grandees, how­ever, it is very hard to imag­ine them ever man­ag­ing to fully repli­cate the con­sum­mate ex­cel­lence of the mol­luscs who con­jure glow­ing gems from a sim­ple core of grit.

PEARL IS RARE­FIED AND EX­PEN­SIVE. PRISED FROM ITS SHELL, IT AL­LOWS THE WEARER TO BASK IN ITS RE­FLECTED GLOW

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