Making Matters: Pearls of wisdom


One of the most mysterious parts of bow making is the production of mother-of-pearl slides and eyes. John Matthews provides a guide to the process, and explains why ormer is the best shell to use

When making reproductions of fine antique French bows I exclusively use ormer for the pearl eyes and slide. There are a few myths surrounding this work, such as the use of vinegar and spirits of salts in the bending process – I have tried both and found that all the nacre dissolved. The ormer (Haliotis tuberculata) is a mollusc with either a green or a red shell, which can be found living on rocks in the sea around Guernsey, Jersey and the coast of Brittany. It has also been farmed in shellfish ponds; these shells are small, measuring around 7cm on average, whereas the wild variety can be 12cm. I wouldn’t use any other pearl, except perhaps for awabi, which is very similar in colouring but which doesn’t have the figure of ormer.

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