SHELL NAMES, ORIGINS, AND NOTES

SILVER-LIP OCEAN PEARL OYSTER (Pinctada maxima), Australia: a formerly very large shell, used for pistol grips, clothing buttons, fans, and vanity items, which produces the classic white M.O.P., referred to in France as "poulette" or "nacre blanche". Shell sizes have greatly diminished in recent years, due to a decline in diving for "wild caught" shells, making it increasingly difficult to get larger pieces.
GOLD-LIP OCEAN PEARL OYSTER (Pinctada maxima), Indonesia and the Philippines: the source of our GOLD M.O.P., which comes from a thin yellow layer underlying the white nacre. White material from these shells typically has lots of colorful iridescent "flash".
WING SHELL (Pteria penguin), Philippines, Tonga: large, thin-shelled, and scoop-shaped, yields the beautiful pinkish-brown and highly iridescent BROWN M.O.P.
BLACK-LIP OCEAN PEARL OYSTER (Pinctada margaritifera), Tahiti: this shell produces the famous and exotic black jewelry pearls, but has become very hard to get in sizes large enough to make inlay materials from, so availability is sporadic at best. The French term is "nacre grise".
CAPIZ (alt.: KAPIS), or WINDOW SHELL (Placuna placenta), Philippines: round, small (2"-3"), and flat, has been used for centuries in native handicrafts and for making lampshades and primitive transparent windows. It is one of the very few shells that can be softened enough by boiling that it can be cut with scissors (making it popular in craft shops), but it is also very fragile and flaky which limits it's uses in modern inlay work.
PEN SHELL (Pinna rudis), Indonesia: traditionally used for making small beads, sheets made from this large, thin shell are not pearlescent but do have a faint and silky chatoyance. Color is mottled light tans to dark purplish-browns, somewhat similar to tortoiseshell.
AGOYA (also AKOYA) OYSTER (Pinctada fucata, also listed as P. martensii), Japan: this is the small shell which is used to produce cultured pearls. Closely related to the larger ocean pearl oysters, but has a slightly "bumpier"-looking internal figure and a pale straw-yellow color that shows wonderful pink and green flashy highlights.
DONKEY EAR ABALONE (Haliotis asinina), Philippines: a tiny little thin-shelled animal, often used whole for earrings and pendants, its long narrow shape looks like a donkey's ear. Palest pink with no black lines, but plenty of very fine striated texturing to give it interest, and some iridescence. Not thick enough to get solid blanks from.
GREEN SEA SNAIL (Turbo marmoratus), Okinawa: widely popular in the 1800's and early 1900's for jewelry, fans, buttons, small box ornament, and instrument inlay, but the main fishing grounds in Africa were worked out trying to keep up with the Japanese market, so has not been available from that area for many years. Beautiful, clear, creamy iridescence, and has a rolling light to it imparted by the strong curvature of the raw shell structure. Traditionally known in France as "burgo", "burgau", or "burgaudine".
GREEN TURBO SHELL (Clorostoma xanthostigma), Africa: a small cone-shaped snail, producing the most brilliant iridescence of any variety of pale-colored shell (but, see Korean Awabi). Expensive, but breathtakingly beautiful coloration.
KOREAN AWABI ABALONE (Haliotis supertexta), S. Korea: a small, pale-colored abalone, which has a fine internal wrinkly/bumpy/wavy figure but possesses almost the same intensity of color and iridescence as Turbo shell! Discover the joys of working with "pale" and pastel shells!
JAPANESE AWABI ABALONE (Haliotis madaka, formerly gigantea), Japan: until the beds were overfished, this was one of the largest abalone species, second only to the Red abalone. The nacre is very pale, but with strong "washboard" figure, though not as tightly rippled as the best Green abalone can produce. Seen often as a backing veneer in antique fans, known in France as "nacre d'orient" and in England as "goldfish". The shells are too thin to make thicker solid blanks, but see GRAVLAM.
ORMER (alt.: French "ORMEAUX"), or SEA EAR (Haliotis tuberculata), English Channel: small, thin, pale-colored abalones traditionally used in the frogs of English violin bows.
RED ABALONE (Haliotis rufescens), northern California: the biggest abalone in the world, its name refers to the red "bark" covering the outside of the shell. Nacre is pale pink to intense dusky pinks, greens, and violets; the central muscle-scar area of the shell yields the much sought-after dark and burly "heart" pieces. Because of overfishing, otter depradation, and a recent outbreak of mysterious "withering foot disease", the commercial fishery has been shut down indefinitely, so availability is zero at present.
PINK ABALONE (Haliotis corrugata), southern California and Baja, Mexico: a well colored shell, pale to predominantly darker pinks. Underused, as it is difficult to process because of a crumbly consistency, but finished products work fine, and it is becoming a popular substitute for the increasingly hard-to-find Green abalone.
GREEN ABALONE (Haliotis fulgens), southern California and Baja, Mexico: a beautifully colored shell second only to Paua abalone, but due to severe overfishing not many of the color-producing larger shells are available, so material tends to be much paler than in the past. "Heart" is very densely colored and figured, with deep greens, blues, and pinks, but small shells yield very little of this, so availability is always limited.

PAUA ABALONE (Haliotis iris), New Zealand and neighboring islands: indisputably the most colorful nacreous shell in the world, typically deep blue or green, but even the pink material turns bluish when viewed at an angle! A smallish shell with lots of other life forms eating holes in it, but since the fishery has been tightly managed for many years, good quality shell is available. If you see Paua jewelry for sale, it has probably been dyed to intensify the color and may even be dyed Green ab. (none of our shell is dyed or "enhanced" in any way).

VIOLET OYSTER (Mytilus edulis), the edible “common” or “blue mussel” found widely from Southern France and the British Isles to the Atlantic coast of Canada and the Northern U.S.: the Asian variety we process runs a deep violet color, almost black if not in strong light, many pieces with a fine “ripple” figure. Because these shells are only 3”-4” long, very thin, and dished, the blanks produced are also very small and it's hard to get thicknesses over .030” (.76mm). Exotic, and worth the effort!