Here it is, the second part of our seashell blog series! As you might've read in our previous post, Pintados is inspired by the tattoo designs of our Filipino ancestors. To reinforce the idea of tattoos I decided to limit the inlay colors to black and white. This post focuses on the two shells we use in our Pintados Collection: blacklip and cabibi.
(Above left) Haliya choker. (Right) Our 'Every Tribe' editorial.
Once again before we start, I am not an expert. I do my own research from reading and speaking to artisans, shell stockists, and port officials. None of the shells we use are endangered. In fact, as we'll soon see, they are leftovers from other shellcraft and cultivation industries. Here we go!
First up is the blacklip oyster, or as we simply call it, blacklip, scientific name Pinctada Margaritifera.
(Above) A polished blacklip oyster. Beside is a swatch of inlaid blacklip.
This oyster is primarily used to culture black pearls, the most well-known of which are Tahitian pearls. Did you know Tahitian pearls aren't farmed in Tahiti? They're actually cultivated in French Polynesia, and only those pearls can be called Tahitian.
Pearls are formed in mollusks as a natural defence against an irritant. Layers of nacre are secreted around this irritant, which gradually build up to form the pearl. In the case of cultured pearls, small beads or casts may be used as the nucleus upon which the layers of nacre are secreted. Here's a quick look at how these pearls are cultivated:
(Top row) Blacklip oysters are cultured in the sea; a nucleus is inserted into the oyster to form a pearl, photos © Tahiti Times. (Bottom row) Harvested Tahitian pearls; a finished black pearl necklace, photos © Divia Pearl.
The color of the blacklip oyster ranges from deep charcoal to light grey to smoky white, with undertones of yellow, green, and occasionally, red. Imported specimens used in cultivating Tahitian pearls tend to be smaller in diameter, thicker, and darker. Shell stockists call them "Tahiti blacklip". Local specimens on the other hand are larger, thinner, and tend to be lighter and more yellowish in color.
The next shell is cabibi, scientific name Anodonta Woodiana. Now this shell has quite a few spelling variations: kabibi, kabebe, macabebe, and then some, but they all mean the same freshwater mussel. It's also known as the Chinese pond mussel or the Eastern-Asiatic freshwater clam.
(Above left) A polished cabibi shell. (Right) cracked inlay swatches in white and cream.
Like the blacklip oyster this mussel is also used to culture pearls, but instead of farming them in the ocean they are farmed in freshwater ponds. China is a large supplier of freshwater pearls. Once the pearls are harvested, the shells may be exported to the Philippines for use in shellcraft.
(Above left) Raw cabibi shells. (Right) a cabibi shell with blister pearls. Blister pearls, or mabe pearls, are pearls that are grown on the inside surface of shells, as opposed to traditional pearls which grow inside the mollusk's body.
The specimens from China are usually large and can go up to nearly a foot long. The thick outer edge or "lip" of the shell is white, while the inner part or "belly" of the shell is a more iridescent cream or pink color. We also have our own local specimen, but these tend to be much smaller and more pink in color.
Unlike the goldlip oyster, or mother-of-pearl, the white part of the cabibi shell is not particularly iridescent. It tends to be more flat white, which I usually like to pair with a more iridescent shell to give our inlay designs more contrast. In the case of the Pintados collection I paired it with blacklip, which flashes beautifully when it catches the light.
(Above left) Haliya hand chain. (Right) Malaya hand chain, Hiraya necklace, and Haliya ring. The shells in the photos are abalone and are not used in this collection.
And there you have it, Seashells: the Pintados edition! I hope you've learned a thing or two from this post. Again, I'm not an expert, so if I got anything wrong or if you'd like to share more facts, let me know in the comments!