Great design is a quick understanding. A blink test. Within seconds of viewing a design you can decide if you like the design or not. The new iPhone, an incredible sleek and sexy new shape. Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall that doubles as a jungle gym – genius. But what isn’t noticed immediately are the small design details. A million small details create one pleasing aesthetic. And with good design, the small details are discovered over time.
Our choice to use mother-of-pearl buttons is a small design detail that doesn’t necessarily matter to anyone. But if we took the buttons away and replaced the buttons with cheaper plastic buttons, what then? You’ve noticed a poor design detail. Mother-of-pearl buttons are the most luxurious button material. They are four times costlier than a plastic button, but worth their weight to complete a good quality shirt.
Mother-of-pearl buttons, also known as nacre, are cut from linings of mollusk, oysters, abalone, and snail shells. The nacre lining is the same outer coating of pearls, thus the name “mother-of-pearl.” The material is strong, resilient, and naturally elegant. Since 1770 mother-of-pearl buttons have been used on men’s shirts and cuff links. Other than buttons, the natural material is also used for fine jewelry, decorative tiles, valve keys on brass instruments, and dials on high end watches.
The material is strong, resilient, and naturally elegant.
mother-of-pearl buttons subtly shimmer suggesting luxury
Shell Buttons Are Strong
Since we are 247 years past the beginning use of mother-of-pearl buttons, faux mother-of-pearls are widespread. In this case, faux = plastic. Now, here’s the tricky part. The real mother-of-pearl buttons can also be dyed to be any color. So, determining real vs. faux is becoming more difficult. Since knowledge is power, here’s the difference:
1). Tap Test – Take a button and tap it against another similar button or glass. A high ping, it’s real. A dull tap, it’s fake.
2). Back Check – Flip the button to inspect the underside. If the underside has a rigged back and the color doesn’t match the front, it’s real. If the underside has a smooth back and the color is consistent to the front, it’s fake.
3). Temperature Gauge – Close your eyes when conducting this test. A cooler button, it’s real. A warmer button, it’s fake.
4). To Each their Own – Does the top button on your shirt have the exact same markings as the 2nd button? What about the 2nd button compared to the last button? If the buttons are all different in color and markings, they are real. If they are all the same, they are fake.
The next time you pick up a shirt, I bet you’ll stop and consider the buttons. Are they real? Are they adding to this design? Or are the buttons an unwelcome distraction?