The need of fastening is almost as ancient as clothing. Of course, primarily this was done with knots, pins, hooks, loops, and anything else that can hold together two layers of fabric or leather. The first buttons appear during the Bronze Age. The oldest ones are found in the valley of Indus River, in what is now the land of India. They were made of any kind of material that was easy for processing.


The shell buttons and fashion

Today fashion takes due account of the use of shell buttons. They lend colour to and decorate fine silk dresses, blouses and shirts. Developed in countless variants, they impart spirit and uniqueness to the garment, and even make jewelleries unnecessary.
The thicker shell buttons that obviously have undergone serious treatment are used with equal success as the thinner ones, resembling a flake or a delicate piece of raw shell.
Fascinating examples since 18 century to the present days are preserved in the Button Museum in Italy. Periodically exhibitions are organized in the world’s largest museums, where you can see for yourself how the small shell buttons have excited man’s imagination for centuries.


Today Philippines and Japan are the main providers of shell, produced by molluscs.
The technology for the production of shell buttons now differs very much from the old craft. The opportunities of the modern equipment have made them cheaper and more affordable. At the same time their beauty is natural, native and irresistible, thus meeting the requirements for maximum use of materials and fabrics of natural origin.
Usually the face side is lighter and the back side is darker and has displays the roughness of the shell. Mass models are dense, thick and durable. Modern shell buttons do not break easily and you will not have to change the style of your garment, because one or two of them have broken.
The usual size is from 14 to 18, but if you have special requirements, they can be fabricated in any other size. Shell buttons can even be made with size 40.


History of the brilliant shell buttons

The shiny inside of the shells attracted the attention of the ancient people since the dawn of civilization. It shined in various colours at the sunlight with sheer significance and beauty. That is why shell shells quickly found their place as decoration on the garments. There was only one step further from their decorative value to their fastening function, and this step was made in a short time. Another important factor for the appearance of the beautiful shell buttons was that shells are processed easily and could be found in abundant quantities.

Many centuries have passed, during which time they were forgotten at times, and at times again become fashionable. Since the middle ages they have taken permanent place on our clothes. There have been periods when dozens and hundreds of them were used. There is a well-known royal garment of Francis I, which was trimmed with more than 13,000 – not shell buttons of course but – golden ones. They were regarded as a sign for social and wealth status and were available only to certain circles of society.

In recent times the small shell buttons become a scene for the mastery of artists, engravers and jewellers. Often they were transformed into works of art for which collectors were reluctant pay substantial amounts.


Shell – the mother of pearl

Today the various shell buttons are manifestation of the tendency towards the use of natural materials that is quire steady in recent decades. Shell, the raw material they are manufactured of, is very close in composition to the true pearls. It is secreted by the mollusc in its attempt to make the shell perfectly smooth and to prevent itself from the irritating effect of foreign matter and parasites that have got inside the shell. Actually it represents platelets of calcium carbonate, arranged parallel to the surface. These layers are separated by sheets of elastic biopolymers that contribute to the shell strength.

When you select shell buttons, remember that the difference between them and the true pearls is very small. In the pearls the platelets of calcium carbonate are arranged perpendicular to the surface and radial to the irritant that later transforms into a core of pearl.

The shell colour may range from dark to white, depending on the type of mollusc that produces it. Its characteristic features are the brilliance and the change of colour with the change of the angle from which it is observed. During the millennia shell shells have been used for different purposes, from a medium of exchange to impressive material for jewellery, cameos and works of art, and of course – for brilliant shell buttons.

See also: corozo buttons; polyester buttonshorn buttons; bone buttons; imitation horn buttons.