Monday, July 18, 2016

Crafting with Capiz Shells

Last week, during one of my frequent forays to my local craft store, I picked up a bag of Capiz shells. I brought them home, dumped them out, and started playing.

18" necklace and matching earrings.
As I fastened Capiz shells to a length of copper chain, I began to wonder just where these shells actually come from. So after this project was completed, I turned to the internet to get some answers.

A Capiz shell is the protective shell of a type of mollusk. This species of oysters,  Placuna placenta, is found in southeast Asia (particularly the Phillipines) and also along the coasts of India, the Gulf of Aden, the Malay Peninsula and in China. In fact, the name "Capiz" comes from a province in the Visayas region of the Philippines where these mollusks thrive. Windowpane oysters are cultivated in some areas as well. These mollusks to inhabit shallow and sandy sea water up to a depth of more than 300 feet and subsist on plankton, which they filter from the sea by letting the current pass through their shells.

Placuna placenta.
The windowpane oyster has been used for thousands of years as a natural substitute for glass because of its unique combination of durability and translucence. The Chinese especially were known for outfitting their domiciles with the Asian creature's exoskeleton. A pair of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology studied the shells to find out what made them so strong, despite the fact they they are almost entirely from brittle calcite. Their findings suggest these mollusks evolved a nanostructure allowing light to pass through nearly unobstructed while also isolating any any penetration damage at the atomic level, thus preventing cracking. Such a trait proves useful against predators; further research might help with the improvement of synthetic materials such as armor.

Today, Capiz shells primarily used for decorative items such as window panes, lighting fixtures and kitchen utensils. And jewelry, of course! They are are also used as a component for manufacturing products such as shellac, glue, soldering lead and paint. The meat from farmed Capiz shells, with its high protein content, is used as an ingredient in poultry and prawn feeds.

Available at Pottery Barn. I need this for my kitchen.
The world's largest consumer of Capiz shells include the United States, Japan and several European countries. The shells are rated according to its size and quality with shells reaching more 75 millimeters in diameter considered as first class and anything lower than 60 millimeters in diameter considered as fourth class.

Cleaned capiz shell ready for processing.
My curiosity fed, I went back to my craft room with a new appreciation for these lustrous shells. Three pairs of earrings later, I felt I had done them justice.

Turquoise seed beads, copper and Capiz shells.
Copper Capiz shell chandeliers.
Shoulder grazers. Almost 4" long!
All of these new pieces, along with many others, are for sale in my Etsy shop. Click HERE to see my current stock. I add new items frequently, so I hope you will visit often!

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