Mother-of-Pearl Inlay


Mother-of-pearl inlaid door panels at the rear of the Ordination Hall depicting a scene from the Ramakian, Phra Uposatha (main chapel), Wat Phra Chetuphon or Wat Pho, Bangkok
    The use of mother of pearl to adorn objects has a long history in Thailand. Stucco pieces embedded with bits of shell have been found at monuments dating back to the Dvaravati period (6th to 11th centuries A.D.), and some form of the rt may have existed even before along the coastal region.


    Golden teak inlaid with mother-of-pearl, Wat Sratthatham, Samutsongkram

    But these early efforts were crude compared with the magnificent works achieved by techniques perfected in the late Ayutthaya and early Bangkok periods, when temple doors and windows, manuscript boxes, alms bowls, and numerous other items were splendidly decorated by the painstaking process the Thais call krueng mook. The craft continues to thrive today in the production of exquisitely detiled furniture, mirror frames, boxes, and trays that are the pride of many owners both in Thailand and abroad.
    The Thai mother-of-pearl inlay technique involves the patient cutting of the luminescent muk fai, or flame snail, indigenous to the Gulf of Thailand. The outer surface of this shell is removed with a special knife and the pearly inner shell is cut into fairly flat pieces, each about two and a half centimeters long. Sanded flat, they are glued to wooden surfaces to form patterns or scenes and the area in between filled with lacquer.