Lightweight and boasting a natural iridescence, capiz shell has been used to make everything from chandeliers to jewelry. Similar in appearance to Mother of Pearl, capiz shell is coveted for its delicate appearance and natural luster. But where does this unique material come from?
What is Capiz Shell?
Capiz comes from the shell of the Placuna placenta mollusk, which is native to the seas of Southeast Asia, specifically Indonesia and the Philippines. The mollusks are edible, which means fisherman can harvest them for their meat and reduce waste by reusing their shells for décor and handicrafts.
Traditionally, capiz shell was used as a substitute for glass, which is why the Placuna placenta mollusk is nicknamed the “windowpane oyster”. As far back as the 16thcentury, Spanish settlers in the Philippines utilized it to stained glass windows for churches.
Currently, most capiz goods still come from the Philippines, where harvesting and working with the shell has become a signature handicraft of the region.
Working with Capiz
The process of making capiz goods involves several steps. Capiz starts as round, jagged pieces of shell, which are first soaked in tubs of water and mild acid to clean and soften them. After soaking, they are laid out to dry. Using large scissors, artists then carefully cut the shells into smaller shapes. Once the pieces are cut, artists can add color by immersing them in bleach and applying special dyes to the surface.
For a final step, artists might trim the pieces with metal binding. This is particularly tricky and requires great skill in order to prevent the shell from cracking or breaking. Once the pieces are trimmed, artists can use them for jewelry, string them up into a garland, or hang them from a metal frame to create an exquisite chime.
A Coveted Craft
Today, there many small workshops and organizations that work with Filipino artists who specialize in capiz shell. Through collaboration and fair trade practices, artisans are able to create beautiful capiz objects and share their creations with the world.