From shell to button

What are the different stages involved in making our buttons ?

We're going to briefly describe the work of our button-makers, but it's worth noting that there are no less than seventeen essential steps involved in making this little object. Precision and patience are essential in this traditional craft.

For the craftsman, the first and most important step is to visually sort the shells.
Then, using a lathe and a tool known as a "cutter", the button-maker cuts small round shapes called "pions" from the pearly material.
Cutters of different diameters are available, depending on the desired size.
This process heats up the pions, which then need to be cleaned with hydrochloric acid.

The next step is to remove any roughness by sanding the surface of the pawn, a phase requiring between six and twelve hours' work.
The pawn is then ground to remove the remaining shell crust, smooth the surface and thicken the material.
This stage is called peeling.

This is followed by meching: a turning operation to create relief on the surface of the pawn.
The craftsman uses a profiled bit, a flat, bevelled tool with the negative profile of the desired relief.

It's when the two or four holes are drilled that the pawn becomes the final button.
Repairing is a step that rounds the back of the button so that it slides more easily into the buttonhole.

Finally, the buttons are rinsed with clear water and polished in a wooden barrel filled with boiling water and hydrochloric acid, to reveal the full beauty and brilliance of the mother-of-pearl.

Sorted and distributed according to quality, the precious buttons are then packed on flexible cardboard boxes, a process known as inserting.

Other optional operations can be carried out, such as engraving, dyeing or bleaching the buttons.

Where are pearl oysters, the shellfish used to make our mother-of-pearl buttons, collected?

Pearl oysters are exported from Oceania, particularly Australia.
When mother-of-pearl buttons were democratized and mass-produced, the shellfish was abused.
Today, aquaculture is regulated and restricted to protect and conserve the marine ecosystem.