Iridescent Elegance: Mother-of-Pearl Craftsmanship in Korea 2024

In fall 2022, Jisoo from BLACKPINK showcased a stunning set of nails for the hit song “Pink Venom,” which paid homage to the exquisite artistry of Korean mother-of-pearl lacquerware, known locally as ‘jagae’. This traditional craft is celebrated for its iridescent shimmer, which captures and reflects light in a kaleidoscope of colors. Jisoo’s nails were adorned with pearl accents that mirrored this effect, creating a visual connection to the cultural heritage. The design not only celebrated the beauty of Korean craftsmanship but also brought a sense of traditional elegance to the modern pop scene. Each nail was a canvas reflecting the brilliant, shifting colors akin to the inside of an abalone shell, seamlessly blending cultural reverence with contemporary fashion.

Image from: @unistella_kr. (2022, August 22). Instagram post

Korean mother-of-pearl lacquerware, known for its ‘brilliantly iridescent’ shimmer, stands as a cultural emblem that has weathered the passage of time. This traditional craft, deeply rooted in the history of Korean artisanship, has been a symbol of sophistication and luxury for over a millennium. The process of creating each piece is both an art and a meditation, involving the intricate inlaying of nacre on wooden canvases, followed by the application of lacquer sourced from the sap of native trees. These heirlooms of the past continue to capture the imagination, reflecting a spectrum of colors that dance across their surfaces in a display of nature’s magic.

Mother-of-pearl lacquerware, a traditional Korean craft known for its ‘brilliantly iridescent’ shimmer, involves meticulously inlaying thin, delicately processed seashell (nacre) patterns onto wooden furniture or objects, followed by the application of lacquer — a resin from the lacquer tree. The mysterious and changing colors that play across the surface are the result of a harmonious collaboration between the mother-of-pearl and the enhancing lacquer.

Otchil as a True Test of Patience

Otchil is indeed a true test of patience, as it demands a decade of nurturing trees just to extract a minute quantity of lacquer. This unique substance then needs to be dried under specific, sauna-like humid conditions for 10 hours to properly cure. Despite the lengthy process, the result is rewarding: the lacquer melds into the fabric as seamlessly as ink on rice paper, ensuring both steadfast color and robustness. The rich and enigmatic hues that emerge are a testament to the dedication behind the craft.

The radiant mother-of-pearl lacquerware, shining through a thousand years, gleams anew as accessories for the young generation of Korea in 2023.

The photo on the left is a ‘najeonbitjop’ made during the Joseon Dynasty, which is a box that was used to store various tools needed for combing or decorating hair. The photo on the right is a product from the trendy accessory brand space oddity that utilizes traditional mother-of-pearl. 

Traditional Otchil Meets Modern Elegance

Space Oddity presents a line of Korean lacquerware accessories, each piece meticulously handcrafted with the time-honored technique of otchil. Embracing the heritage of traditional mother-of-pearl inlaid furniture, our products are designed to accentuate the tactile interplay between the sleekness of acrylic and the organic texture of mother-of-pearl. This deliberate crafting method not only honors the depth and intricacy of Korean artisanry but also amplifies the innate luster and shimmer of the materials. Every accessory in the collection of Space Oddity is a statement piece, promising to bring the opulence and charm of Korea’s rich craft history into the modern wardrobe. Each item is a reflection of Space Oddity’s commitment to preserving cultural artistry while infusing it with a contemporary aesthetic that celebrates both form and function.

The image showcased above features a creation by Ottott, a brand whose identity is deeply rooted in ‘ottchil’—the ancient Korean art of lacquerwork. Ottott honors this rich tradition by blending the enduring beauty of lacquer artistry into contemporary life, each piece a testament to the meticulous dedication and skill of the master artists.

Ottott designs and crafts a diverse range of lifestyle items with ‘ottchil’, aiming to integrate the ease of lacquerware into daily experiences. Reflecting the idea that the items one uses can shape their feelings and moods, Ottott seeks to impart the purity and warmth of wood and lacquer through its products, each crafted with unwavering commitment and care.

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