The purpose of this section is to review seashell materials and their characteristics including color, size, finish, properties, specifications, maintenance and other pertinent information that you may need in Order to make an educated decision on the choice of seashell for your field tile installation, wall, floor, countertop or mural.
Should you be using shell as a surface application, searching for a custom mural, or just curious about the material, we invite you to review this section of our site.
Costs are governed by scarcity of the shell, how difficult it is to cut the shell into usable pieces, the backing chosen, manufacturing, shipping and import duties and taxes. Seashells are relatively inexpensive considering the difficulty involved in transforming the shell into a usable hard surface material. Seashells, just like gemstones, are called 'jewelry for the home'. Should you be comparing prices, our prices reflect the highest quality in workmanship. It is our sincerest goal to provide the best material at the best price, in a timely matter. Custom work is welcomed. For large projects we will negotiate a lower price.
For seashells, it is the rarity of the shell and the quality of the workmanship, or preciseness of the mosaic cut, that determine value. Iridescent shells such as mother of pearls are more valuable. The value is also in the eye of the beholder, as there are various shells with no irridescence that are spectacular in beauty.
A seashell, also known as a sea shell, or simply as a shell, is the common name for a hard, protective outer layer, that was created by a marine organism. A shell is part of the body of a marine animal. The word seashell is most often used to mean the shells of marine mollusks.
Shells of marine species, such as Bivalves (clams, oysters, mussels), Gastropods (snails), scaphopods (tusk shells), Polyplacophorans (chitons) and Cephalopods (nautilus) are most commonly used to create seashell hard surface materials.
Marine species of gastropods and bivalves are more numerous than land and freshwater species and the shells are often larger. The shells of marine species often have more sculpture (three-dimensional ornamentation exists on the outer surface of a shell) and color, although this is by no means always the case. In the tropical and sub-tropical areas of the planet, there are far more species of colorful, large, shallow water shelled marine molluscs than there are in the temperate zones and the regions closer to the poles.
Seashells have been admired, studied and used by humans for many different purposes throughout history. Shell money was a medium of exchange that was once common. It consisted either of whole seashells or pieces which were worked into beads or artificially shaped. The use of shells in trade began as a direct commodity exchange, the shells having value as body ornamentation. Shell money was not restricted to any one area of the globe, but in some form or other, is on every continent.
Seashells have often been used as tools because of their strength and the variety of their shapes. Giant clams have been used as bowls, bathtubs and baptismal fonts. Many different species of bivalves have been used as scrapers, blades, clasps, and other such tools, due to their shape. Marine gastropods have been used for oil lamps or as musical instruments. Large marine gastropods are used as trumpets by breaking or cutting a hole in the spire of the shell.
Sailor's Valentines were late nineteenth century decorative keepsakes which were made in the Caribbean. These were often purchased by sailors to give to their loved ones back home. They consisted of elaborate arrangements of small seashells glued into attractive symmetrical designs, which were encased in a wooden box-frame.
Small pieces of colored and iridescent shell have been used as architectural decorations to create mosaics and inlays for royalty. They have been used to decorate walls, furniture and boxes. Whole shells are sometimes used to decorate mirror frames and furniture. Shell designs are various and beautiful and are often chosen to be reproduced in art and sculpture.
Shells that are destined to be used for hard surface materials are either gathered from shells that are hulled for the restaurant industry or are harvested on shell farms.
The valves of a shell are made of either calcite or both calcite and aragonite. The aragonite usually forms the inner layer, as is the case with the Pteriodida Order which have this layer in the form of nacre or mother of pearl. The Pterioida Order includes the Pteriidae (pearl oysters and winged oysters). As shells are calcium-based they may not be used in a chlorine or swimming pool environment as they will disolve.
The MOHs scale of material hardness characterizes the scratch resistance of a material. This test gives you the wear rating of a material. The lower the number on the MOH scale, the least resistant the material is to wear and scratching. Seashells have a low MOH rating of 3 to 4 and are not recommended for flooring applications. Customers do, however, use them on floors as a preferred material with the assumption that they will need to be repolished after wear and tear. An entire seashell tile mall floor was recently installed in Abu Dhabi. Light traffic residential floors most typical.
Hard surface materials are created using shell mosaics (called chips or tesserae) which are cut into slices and then shaped for their intended purpose. Grinding wheels and polishing agents are used to grind, shape and polish the shell. Shell hard surface materials are only available with a high polish finish. The age (older shells are larger) and shape (curvature) of the shell determines the maximum size of the flat mosaic piece that may be achieved by cutting. The number of mosaic chips that can be obtained from one shell is also determined by the size. Should one color or a uniform iridescence be needed, these areas must be cut from the inner center of the shell. The color changes and the iridescence lessens towards the outer shell perimeter.
Mother of Pearls (Black, Brown, White, Gold and Blue) are iridescent. Troca has undulating parallel bands. Paua has numerous undulating lines and closed circles within its structure. Abalone and Violet Oyster are only available with a crazed or crackle finish as this looks best with this type of shell. Each shell is different from every other.The most popular shells are those that are left natural. Tints are available using Hammershell. Please note that we do not offer Nautilus as we feel that this animal has an advanced brain.
Standard Tile Sizes: 3/8" x 3/8" - 10mm, 1" x 1" - 25mm, 2" x 2" - 51mm, 4" x 4" - 102mm, 8" x 8" - 204mm and 12" x 12" - 305mm (305mm x 305mm).
Solid Tiles or 'Blanks': The size and thickness is limited by the shell dimension. The maximum size of a solid blank normally is 1" x 1".
Mosaic Overlay Tiles: These tiles come in all standard and custom sizes. Mosaics are created in the pattern chosen and then adhered to a base of ceramic porcelain, fiberglass or mesh. Finished edges are available. Tile edges are not chamfered (beveled) slightly. Care must be taken to avoid chipping during installation and use. Large format shell overlay tiles up to 24" x 24" are available with a fiberglass or honeycomb aluminum base. The maximum size for a ceramic porcelain based shell tile is 12" x 12". The shell is adhered to the base using epoxy.
Domed and Shaped Tiles: Porcelain tiles may be ground into various shapes. The mosaic overlay is applied to the curved surface. The typical surface is domed.
The thickness of solid and overlay tiles up to 4" x 4" is approximately 3/8". Larger tiles are typically 1/2" thick. Backings also govern the thickness. Custom listellos and borders in any type of shell or combination of shells are possible. Custom designs are also offered. Tile thickness may also be adjusted per your specifications.
Shell mosaics are laminated to mesh. Custom mosaics may be created using different patterns, various chip sizes and shapes. A combination of two or more shell types is used to create various patterns such as checkerboards, zig zags, herringbone or stripes. Mosaics are available with or without a grout joint. The typical sheet size is 12" x 12". Tile edges are either straight or chamfered (beveled).
Seashell sheets may be ordered with a mesh backing. These sheets may be installed directly onto walls or other stable substrates. Shell sheets are blueprint-specific. The maximum size of the sheet is governed by shipping limitations. The standard sheet pattern is squares (block) where the sheets butt joint together. Other patterns have a puzzle edge that fits to the adjoining sheet. Shell sheets are used to cover large expanses of walls with no grout joints. They are also used to cover tables and countertops or for insertion into custom furniture. Shell sheet thickness is approximately 1/16". Lightweight mesh backed shell sheets may be sent to your local fabrication shop to be backed with the material of your choice, which results in lower shipping costs.
Shell slabs are used for Wall Panels, Floor Panels, Countertops, Tabletops, Medallions, etc. Slab backings available are honeycomb aluminum or fiberglass. We do not offer marble-backed slabs, as they tend to break during shipping. The seashell mosaic is overlayed onto the base using epoxy. The standard slab size is 48" x 96". Custom sizes are available.
Shell murals are available with a honeycomb aluminum, fiberglass or mesh backing. Shell mosaic chips used to create artwork are either freeform, 10mm square mosaics, or a combination of both.
The standard edge is straight. Other edge profiles are created using shell mosaic chips applied to a fiberglass shape. One or more edges may be finished on mosaic overlay tiles, borders or slabs.
Backings available are Ceramic Porcelain, Fiberglass (various thicknesses are available), Mesh or Honeycomb Aluminum (ultra lightweight and strong).
COLOR AND VARIATIONS
Color is the most obvious and attractive feature of Seashells. As shell is a natural material, no two are exactly alike and great variations may occur from slices of the same seashell. Variations in shade and color should be expected. Seashell materials are handmade and not machine made which means that you can expect variations in the size or 'trueness' of the tiles. Upon special request, we will 'template' the tiles for trueness. This is done where individual tiles or listellos are inserted into furniture, etc.
Shell tiles, mosaics, sheeting, slabs and murals are used for floor and wall cladding (both interior and exterior) and are suitable for both residential and commercial installations. Some applicable installation uses are light traffic flooring, kitchen backsplashes, building facades, hotel and motel applications, carpets, medallions, borders, countertops, fireplace faces and surrounds, fountains and water features (with no chlorine), kitchen countertops, vanity tops, tub surrounds and showers, elevator panels, airplanes and yachts.
MAKING YOUR SELECTION
For tile installations, it is important that you purchase the right amount of field tile and proper trim pieces at the time of your purchase. We recommend that you buy 10% more tile than you actually need to cover material lost by cuts during installation or to replace a broken tile at a later date. If the design is complex, laid on the diagonal, or will involve an unusual amount of cutting, we recommend Ordering 15% + more. Shell sheets are blueprint specific and are ordered by the panel. No additional material is needed.
It is good to graph out your installation. Exact measurements and detailed drawings are important for a successful installation. This will help you avoid shortages of material, too few trim pieces, etc. resulting in a delay of your project completion. Larger custom orders may take eight to twelve weeks to arrive. Be sure to plan ahead. The usual turnaround time is typically four weeks. All seashell materials are Special Order.
Good reference installation books are available at the corner Home Depot or Lowe's. Porcelain backed tile is simple to install. Special materials, such as shell sheeting, will require the experience and skill of a professional.
Seashell materials should be treated as a marble or granite for installation purposes. We recommend the use of white mortars only, in order to prevent the possibility of bleed through in the seams. Seashells should be cut using a diamond band wet saw or water jet machine. The use of a standard wet saw will produce less than desirable results on the cut edges. If you must use a standard wet saw, be sure to purchase a new fine blade. Install with unsanded grout.
We recommend that you get at least three estimates from qualified installers. Before hiring a professional stone or tile installer, be sure to ask for references. Good installers carry project portfolios of their work. Be sure to call on their former customers to check on their workmanship, timeliness, cleanliness, courtesy, and price.
CARE AND MAINTENANCE
Seashells are susceptible to the aggressive action of acids and alcohol. Care should be taken to remove spills of fruit juice, lemon, wine or vinegar. The residue of red wine on the base of wine glasses will leave a mark. Colored nail polish or any other solvent or oil-based product will stain the surface, if not wiped up immediately. Shell may be re-polished should the surface wear with age. A clear polyurethane coating may also be used. Be sure to test a small area first.
Seashell should be cleaned as if it was a granite or marble. Acidic cleaners will etch and remove the polished surface from the shell. Acidic cleaners will eventually erode grout. Using acidic cleaners can permanently damage colored grout. Some mistakes can be irreversible, always check labels on any product that you are thinking of using and test an inconspicuous area first for effect. Shell surfaces may be cleaned using a soft cloth and a non-acidic cleaner.
We do not accept any responsibility or express any warranty on the above information.
All Seashells are used to create murals. Please see the TECHNIQUES section of this site for a complete overview.
To view all of the shell types we offer please go to the 'Seashell' area of our site. You may view finished installations in our Projects section.