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Essence d'orient, French for pearl essence. A substance used to coat glass beads in the production of imitation pearls, to provide an iridescent effect so as to resemble a pearl. It is made of silvery crystals (guanine) from the lining of the scales of certain fish (formerly bleak, but recently mainly herring).
The crystals are pulverized, suspended in a solvent, and mixed with a lacquer, which is then applied, originally to the interior but later to the exterior, by spraying or dipping the glass beads (made with a string-hole). Up to ten coats are usually applied.
It was originally made in France until c. 1940, but now it is made elsewhere, mainly in Canada near the Bay of Fundy and in Norway and South Africa.
From: An Illustrated Dictionary of Jewelry, autor: Harold Newman, publishers: Thames and Hudson