The mother-of-pearl industry is another unique local industry in Beit Sahour. Franciscan Friars from Damascus are credited with establishing the craft between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. To teach local residents, they brought in craftsmen from Geneva. Initially artisans used mother-of-pearl coming from the Red Sea. Because of its thickness, it is possible to carve relief in the shells. The mother-of-pearl is taken from the rest of the shell and pieces are used for mosaics. Experienced workers can use the mother-of-pearl to create delicate filigrees. The most popular items are jewelry pieces, such as crosses, earrings and brooches.
The Beit Sahour area currently includes 50 olive wood and 15 mother-of-pearl workshops. Sadly, local predictions are that mother-of-pearl carving will soon belong to Beit Sahour’s history, because the work requires extreme concentration and highly-skilled craftsmanship and is also very time intensive.