Turtle shells have long been used by Polynesians and Asian peoples, located near tropical waters, privileged habitats for marine turtles. In Antiquity, Virgil and Juvénale already cited furniture decorated with tortoiseshell scales. From the start, shell was a prestigious material, coveted for its golden reflections and its transparency. It was necessary to wait until the seventeenth century for the scale to become a product particularly sought after in Europe and that the craftsmen cabinetmakers acquire the mastery. The inventory of Cardinal Mazarin testifies to the existence of twenty-two cabinets of shell and ebony, manufactured German, Italian or Dutch.

Today, the marine turtle is a protected species, and the use of highly regulated tortoiseshell. Plastic substitutes are used for the manufacture of spectacles, but also in the restoration of furniture.