Period Jewelry: Introduction to Ivory, Coral and Shell


The ancient art of collecting period jewelry is still alive and well today. Collectors are drawn to the beauty and craftsmanship of these pieces, as well as the knowledge that they are a tangible connection to history. The following article will provide an introduction to ivory, coral and shell period jewelry.

Ivory: Ivory is made from the tusks of elephants or other animals such as walruses, hippopotamuses, whales and mammoths. It was used in antiquity for carving sculptures and making decorative objects such as combs, hairpins, buttons and piano keys. In more recent times it has been used for billiard balls, dice cups and chess pieces. The United States banned trade in elephant ivory in 1989 because of concerns about elephant populations; however there are exceptions to this ban which allow trade in antique ivory items that were imported before 1989 or contain less than 200 grams of ivory (CITES).

Coral: Coral is a type of marine animal found in warm waters around the world. It can be found on reefs or on sandy bottoms near the surface where sunlight penetrates the water column; it cannot survive below depths greater than 100 meters (ESA). Coral reefs are home to 25% of all marine life so their destruction would have devastating consequences for ocean ecosystems (ESA).

Shell: Shells come from many different types of mollusks including clams, oysters, scallops and conchs; however some shells may also come from gastropods such as sea snails or slugs (ESA). They can be found throughout the world’s oceans but most shell collecting takes place along coastal areas where shells wash up on beaches (ESA).

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