Organic Jewellery - Period Pieces to Modern Day
Organic material such as ivory, coral and shell has been fashioned into jewellery since ancient roman times. Much of these materials were often fashioned into carvings, beads, intaglios and cameos. There were of course other objects of adornment that were produced, such as hair combs, hair sticks and buttons. All of these objects d'art have one thing in common: they are all period pieces which should be treasured.
Ivory, coral and shell jewellery were commonly found in the markets of the past. Ivory was popular up to the 1970's. Carved ivory beads which took the form of daisy flowers were popular in the 1950's; while coral and diamond drop earrings could be found in the art deco era. Corals of all colors could be found throughout time, with red being the most desired. Historical shell carvings included not only the pink conch seashell but tortoise shell as well. Most tortoise shell jewellery was actually from the shell from the hawks bill sea turtle.
These types of organic jewellery will probably never be manufactured again. They are objects that have survived the passing of time, capturing the trends and craftsmanship of the era. In the United Kingdom these organic materials will not be seen on the market in the form of new jewellery. That's why they are all considered period pieces. Selling and owning them has some restrictions, as these are considered to be endangered species jewellery. Restrictions regarding these period materials in the United Kingdom and the U.S. are defined in the Convention for International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Plants and Animals (CITES).
The United Kingdom and the U.S. are 2 of the 120 countries which uphold the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). CITES primary objective is to protect endangered species from extinction. The list of identified species for protection is updated frequently.
CITES and the ESA regulations prohibits trade of these species and that includes jewellery. Not all dealers are willing to handle these special pieces even though there are two exemptions that enable period jewellery dealers and collectors to engage in trade. Items can be traded if they are classed as antique, which is defined by them being crafted before 1st July 1947. The second exemption requirement is that they have been crafted into a different form from the natural state of the animal part, for example carved into jewellery pieces or crafted into other decorative items. Ivory, coral and shells are indeed sought after by many antique collectors, and these period pieces often reflect this in their prices. There just simply isn't enough period jewellery to meet the growing number of collectors.
Modern jewellery manufactured from organic materials is also popular and fashionable at the moment. Obviously using materials that are not endangered or prohibited such as wood, bone, shell and other sustainable organic material. Pendants in abalone shell or polished wood combined with precious metals are very fashionable. Many types of body jewellery are also crafted from organic material such as various types of bone from sustainable sources or different woods polished to accentuate the pattern of the grain.