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Ivory Jewelry

Posted by Laurie Zeiden on

Ivory is a hard white substance from the teeth and tusks of mammals. Most ivory jewelry is fashioned from elephant tusks, walrus tusks or whale teeth. In recent years, the commercial trade of ivory, particularly elephant ivory, has been banned in the U.S.

Because of this ban, many online sellers now call their ivory "ox bone." eBay and other venues are catching on to that trick and those listings are often pulled. But, how can you tell if it's ivory or bone?

Under magnification, you can look for these:

  1. Ivory has cross-hatched lines.There should be parallel lines (with slight irregularities) running along the length of the item. Perpendicular to these should be circular or V-shaped lines known as Schreger lines.These are found in all elephant and mammoth ivory.
  2. Pits or darkened spots are good indicators of bone. In some cases the bone has been bleached, though, so this isn't always conclusive.
  3. All bone has the telltale flecks of marrow, or tiny notches, in the surface. These may not be visible to the naked eye, but you should be able to see them through a magnifying glass. Ivory tends to be smoother, harder, and not pitted.
  4. Color isn't always consistent. Both ivory and bone can range from white to cream to yellowish brown depending on its handling and the transference of the skin's oils.



















Japan, photo courtesy of Red Robin Antiques


Note, the photos are all linked to my shop, but there isn't any ivory there since the sale of it is prohibited. These photos are for viewing only.
Thanks to Merry Shugart, Robin Allison and Laurie Doyle for allowing me to show pieces from their collections.

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