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Topics: Natural, Ivory, Bone

Q.
Years ago I bought a necklace from a yard sale. Lady selling it told me it was her Mum's. It had been broken and needed to be restrung but no one knew how. It is made of something that looks like ivory. Has lots of carving marks and that creamy color. I assume it is old since the lady selling it was in her 60s and it was her mothers'. How do I know if it's real ivory and can I use pieces of it in my creations since it is a banned product??? Thanks for your help.
- Joy
A.
The most likely imposters are bone and plastic. To test for plastic, the easiest and most common method is the pin test. Using care, heat a pin to red-hot and touch it to an inconspicuous area on a bead or component in the design. If it melts, it's plastic. If it doesn't melt, you narrowed it down to bone or ivory. There should be no fear of damaging the piece using this method because ivory will be undamaged by this test, and if it melts, the pin will only make a small mark.

If it didn't melt--you have determined that it's not plastic which means it must be bone or ivory. The coloration of ivory is usually very consistent throughout the entire piece with no light and dark patches. It has a very fine grain that appears in a wood grain pattern. Black cracks or age lines are not uncommon in very old pieces of ivory. Bone, on the other hand, tends to have numerous discolorations and distinct features such as patches of brown or black spots resembling a beard, or dark blotches consisting of parallel lines.

Ivory is actually the natural tooth of an animal. Teeth continue to grow throughout an animal's lifetime and as a result, they have a noticeable structure and "growth lines" (called Schreger lines). Look at the piece carefully under a magnifying glass. Under a 10x magnifier, elephant and mammoth ivory will have visible striations, or grain, that often show up as diamond or "V" shapes, or cross-hatching on the surface or edges of polished ivory. Bone lacks such noticeable striations and will appear more uniform across the surface. Under magnification bone usually shows circular or oval shaped dots on cut surfaces. These dots are the remnants of tiny vessels that once supplied the living bone. Resins or plastics have a uniform surface, usually with no striations, diamond or "V" patterns.

When looking at a piece, check the bottom or sides for the diamond or cross-hatch pattern typical of real ivory. Then check again for a slight wood-grain pattern, this is also typical of real ivory. Next, check the feel. Real ivory should have a cool-to-the-touch feeling.

Also, color often varies slightly throughout natural ivory (more variable in mammoth) from a creamy white to a creamy yellow-tan or a creamy, light yellow-brown, whereas bone and plastics are either consistent in color throughout, or their color variations may be extreme, especially in stained or colorized resins and plastics.

If you believe the components to be ivory, as far as if you can use the pieces in your jewelry, well, that's quite another story. It depends on how old the ivory pieces are, when they were brought to the country you live in and the origin (Asian vs. African). Seeking advice from a reputable ivory dealer would be your next step.

- Kristal Wick, Designer, Author, Jewelry-Making Expert and Swarovski crystal Ambassador

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