Ivory ✨ Meaning ✦ Properties ✦ Benefits ✦ Uses

Article Highlights

Ivory is one of the most renowned materials used in high-quality precious jewelry. It’s important to note that ivory is neither a gemstone nor a mineral from rock; rather, it is an organic substance produced by certain mammals with specific characteristics. Below is information on the various colors, shapes, and sizes of ivory.

Ivory, being relatively soft compared to hard gemstones, can be sculpted with a steel knife. However, it is quite stable and, with proper care, will not shatter or fracture. The size of ivory pieces depends on the animal from which they originate, with the largest specimens typically coming from bull elephants. Nonetheless, many items, such as piano keys and statues, are often made from multiple pieces of ivory rather than a single piece.

Formation and Sources

Ivory is an opaque white or yellowish-white substance that is organic in nature. Often referred to as an organic mineral, ivory is highly valued for its beauty and tactile qualities. It is primarily sourced from elephants, walruses, extinct fossilized mammoths, and hippos. Ivory has been used to create ornamental jewelry, statues, billiard balls, bagpipes, buttons, and piano keys.

Regardless of the animal it comes from, ivory has a consistent chemical structure. While elephants are most commonly associated with ivory, it can also come from a variety of other mammals. Ivory forms as the teeth or tusks of these animals; tusks are essentially teeth that extend outside the mouth. These teeth include structures such as the pulp cavity, dentine, enamel, and cementum. The ivory used for carving and jewelry is predominantly made from dentine.


Uses

Historically, ivory has been used to craft ornamental jewelry such as beads, cameos, and pendants. Beyond jewelry, ivory was frequently used to create statues. Another significant use of ivory over the last 300 years has been in the production of piano keys.

Today, the harvesting of ivory from living mammals has been globally banned since 1989 due to the severe impact of poaching on elephant populations. It is reported that in 40 years, 97% of the 300,000 elephants in certain African countries were slaughtered for their ivory. Nowadays, synthetic alternatives are available that mimic the look and feel of traditional ivory.

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