Antique Ivory Jewelry

Unique heirlooms such as antique ivory jewelry and antique cameo jewelry can be easily bought and sold over the internet. One person may want to purchase a very special one-of-a-kind item as a present for a milestone anniversary. Another may need to sell the contents of a matronly aunt's jewelry box as part of liquidating her estate. Whether buying or selling antique pieces, especially online, it's always a good idea to find out as much as possible about the market, the differing styles of various eras, and how to determine the quality, and even the authenticity, of different pieces. The buyer will need this kind of information to avoid paying top dollar for an ivory bracelet that turns out to be made of bone. The seller will need similar information so that the items being sold are accurately described to potential buyers. An amateur seller will want to be especially careful that he doesn't sell a rare pendant for just a few bucks; neither is it good for one's reputation to advertise a Victorian-era cameo brooch that turns out to be a factory-made reproduction.

The Victorian Era, the years between 1837 and 1901, were an exciting time of growth, exploration, and prosperity for England. The popular Queen Victoria, who adored her husband and children, set the standard for style and fashion throughout her long reign. Much of the antique cameo jewelry prized by collectors today was carved during the fashionable days of Queen Victoria. A cameo is a portrait, profile, or scene in raised relief that is set against a contrasting background. Italian craftsmen used shells, which were inexpensive and easy to carve, to create cameos as early as the beginning years of the nineteenth century. Other natural materials, such as lava and coral, were also used. In time, craftsmen began using stones to create more valuable cameos. Popular choices were agates with their stunning array of colors, black onyx, and the red and black banded sardonyx. Women of fashion (and wealth) often commissioned carvers to create their likeness on a cameo which could be worn as either a brooch or a pendant. A black velvet ribbon, or perhaps a pastel satin one, would hold the pendant in place at the base of the lady's throat. In time, the idealized or anonymous woman came to be carved on numerous cameos which could be purchased by those unable to afford a commissioned profile. Motifs honoring Queen Victoria's love for family included flowers, bows, and hearts. Landscape scenes were popular and so were the gods and goddesses of classical Greek mythology. Catherine the Great of Russia was another royal who loved wearing cameos. Women wearing antique cameo jewelry in modern times can imagine a royal connection to these long-ago sovereigns.

In the Old Testament, we read these words about the wealth and riches of Solomon: "Moreover the king made a great throne of ivory, and overlaid it with the best gold. . . . For the king had at sea a navy of Tharshish with the navy of Hiram: once in three years came the navy of Tharshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks" (1 Kings 10:18, 22). Andre Lemaire, a French paleographer, found a carved ivory pomegranate in 1979 that was, for a time, thought to have been on top of the Hebraic high priest's staff in Old Testament times and a tangible artifact from King Solomon's temple. A few years ago, however, experts agreed that the pomegranate was a forgery. Little, if anything, seems to remain of all of Solomon's vast riches from those long-ago days of peace and prosperity during his reign of wisdom.

Ivory was a popular commodity before the invention of plastic in the late nineteenth century. The hard, organic material was used for such disparate items as billiard balls, buttons, and combs. Here again, much antique ivory jewelry comes from the popularity of such pieces during the reign of Queen Victoria. At that time, a great deal of the precious material came from the tusks of African elephants, though other sources were Asian elephants, hippos, and boars. Fossilized ivory came from mammoths. At one time, the tusks of walruses were used, still in one piece, for the handles of swords. Of course, different animal species produce different kinds of ivories. But the quality and coloring varies according to other factors, too. For example, ivory that comes from elephants will differ according to the type of elephant, the region the elephant is from, and the age of the ivory. It may range in color from very white to a creamy yellow to shades of brown. Fossilized tusks produce darker ivories. A world-wide ban on the elephant ivory trade occurred in 1989 as a result of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Unfortunately, this has had the unintended consequence of raising the value of elephant tusks on the black market.

A necklace that is believed to be antique ivory jewelry may actually be made of bone. In determining authenticity, experts look for an ivory's grain (like miniature tree rings) or cross-hatching, though this can be difficult depending on the angle of the cut. However, bone is a rougher, more splintery material and often experts can see the tell-tale signs of blood vessels or nerves. A very strong light, shining from below the piece, and powerful magnification may be needed for authentication. The light and magnification should show the translucent layers characteristic of ivory or the microscopic blood and nerve channels of bone. Mild soap and water can be used to clean antique ivory jewelry, but the item should never be left to soak because of the porous nature of ivory. Though it can be bleached to remove stained, the item also can be dyed to give it an aged appearance. Special care also needs to be given to antique cameo jewelry. Instructions for the proper care and storage of antique jewelry can be found on several websites.

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