by Ms Nandita Ray
What is organic? Anything that is derived from living organisms and containing carbon compounds is organic in nature. Jewelry made from organisms that were once living creatures or their product is considered organic jewelry. Amber, bamboo, Bone, Horn, Stone, Hardwood, Pearls, Ivory, Hair and Coral are some of the organic elements used in jewelry.
Jewelry in any form is always delightful. A pretty trinket of bone or a pendant of wood or a coral earring or a pearl stud; always fetches a smile or even a gasp of pleasure. These pieces are all made of organic material. What is organic? Anything that is derived from living organisms and containing carbon compounds is organic in nature. Jewelry made from organisms that were once living creatures or their product is considered organic jewelry. Amber, bamboo, Bone, Horn, Stone, Hardwood, Pearls, Ivory, Hair and Coral are some of the organic elements used in jewelry.
Jewelry has been used from the beginning of civilization to decorate and beautify body and has always been an important part of human growth and development. Enhancing physical beauty has and will always take a huge slice of human grooming.
The now extinct ever green Pinites Succinifer, very similar to the Spruce tree in looks, with needle like leaves, produced a resin that was steeped with oil. This liquid hardened over the years, as it came in contact with air. This process took million of years. This hardened product is called Amber. This tough resin was used by trees as a protection against fungal or parasitical attack.
The thick and syrupy liquid that oozes out of the barks, contain volatile oils called terpene. This is unsaturated hydrocarbons and is found in essential oils and oleoresins of plants. This hardened form of resin is called Copal or sub fossil Amber. This is semi fossilized or recently hardened. With Polymerization, the molecular structure of the Copal changes further hardening it. This takes place in the absence of air or free oxygen or it has to be in sea water for a long period. It takes million of years for Copal to turn into Amber.
Copal is sometimes sold as Amber. It is a lustrous resin, generic name for all tree resins, and is used chiefly for making varnishes. It is brittle, aromatic, yellow or red in color and used for polishing wood work. Madagascar and Kenya have large deposits of Copal.
Amber is deeply colored, translucent even transparent, which is rare and is highly prized. The largest deposits are found in the Baltic Coast Deposits. To be called Amber, the resin has to be several million years old. In fact some refer to Succinite, the mineralogical fossil resin from the Baltic region as true Amber. What makes the Amber a truly prized possession are the inclusions. Leaves, flowers, insects, even tiny animals get trapped and eventually fossilized within the Amber. Older fossils of such trapped living things are sometimes the only remnant of the species. Due to its preservative power, the DNA of these flora and fauna are well preserved and help in scientific studies. Amber from New Jersey has revealed many previously unknown, extinct Cretaceous species, hundred million years old.
Colors range from white, called Bone Amber to shades of brown and yellow and red. Sometimes blue or green Amber can be found. This is rare. Color is the result of minerals present in the soil or water and its reaction with the raw resin. Transparent Amber is most expensive.
Amber gets highly polished. When rubbed it gets charged with static electricity. Heating Amber will melt it. Over heating will burn it, decompose it, releasing Amber oil. Amber pitch is the black residue. Dissolving it in linseed oil or turpentine forms Amber lac or varnish.
The name Amber is of Arabic descent. Amber has been used from ancient times for various purposes, jewelry one of them. It has been mentioned by Homer, Aristotle and Plato.
Since its exterior is hard and inside soft, it is easy to craft jewelry and objects of art. Necklaces with beads and blocks of Amber are threaded. Mix and match with different tones of Amber are weaved with chains. Green with warm brown of Amber set in silver or gold brown with silver beads or oval shaped Amber beads with round beads make a smart combination. Silver chains with a pendant made of Rose colored amber looks pretty. Sometimes Amber is carved in shape of a rose or bud. Some pendants sport a Victorian look. Heart shaped, crosses, bunch of grapes, single amber drop, modern setting or set in the traditional way. Hand faceted, carved engraved all types of necklaces and pendants, earrings, bracelets, bangles, brooches and cameos are made of Amber. Some of these are hand polished.
Tips to buy Amber
In order to make sure that the Amber is genuine and not fake, keep in mind-
-Buy from a reputed store
-True Amber comes in limited shades of Brown, cream/ivory, yellow, blue and green.
-Amber can be translucent or transparent.
-Real Amber will feel warm and when rubbed it will get charged with static electricity.
-Use infrared or spectroscopy to test Amber.
-Use of Solvents will also reveal its identity.
-Buoyancy test will help. Amber should float.
-Burnt plastic will release carbolic acid smell.
Jewelry made out of coral is not a new concept. It is one of the nine gems called navratan that has been an integral part of Indian Jewelry. Coral is fished out from the sea. It is actually the skeletal remains of microscopic sea animals called polyps. They are invertebrates. It begins life as a swimming larva, with a pin sized head. Secretion of calcium carbonate from the lower part of the body forms suction pads which help it to settle on a firm support for ever. The body is soft and tubular. It has a mouth surrounded by eight tentacles, which help it to trap food by stinging the prey. Polyps house zooxanthellae which are brown algae. They provide nutrients to the polyp by photosynthesis and this helps the coral to grow. Corals usually feed at night.
The skeletal wall around each polyp is called Theca. Corals have two body types perforate and imperforate. Perforate or soft corals have a porous skeleton with connections between each polyp. The imperforates or hard corals have a solid chalky skeleton that remains intact even after they die. Hard coral forms coral reefs. By dividing or budding a single polyp gives birth. This way they reproduce, grow and build colonies that reach gigantic size called coral reefs. Reproduction is also be done by releasing eggs.When alive they look like swaying fragile trees with multiple branches. The remains however are sturdy and they are composed of calcium carbonate with traces of carotene. They are harvested from depths of 100 to 1000 ft with wide meshed nets dragged across the sea bed. Some corals are hand picked. Corals come in different colors and their worth is based on color and availability.
It is the Hawaii’s state Gemstone. It is related to sea anemone and jelly fish. The color of its skeleton is blackish brown. In 1960 the famous marine biologist Jaccques Cousteau, re-discovered black coral. This was a happy find since it was considered extinct.
The skeleton is made from tough protein. Its body is covered with tiny thorny spines and is called ‘little thorn coral’. The tubular body has a mouth at the top end. The tentacles are covered with nematocysts. They reproduce by spawning annually. The larva swims and attaches itself to a colony. It is found in New Zealand and is a protected species over there.
Black coral was highly regarded by the Greeks who called it Antipathies Grandis. It was supposed to ward of evil.
Also called Corallium Rubrum or Fire coral or Red Bull coral. It grows slowly at a depth of 500 to 1000ft. They breed in water with temperature between 13 to 16 degrees Celsius. The Red is due to the presence of carotene. They can live for a very long time. The skeleton is composed of stick like calcium carbonate rods, a number of irregular branches fused together in a rigid form. The colors range from deep red to orange to pink.
There are two types of polyps, one with eight tentacles and the other just a small tube. The tentacles feed the coral while the tube keeps the water flowing, hydrating the colony. Reproduction is by eggs or division of polyps. The best Red corals come from S. Ireland, the Bay of Biscay, Canary Islands, The Red Sea, Mauritius and Japan. Today Tibet and China supply fossilized Red coral. When cut and polished it shines brilliantly. The thickness of each branch is about 4 cm. The point from where it branches out is the thickest. This part is used for making jewelry.
Is found in the entire length of Hawaii. It is very hard and dense. It is sometimes marbled or shaded. Pink roses and other carved pieces are made from this coral. Pendants, earrings in shape of a rose, tulip or just a figurine are highly popular. In 1966 it was discovered off the coast of Omaha.
Hawaii Black/ Gold Coral
Black and Gold corals are always on the ‘wanted’ list. It was in 1971 that two beds were discovered on top of a volcano underwater in Hawaii. Again another set was discovered in 2000. When polished it becomes glossy. Only 3% of the reef is harvested each year. Colors range from beige to black. It is also called Chatoyance, which in French means cat’s eye.
Jewelry made with coral is very pretty. It looks delicate, refined and dignified. Necklaces, bracelets, bangles, earrings, rings, pins, brooches, anklets, buttons and pendants can be crafted from coral. Set in silver or gold, filigreed, carved, engraved or just oval or round shaped coral looks enchanting. Necklaces can be made of a single strand in red or multiple strands with black as a contrast, a choker with pink and black coral. Earrings can be a simple stud or a hoop with dangling coral beads or a bunch of corals like hanging grapes. Diamonds encircling coral or pearls surrounded by small corals make a beautiful design. Coral can be crafted into rose or chrysanthemums, cherubs, leaves or fruits. Brooches can be inlayed with coral while pendants in shape of heart, tulip, tear drop or even a star can be made. Coral popularized by Napoleon, overused by Victorians is slowly inching its way back into fashion. Since coral is over harvested it is getting difficult to get genuine coral. One has to be careful of imitations like glass, plastic, bone or even porcelain which is being passed off as coral.
Tips to buy Coral
-Real coral is soft. It gets scratched easily.
-It should take shine easily.
-Heat will discolor it. Plastic when heated will give off a smell.
-The base of the real coral will exhibit some evidence of sea life.
-Plastic will show molding lines.
-Shell stimulants will show layered structure.
-Glass may show air bubbles.
Coral should be kept away from heat and abrasives.
Like diamonds ‘The Queen of Gems’ wields its magic over jewelry makers and wearers. Nothing can detract from its inner glow, glaze and soft, smooth look. It sets off gold; silver even brightens the dullest metal. It is believed that the Roman general Vitelline financed his war campaign by selling his mother’s pearls. A real pearl is very valuable and rare to get today. Like the coral it is found in the depths of the sea and is the product of a living organism, the mollusk or the clam.
When an irritant get within the folds of its skin, it is not easily dislodged by the mollusk. To stop the irritation it starts covering the particle with its secretion called nacre or mother of pearl. This secretion is used for making its outer shells and is composed of the mineral calcium carbonate and a fibrous protein called conchiolin. This process leads to the formation of a natural pearl, which may take many years.
Real pearl is the product of a biological process thus not always smooth or perfectly round. Each layer of nacre that covers it has a layer of conchiolin in between. These layers do not always cover the pearl completely. This leads to imperfections. The shape and size of a natural pearl varies depending on the mollusk that formed it, the size of the particle, where the particle got embedded, and the health of the mollusk or clam. The temperature and the water it bred in. The color of pearl which ranges from white to different shades of cream, gold black and purple depend on the organic pigments found in the secretion The presence of nacre gives the pearl it’s lustrous, opalescent and shimmering look.
Cultured pearl is the brain child of Japan. Japanese cultured pearl is the international standard. China also farms huge amounts of such pearls. They can be bred in sea water or in fresh water like river or lake. A healthy mollusk or clam is impregnated with an object and bred. Following are the types of mollusk used: –
Pearls got from this single shelled mollusk is very rare. The reason is over fishing. This thirty million old species is a delicacy and gets fished out before maturity. It takes about ten years for it to produce a pearl with a thick nacreous layer. The colors are deep blue, green tinted, purple, pink and gold, the shapes solid or hollow or horn shaped.
Pinctada Fucata Martensii oysters produce pearls which are round, lustrous and beautiful. It takes about two years for the pearl to grow. If left for a longer period the quality and size gets better. Colors are varied.
South Sea Pearls
This white lipped large mollusk, Oyster Pinctada Maxima produces silvery colored large pearls. They are expensive and cultivated in ocean lagoons in Tahiti, Australia and Philippines.
Oyster Pteria Penguin produces such pearls in its shell not body. These pearls are usually flat at one end and fragile. This is because they are made by filling in a cavity and packed with mother of pearl. They are large and cheaper than a similar South sea Pearl and used for pendants, rings and earrings.
Sea Snails called Queen Conch produces pearl with deep rich swirling array of colors and is very rare. They cannot be cultivated. Such pearls are measured in carats.
Called poppy seeds or simply seed pearls because of their size. Poppy is Keshi in Japanese. They can be farmed in sea or fresh water. The oyster throws out the foreign object before it is fully covered or the nucleus developed. Sometimes the nucleus divides into two separate pearls, which have only a few layers of nacre.
Fresh Water Pearls
Grown in mussels with a single mussel producing twenty pearls in a year. The size is small and irregular in shape. They are cheap.
Pearls are sorted in shape, size and color. The oldest pearl jewelry found is from a Persian Princess who died in 520 B.C. Pearl in Latin means ‘unique’. It makes for an ideal wedding gift and is often worn for relieving stress.
A versatile gem, it is used in most jewelry. It has decorated clothes of the Rich and Famous. It can be fashioned into jewelry one can dream of. Necklaces, bangles, bracelets, rings, earrings, nose pins, tiepins, pendants brooches, hair clasps, buttons, tiaras; it can beautify bags and belts and slippers too. Strands of white pearls, pink pearls, dyed multi colored pearls, chokers /collars, mixed and matched, single strand mixed with gold beads, or red coral or with uncut rubies or emerald can be worn as necklaces. Bracelets or bangles with seed pearls set in gold or silver look attractive and go with most outfits. Some earrings are made with single big pearl, studs, tear drop or round pearls dangling from a thin chain is quite fashionable. Hoops with multi colored pearls, pearls surrounded by diamonds or seed pearls encircling a ruby look pretty. Pearl pendants set in filigree gold often form a center piece of a chain. Pearl forms an important part of Navratan set. There is no end to designs with pearls.
Tips to buy Pearls
-Prime pearl is not easily got.
-Decide on the quality you want to buy, natural or cultured. This will be dictated by your pocket and needs.
-Most pearls in the market are cultured.
-Go to a reputed store and take time to choose your pearls.
-Sometimes inferior pearls are set in attractive designs. Question the pearls used.
-Plastic, glass, synthetic beads or shell are often substituted. The coatings peel off when rubbed or scratched.
-X Rays with 10X will reveal the layers of a good pearl, its density and how it was formed.
-Tooth Test also helps in identifying a pearl. A real pearl will feel gritty, a fake absolutely smooth.
-If held under strong light, it will reveal disparity in color, overtones and exhibit natural defects. A fake one will look perfect.
-Natural pearls sit heavy on the palm. Fake ones are generally light.
-The nacre gloss is also a giveaway since fake pearls feel glassy, sticky and warm to touch. A natural pearl radiates from within and feels cool when touched.