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Making jewellery from organic material using amber, pearls, and more

What is organic matter and how is it used in jewellery?

Organic matter, as the name suggests, is anything that comes from a plant or animal, rather than the earth. This means that metals, gemstones, and rocks are not organic. Pearls, shell, horn, bone, amber, and other similar materials, on the other hand, are organic. The two can often be used together – you’ve probably seen plenty of pearl and amber jewellery! Organic material often needs to be treated very differently, however, as it tends to be more delicate and prone to damage.

It’s a huge category of materials, with no clear-cut definition. Amber, for example, is often thought to be a stone, but is actually formed from fossilised tree resin.


The history of organic jewellery

Some of the world’s oldest jewellery was made from organic matter. The oldest known piece of jewellery, a staggering 130,000 years old, was made from eagle claws. The prehistoric equivalent of bohemian claw-inspired pendants, perhaps? Other ancient jewellery made use of shells.

Throughout history, humans have made use of organic materials to create beautiful and meaningful jewellery. Certain materials have sometimes been used for symbolic reasons. The ancient Greeks, for example, highly valued amber because of its ability to create static electricity. The Vikings loved bone jewelry because it was easy to carve into delicate, intricate shapes. Organic material is generally much easier to shape and manipulate than inorganic material – just think of how much easier it is to carve a piece of shell than to heat and shape a piece of metal!

Organic material has sometimes been used as jewellery on its own, as with the eagle claws already mentioned. Sometimes, it has been used as an alternative or equivalent to metal and stone jewellery. Amber, for example, has long been used in silver jewellery, while shell and wood can be used as inlays in metalwork.

Why organic jewellery is still so popular today

Even today, when mass production has made metal jewellery easy to create, and far more affordable, organic materials continue to be popular. Fake pearls are readily available but real pearls (which, of course, are produced naturally by oysters) are still sold in huge quantities. Shell and amber are both still extremely popular in jewellery. Mother of pearl is a great example of this – it’s actually a type of shell.

Today, organic material is often chosen because of its associations with nature. Shell necklaces are popular beach jewellery, while claws and teeth are often chosen bohemian style jewellery. The raw, natural shapes are a beautiful alternative to man-made metal jewellery. Organic material is also a popular choice for body jewellery, as it is far less likely to cause allergic reactions than many cheap metals. New technologies have also allowed organic materials to be used in new, exciting ways. For example, resin can be used to preserve leaves and other organic items in beautiful, unique pieces of jewellery. Finally, organic materials are absolutely beautiful. No artificial alternative has yet captured the warmth of amber or the glow of pearls. Man-made equivalents just can’t compete!

Unusual organic materials

I’ve mentioned a few different organic materials in this post, but there are plenty of other examples! Here are just a few of the different organic materials that have been turned into jewellery, whether in prehistory or in the modern world:

Amber, Pearl, Coconut shell, Snail shells, Ostrich shell, Eagle claws, Bone, Deer antler, Mother of pearl, Tortoiseshell, Ivory, Wood

Do you have any jewellery made with organic materials? Which kind of organic jewellery is your favourite?

05 Jan 2017

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