A glossary of ethnic jewellery terms


Pearls are organic gems grown within oysters and a few other mollusks. Pearls are formed when a foreign object (like a tiny stone) has made its way into the mollusk’s shell. The mollusk secretes nacre, a lustrous substance that coats the intruding object. As thousands of layers of nacre coat the intruder, a pearl is…Continue Reading


Striations are  lines formed within a substance. Stiations can exist in different forms in different materials. For example the striations in bone a re straight and parrallel, whereas the striations in Ivory are in a diamond formation. an understanding of striation patterns can be very useful when determining the materials used in the creation of…Continue Reading

Seed pearl

Seed pearls are tiny, round pearls that are less than 2 mm in diameter and weigh under 1/4 grain. Seed pearl jewelry was popular from the mid- to late-Victorian era, when the tiny pearls were strung on horsehair to form intricate designs and were also used as accents on other jewelry.  Continue Reading


Scrimshaw is intricate carving or engraving done on the bones, teeth, and tusks of marine mammals like whales (especially sperm whales) and walruses.Continue Reading

Tortoise shell

Tortoise shell is the shell of a tortoise. It was used in the 1800’s for jewelry, hair combs, and other ornaments but is banned today. Tortoise shell inlaid with precious metals is called pique. Tortoise shell will burn easily, and smells like burning hair. It is easily imitated by plastic, but its smell when burnt…Continue Reading

Job’s Tears

Job’s tears (Coix lacryma-jobi) is a wild tropical grass plant that has very hard seeds. The white seeds are used as beads in jewellery. The seeds are dried, dyed or painted, polished, drilled and then strung into necklaces and bracelets.  Continue Reading


Jet is fossilized wood formed from a species of Araucaria (the monkey puzzle tree). It is synonymous with the colour black and can be highly polished to give an intense black colour that never fades. When polished the material is so reflective that pieces of Jet were even used as mirrors in medieval times. It…Continue Reading


Ivory is made from the tusks and teeth of elephants, whales and other animals. It is highly valuable, in part because it is now illegal to procure ivory from some sources, such as elephants  Continue Reading


Beads and pendants are carved from the Horn of Many animals. Jewellery made from Horn originates in many countries.         Image coertesy of creative beadcraftContinue Reading


Heishi (pronounced he-she) is jewelry made from disk-shaped beads of shell (or turquoise, lapis lazuli, and other stones). Each bead begins as a tiny flat piece of shell (or stone). A tiny stringing hole is drilled though the fragment. Many of these jagged pieces are strung together tightly on a wire and are then sanded…Continue Reading

Freshwater Pearls

A freshwater pearl is a pearl that was harvested from a freshwater mussel (a mollusk). These pearls are frequently shaped like crisped rice cereal, and are less valuable than oyster pearls. Biwa pearls are very good quality freshwater pearls.Continue Reading


Diamonds are precious, lustrous gemstones made of highly-compressed carbon. Diamonds are one of the hardest materials known. Diamonds have a hardness of 10, a specific gravity of 3.5, and a refractive index of 2.417 – 2.419. Colors of diamonds range from colorless, yellow, orange, brown, to almost black. Rarer colors are red, blue, green, and…Continue Reading


Conus is a large genus of small to large predatory sea snails, marine gastropod molluscs, with the common names of cone snails, cone shells or cones. This genus is placed in the subfamily Coninae within the family Conidae. Geologically speaking, the genus is known from the Eocene to the Recent (Holocene) periods.Conus species have shells…Continue Reading


A white, tasteless, odorless protein precipitated from milk by rennin. It is the basis of cheese and is used to make plastics, adhesives, paints, and foods.Continue Reading


Cinnabar is the mineral Mercury Sulfide. Its color ranges from cinnamon to scarlet to brick red and it can be translucent to transparent. It is often carved. Cinnabar has a hardness of 2 – 2.5 (very soft) and a specific gravity of 8.1 (quite heavy).Continue Reading

Carnelian / Chalcedony

Carnelian (also called cornelian and carneole) is a reddish form of chalcedony (a type of quartz). This translucent stone has a waxy luster. The best carnelian is from India. Most commercial carnelian is really stained chalcedony. Carnelian has a hardness of 7 and a specific gravity of 2.6Continue Reading


Copal is a name given to tree resin that is particularly identified with the aromatic resins used by the cultures of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica as ceremonially burned incense and other purposes. More generally, the term copal describes resinous substances in an intermediate stage of polymerization and hardening between “gummier” resins and amber.The word copal is derived…Continue Reading


Coral is an animal that grows in colonies in the ocean. Coral polyps secrete a strong calcium structure that is used in jewelry making. Coral ranges in color from pale pink (called angelskin coral) to orange to red to white to black. The most valued colors are deep red (called noble coral) and pink. In…Continue Reading

Black Coral

The black or thorny corals (Antipatharia) make up an order of about 230 recognized species, many found in deep water. Prized for bead making and often adorned with inlaid silverContinue Reading

Butterfly wing jewellery

Butterfly wing jewellery is made from real butterfly wings. A picture is sometimes painted on the wings, which is then enclosed in glass or plastic and then mounted in metal to make a pin, pendant, or other piece of jewellery.  Continue Reading


Bones are rigid organs that constitute part of the endoskeleton of vertebrates, carved to make beads, pins, bangles, etc. It superficially resembles ivory, but has a less-complex characteristic internal patterns and a yellower color.Continue Reading


Amberoid, or “pressed amber,” is produced by fusing together small pieces of amber under pressure. Parallel bands, or flow structure, in amberoid help to distinguish it from natural amber.Continue Reading

Angelskin Coral

Angelskin coral is a pale pink coral, from deep sea coral. Angelskin coral is one of the most valued colors of coral (red is also highly prized). Coral is an animal that grows in colonies in the ocean. Coral polyps secrete a strong calcium structure that is used in jewelry making. Coral ranges in color…Continue Reading


Amorphous means without form. An amorphous gem, like jet, amber, or ivory, does not have a regular internal structure, like those gems that fall within the seven crystal systems.Continue Reading