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Ivory has long been treasured for its beautiful white color and ability to be finely carved. As opposed to bone or horn, ivory is derived from the teeth and tusks of animals. Because of the devastating impact of poaching due to the ivory trade, the importation and sale of such materials is severely restricted or banned in many countries.

Ivory Polished
Ivory Classification
Common Name Ivory
Species Organic
Ivory Optical Properties
Transparency Translucent - Opaque
Refractive Index 1.520-1.550
Polariscope Reaction Aggregate (AGG)
Fluorescence SWUV: weak to moderate bluish white or violet blue
LWUV: weak to strong bluish white or violet blue
Pleochroism None
Ivory Characteristic Physical Properties
Hardness 2-3
Streak White
Specific Gravity 1.700-2.000
Toughness Fair
Inclusions Elephant and mammoth ivory will have wavy or intersecting curved lines in a v shaped pattern called engine turning effect. Mammoth or Moscow ivory tends to have more cracks than modern ivory. Walrus ivory or sea ivory is oval in cross section and the center has a rough bumpy appearance. Whale ivory comes from the teeth of sperm whales and can be found in antique Inuit carvings and scrimshaw. Narwhal ivory is hollow in the middle and tree-ring like growth patterns and a right to left spiral pattern.
Luster Greasy, Waxy, Dull
Stability Fair
Fracture Splintery
Cleavage None
Ivory Chemistry & Crystallography
Chemical Name calcium hydroxyl phosphate
Chemical Formula Dentine from teeth or modified teeth of mammals such as elephant, mammoth, hippopotamus, warthog, narwal or walrus
Crystal System NA
Chemistry Classification Organic

Ivory Colors

  • Brown Ivory Brown
  • Yellow Ivory Yellow
  • White Ivory White

Alternate Names

Babirusa Tusk Ivory, Boar tusk Ivory, Dugong Tusk Ivory, Elephant Ivory, Elk Teeth Ivory, Hippopotamus Ivory, Killer & Pilot Whale Teeth Ivory, Mammoth Ivory, Mastodon Ivory, Narwal Tusk Ivory ,Seal Teeth Ivory, Sperm Whale Ivory, Walrus Ivory, Warthog Tusk Ivory


Elephant ivory was widely used for piano keys, billiard balls, combs, and decorative items from the mid-1800’s to the early 1900’s. Whale or walrus ivory were used by Whalers to create scrimshaw artifacts.


Bone and ivory are very soft and may discolor with time. Discoloration is due to porosity/absorption of body oils or other substances from wearing. Be mindful of scratching. Avoid chemicals and ultrasonic cleaners. Requires gentle handling

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Vegetable Ivory

Ivory nut or vegetable ivory is a tagua nut which is the seed from some varieties of palm trees. It is white to pale yellow in its natural state. Since it resembles animal ivory it has been used as an ivory substitute in carvings, jewelry, buttons, and dice.

Vegetable Ivory Ivory
Vegetable Ivory Classification
Common Name Vegetable Ivory
Vegetable Ivory Characteristic Physical properties
Specific Gravity 1.38
Toughness Good


Mammoth Ivory

Mammoths have been extinct for 10,000 years. The ivory has been well preserved for 20,000 years in the permafrost in Siberia and Alaska. Mammoth ivory has also been called fossil ivory, but the material is not truly a fossil because the organic material has not been replaced with minerals. It can be tan to dark brown, orange, blue to black in color. The brown or blue-green color is caused by staining by the iron phosphate mineral vivianite. This staining will not be found in modern elephant ivory.

Mammoth Ivory Ivory
Mammoth Ivory Classification
Common Name Mammoth Ivory
Mammoth Ivory Characteristic Physical properties
Specific Gravity 1.77
Toughness Fair
Stability Fair

Elephant Ivory

Elephant ivory comes from adult African and Asian elephants. The trade in elephant ivory is restricted or prohibited due to the animals endangered or threatened status with CITIES. Elephant tusks were harvested for their use in decorative objects. Demand for ivory dates to the 1st century BC in Asia. Demand for Ivory in Europe and North America hit its peak in the mid 1800’s to the 1930’s. Current trade in the west is restricted by governmental laws and is discouraged by the environmental community.

Elephant Ivory Ivory
Elephant Ivory Classification
Common Name Elephant Ivory
Elephant Ivory Characteristic Physical properties
Specific Gravity 1.72
Toughness Fair
Stability Fair

Walrus Ivory

Walrus tusks and teeth are used in scrimshaw and carved for decorative items by the indigenous peoples of Alaska, Greenland and Russia. Walrus is a protected species in the United States it can only be harvested by Alaskan Natives that use it to create art objects. As of this writing walrus ivory harvested before 1972 can be traded in the United States. As Walrus tusks can grow to 3 feet in length and the teeth are typically under 2 inches.

Walrus Ivory Ivory
Walrus Ivory Classification
Common Name Walrus Ivory
Walrus Ivory Characteristic Physical properties
Specific Gravity 1.90
Toughness Fair
Stability Fair

Hippopotamus Ivory

Hippopotamus Ivory is used for knife handles and decorative objects. The teeth range from 6 inches to a foot from the gum line. Hippopotami are not currently endangered but are a listed species under CITIES. Tanzania and Uganda formally traded in Hippopotamus Ivory, but pressure has been put on these countries to end the trade of the material.

Hippopotamus Ivory Ivory
Hippopotamus Ivory Classification
Common Name Hippopotamus Ivory
Hippopotamus Ivory Characteristic Physical properties
Specific Gravity 1.80
Toughness Fair
Stability Fair

Narwhal Ivory

Narwals are small artic whales. The males have a long, spirally twisted tusk that typically grows to 6 feet in length. Whales are a protected species and cannot be sold in the United States. The medieval Europeans thought the tusk was the horn from a unicorn.

Narwhal Ivory Ivory
Narwhal Ivory Classification
Common Name Narwhal Ivory
Narwhal Ivory Characteristic Physical properties
Specific Gravity 1.90
Toughness Fair
Stability Fair

Sperm Whale Ivory

Sperm whales have the largest teeth of all the whale species. The teeth range from 2 to 6 inches in length. In the past whalers used their down time to carve whale teeth for scrimshaw art objects and knife handles. All whales are now a protected species and can no longer be hunted.

Sperm Whale Ivory Ivory
Sperm Whale Ivory Classification
Common Name Sperm Whale Ivory
Sperm Whale Ivory Characteristic Physical properties
Specific Gravity 1.90
Toughness Fair
Stability Fair

Warthog Tusks

Warthogs are a variety of pig that come from sub-Saharan Africa. The tusks can reach 20 inches in length. The tusks are used for carvings, scrimshaw, and knife handles.

Warthog Tusks Ivory
Warthog Tusks Classification
Common Name Warthog Tusks
Warthog Tusks Characteristic Physical properties
Specific Gravity 1.90
Toughness Fair
Stability Fair

Wild Boar Tusks

Wild boar is a member of the pig family that can be found all over the world. The size of the tusk ranges from 5 to 18 inches.

Wild Boar Tusks Ivory
Wild Boar Tusks Classification
Common Name Wild Boar Tusks
Wild Boar Tusks Characteristic Physical properties
Toughness Fair
Stability Fair
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Tim Matthews

Tim Matthews is President and Chief Executive Officer of Jewelry Television® (JTV), as well as a member of the company's Board of Directors. He oversees and leads all aspects of the company's powerful omni-digital retail platform that uniquely specializes in fine jewelry and gemstones. His passion for business and gemstones has led him to become a recognized expert in the field of gemology. He is a life member of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain (Gem-A) and has earned Gem-A's highest degrees, the Gemmology (FGA) and Diamond (DGA) diplomas. He is also a Graduate Gemologist (GG) of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and has also completed GIA's Graduate Diplomas in Diamonds, Colored Stones and Pearls. Under his leadership, JTV has become the leader in the sourcing and selling of color gemstones and jewelry.

This page was created on June 27, 2014.

This page was last edited on October 24, 2019.