What Organic Gemstones Are Used In Jewelry?

Most gemstones are mined and originate as lifeless mineral composites.  Organic gemstones are those that that come from once living plant or animal.  There are mainly 3 organic stones that are used for most jewelry:  pearls being the most popular, then amber or coral.  Others exist but they are typically more rare or were popular in the past.

Gemstones Classifications
  • Amber is fossilized tree resin. The most prized Amber will have bits and pieces of plants or insects in it.  A full fossilized insect can result in a very expensive pendant or ring!
  • Ammolite is a slice of colored material from inside of the Canadian version of Ammonite
  • Ammonite is a fossilized shell of a squid –like creature used for jewelry and decorative home/office accessories.  They come in sizes small enough to create a ring to as tall as an adult person.  The decorative pieces are usually sold whole, whereas the fossils used in jewelry are usually cut in half.
  • Copal is a younger and less expensive version of amber.
  • Coral comes from different types of underwater plants.  Many of which are now protected so getting jewelry can be expensive and hard-to-find since only dead coral can be harvested.  The most popular coral colors for jewelry are lipstick red or orange-tones.  Black, pink, and other colors are rare.
  • Ivory –was originally from elephant tusk but now may come from the teeth of other large animals or the ivory palm.  This is most popular are carved figurines or jewelry items.
  • Jet looks black like coal but is actually decayed wood and rarely used in jewelry today.  So you would most likely find it in antique stores or estate sales.
  • Pearl is formed in mollusks.  The more expensive pearls are grown in oysters where only one pearl is produced.  The less expensive freshwater is more prolific as several pearls can be grown in a single mussel.
Arguably, there are other organics since fashion jewelry is often made from organic materials other than rocks, glass, and paste.  You could argue that they should fall into the organic category too.  However, they are usually referred to as “natural” since they are not as rare or as expensive as their organic gemstone counterparts. These are typically built into fashion jewelry or are fad items that come and go with the trends and times.

Fashionable Options 
Wood Necklaces and
Stretch Bracelets,
Painted or Stained
  • Abalone is used in jewelry because of its lovely luster and multiple colors.
  • Bone carving for jewelry has been around for centuries, yet it is not necessarily fashionable so much as collectable.  Do not expect it to be inexpensive since it does take time for the artist to create.  Bones may come from a large animal like a buffalo or a smaller animal like an armadillo.
  • Mother of Pearl is the inside of the shell covering the pearl, it is made of the same nacre.  It is highly sought after for carving in jewelry and for making shell pearls.
  • Natural Wood is used in inexpensive beaded necklaces and bracelets.  The wood may be a painted bangle or be stained to bring out the natural striations and color variations.  Carved pieces or slices of wood that show the age rings are popular for pendants.  Often carved pieces are representative of a culture.  Some types of wood are used in jewelry to represent the region the wood comes from, such as Olive from Israel or Koa from Hawaii. 
  • Paua is a brightly colored abalone found in New Zealand
  • Petrified Wood is a plant that has turned into stone as a result of chemicals and other materials that covered the original wood during petrification that may either enhance or change the color of it.  It is most popular for decorative items but has been used in some jewelry.
  • Shells can be used as beads via drilled small shells or cut shell sections.  These might be pendants, strung on a necklace, or put onto stretch cord for a bracelet.  Shells are also used to carve most cameos which are traditionally made in Italy and imported around the world.  Cameos are usually found in jewelry stores or home shopping networks and they are the most expensive version of shell jewelry.  Currently cameos are in fashion so faux resin versions can be found in a range of colors.

If you believe an organic jewelry option was left out, please include a comment listing the item and why you feel it should be added to the list.  Thanks!

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