Organic Gems

Organic Gems
[For Information and Educational purposes only]
by Alice Koh

Organic gemstones are gemstones that are produced by a living organism, whether animals or plants, or their fossilized remains. They are renewable and some can be farmed (like pearls). Unlike inorganic gemstone, organic material has no crystal structure. However, some organic materials have been mineralized by chalcedony, opals, calcite, aragonite or pyrite. Petrified wood and fossil coral are good examples of this.

Organic gemstones are among the oldest materials used in ornamentation by humans dating all the way back to the Stone Age. The most common organic gemstones are amber, pearl, jet, coral, ammolite and ivory.

Amber is unique from all other gemstones in the world. It is formed from the resin of ancient pine trees, a process that took millions of years. It is called “liquid sunshine” because of its lightweight luminescent colour. But it comes in many variety of colours.

The oldest piece of amber jewellery discovered was a 30,000-year-old amulet found near Hanover, Germany. Hippocrates, the father of healing, used amber to treat a number of diseases including delirium tremens.

The most well known organic gems include both freshwater and saltwater pearls. At one time only the uber rich could afford and wear a pearl necklace. Today most pearls are cultured, therefore making it more affordable and easily available for everyone.

Pearls are made by mollusc animals whereby the soft tissue within creates a mucus called nacre which then hardens, resulting in the creation of the pearl.

The most ancient jewellery ever found was a string of shells made of marine mollusks. It was most likely a necklace or beaded bracelet worn by prehistoric humanity.

Jet gemstone is an organic product of the decomposition of wood from millions of years ago. They are technically a type of coal, and are not minerals, but instead a mineraloid.

The most well-known deposit of jet is found at Whitby, in England. Jet can be cut and polished into mirror shine. Whitby Jet became world-famous after Queen Victoria used it as part of her mourning dress following the death of Prince Albert.

The source for jet has now been depleted and thus it has now become a collector's gem item.

Coral is a marine based gemstone which is made of calcium carbonate found below the vast oceans. A coral is the skeletal remains of a colony of tiny animals called coral polyps. It can be bright to dark-red, orange-red, orange-pink, pink, white, blue or black. When polished, it exhibits an attractive vitreous luster.

Coral poaching is illegal in many countries as the harvesting negatively impact the marine ecosystem. Therefore corals are hard to find in the market now.

Fossil coral is a coral that had been infilled and replaced with quartz or calcites. It can be polished into an attractive gemstone.

Ammolite is an opal-like organic gemstone. It is made of the fossilized shells of ammonites. Gem-quality ammolite produces a spectacular display of iridescent colour when it is observed in reflected light.

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.

Petrified wood began as an organic material but became crystallized and pseudomorph into a variety of quartz.

Saga, or Adenanthera Pavonina is also called Red Lucky Seed, Acacia Coral, Arbre À Église, Bead Tree, Circassian Seed, Corail Végétal, Coral Wood, Coralitos, Curly Bean, Deleite, Delicia, etcetera.

The seeds are contained within curved hanging pods that are split open into two spiraling halves revealing the vivid red, glossy and heart-shaped beads. The seed pods also open while still on the branch, releasing their seeds on the ground.

The young leaves and bark of Adenanthera pavonina are used in Traditional Medicine to treat diarrhea, and the ground seeds are used to treat inflammation. Further uses include food and drink, for making soap, and a red dye can be obtained from the wood which in India is pound into powder. A red dye is obtained from the wood and used by the Brahmins to make religious markings on their foreheads.

In China, saga seeds in Mandarin are known as "xiang si dou" (Chinese: 相思豆), or "mutual love bean" and are used as a symbol of love. The rich red colour of the seeds resembles a heart and the organic gem similar to the fine precious coral and the rich red carnelian gemstones. The seeds besides being bright red, and heart-shaped, are also hard. Saga seeds for a long time have been used as beads for jewellery.

Other organic gemstones are territella agate, sand dollar and dinosaur bones.