To reach our Eco-friendly goal we are working, as a main material, with a very old palm tree seed that was discovered over 300 years ago in the Amazon Jungle and has been used to replace ivory in the finest products, but that was unsuccessfully replaced by plastic in the 50s.
The palm seed known as vegetable ivory [Phytelephas Macrocarpa], which comes from the Amazon Jungle in Latin-America, is called this way because, after drying it up, its colour, hardness and density are very similar to animal ivory. These properties make this amazing seeds the only natural and 100 percent sustainable alternative for ivory.
When the seed in fresh is like jelly so before it can be worked must be allowed to dry naturally to gain the hardness required to be carved (about 4 to 4.5 in Moss scale). This drying time can go from some days up to twenty years and is made in a natural way, separating the seed from soil, water and sun in special warehouses. Obviously the older the seed the more valuable it becomes.
For carvings in the figures of animals or for bigger pieces (like the Japanese Netsuke) the pieces are aloud to dry between 50 and 180 days, but for fine jewellery we let them dry between 2 and 20 years to guarantee that the pieces will not brake when time passes.
Every seed has a natural grain that becomes more visible with age. This grain makes the seeds totally different one from each other and is one of the best characteristics the vegetable ivory has (is something that can’t be copied with the artificial materials like plastic). The grain also decorates the seed in a very attractive way and gives it the touch of originality showed also by the animal ivory.
With this seed have been made many thing being the most famous the buttons of the Victorian dresses (replacing ivory when it was difficult or expensive to source), the handles for walking sticks, the drawer handles of the fine furniture, sewing implements as well as some special accessories (Japanese carvings), rare miniatures and sculptures, among others.
After the pieces are dried we peel them, slice them, carve them and then we dye them, using natural dyes that are fixed with high temperature, copying the same process of pottery. When the desired colour can’t be reached using natural materials we also use the colours from the food industry.
The vegetable ivory is actually widely used in ethnic jewellery, where the makers leave traces of the skin on the main pieces and dye them in an artisan way, dyes that sometimes come off when in contact with water or sweat.
Of this type of palms are 2 main varieties, one in Africa and the other in the Amazons, been the Amazonian the largest in size.
With this seeds were made the buttons of the fine Victorian dresses, the handles of the walking sticks and the draw handles of the fine furniture, among other objects and sculptures.
The seeds were sold like real ivory during the Victorian times and few people really knew the difference between one another. Today the seeds are exhibited in the Natural History Museum and the British Museum and are presented as the natural alternative for ivory.
After been used widely the plastic put the seeds away of the markets but with the failure of plastic replacing ivory they came back strongly. For over 50 years the vegetable ivory palms have been cultivated in an effort for reforesting. The seeds are now used to replace ivory in the Japanese carvings called Netsuke, in the buttons of the designers’ dresses and in the inlays in furniture and elegant wooden boxes.
Differently from the Victorians the palm trees still grow naturally all over the Amazons but today there are 3 countries planting vegetable ivory to re-forest the Amazon jungle. Those countries are Ecuador (85% of the production), Colombia (12%) and Panama (3%). The production of seeds today is 100.000 tonnes per year, so is 100% sustainable and eco-friendly.
When the seeds are fresh are like jelly, to soft to be carved. It’s required to let the seeds dry naturally until they are hard enough to be used. The drying process takes at least 6 months separated from soil and water. The first weeks they dry up using the same system as coffee beans. The young seeds are easier to carve, so when they are less than 180 days old are perfect for the Japanese small sculptures, once the seeds dry up the intricate carvings get perfection.
For our jewellery we use the seeds dried between 2 and 20 years. The older the seeds the more similar to ivory they become in hardness and weight. The carving is more difficult but the pieces resemble ivory almost identically and their quality improves drastically.