Russian Gemstones Encyclopedia

Vladimir Bukanov. Russian Gemstones Encyclopedia



HORN (Horn—Cornе—–ог), from an Old Indo-European root, from which were derived “cornu” in Lat., “corne” in Fr. and horn in Engl. and Germ.

Properties. Bioorganic origin formation from the group of ceratoid ornamental materials. Amorphous. Hardness 2-3. Density 1.3-1.8. Pitch luster. Flexible. Thermoplastic under 100°C, cow’s horn displays the maximum plasticity under the temperature of melting 315°C. In the group of horn there are the following its varieties which are used in jewelry: 1) Horns – hard pair tumors on the skull of some ruminant animals: buffalo, goat, cow, roe, deer, as well as non-pair horny tumor on the nasal bones of rhinoceros. 2) Horny formations of living organisms – hairs, skin, hoofs, hornbill ivory, tortoise shell, feathers, ostrich egg shell, chitin beetle wing cases and others. Horn is light in weight, solid ornamental material. Color: from light to dark brown, but it can be colored artificially into red, brown or black. Because of its thermoplasticity, horn warmed in water can be formed. Because of its solidity, transparency and pleasant color, it is used for manufacturing non-expensive adornments, toilet accessories and souvenirs. Colored horn is often used for imitation of tortoise shell, jet and agate. Horn itself can be imitated with plastic.

Treatment. Horn is one of the most ancient materials, which was used by primitive people. They made adornments, small plastics, fans, toilet accessories, bowls, goblets and incrustations from horn. In northern countries, deer’s horn was popular as material for carving, as well as cow’s horn in many others countries. Cow’s horn is usually brown in color and in hardness it is close to bone, it is renewed every year and more soft. Pendants from bear’s teeth mounted in gilded silver with precious stones are exhibited in the Museum of Applied Arts and Life in Russia of the 17th cent. In the collection of the Grün. Gew., Dresden, Germany, there is goblets from horn mounted in gold, made by German masters of the end of the 14th cent.; they are 30.1 cm. high, 40.7 cm. long. In the collection of the State. Hist. Museum, Moscow, Russia, there are combs from horn, richly decorated with precious stones, cameos, miniatures and enamels. Large collection of works of art from horn is in the Gallery of Oriental Arts of the Dublin Museum, Ireland. Works of art from horn were often encrusted with nacre.

Rhinoceros horn. – It’s properties: hardness 2, density 1.3, pitch luster, it is thermoplastic and available for formatting. It is brownish-yellow to black in color and can be colored artificially. Nowadays, the most significant market of works of art from rhinoceros horn is Yemen, where they make richly decorated hilts of traditional daggers from it. In the collection of the Grün. Gew., Dresden, Germany, there is a goblet from rhinoceros horn, 36.8 cm. high, made by Germ. masters (1700-1709), decorated with gemstones, there is a figure of an African woman in its base.

Hairs. In the epoch of Romanticism special jewelry adornments were in fashion: lockets with locks of a beloved person, as well as bracelets, brooches and ear-rings, wreathed from hair. An example of such adornments is a pair of ear-rings from hairs 5 cm. long and a bracelet – all mounted in gold in the collection of the State. Hist. Museum, Moscow, Russia. In the early 20th cent., fur ribbons were in fashion, made from tails of fluffy animals, on which pendants from gemstones were hanged. In the countries of the equatorial Africa, they use thick black giraffe’s hairs tails and elephant’s hairs nowadays.

Skin. The most well-known in jewelry is shark skin – galyusha, named after a Fr. master, who used it for the first time in jewelry, in the 18th cent.; its synonym is bone skin. It was used in manufacturing of cases, richly decorated toilet-bags, snuff-boxes, frames, desk sets and others. Sometimes, they use in the same way ass skin, too.

Hoofs of wild sows display three-edged shape in basal slabs and they are up to 12 cm. in cross-section. Because of their thermoplasticity, which is close to the same of horn, they are used in jewelry. Eskimo of Alaska process hoofs of wild caribou deer for these purposes. Describing the treasures of the Russian Tsars, A.E. Fersman’s mentioned a bracelet with plates from deer’s hoofs and a ring from this material decorated with brilliants.

Hornbill ivory is a horny tumor on the bill of a large bird from South-East Asia. This tumor with fibrous texture is 5x5x4 cm. in size, its hardness is 3, its density is 1.3, and it is translucent and thermoplastic. Color is red outside and yellow inside. It is known in China under the name of gold jade or golden jade. According archaeological discoveries, it has been processed on the Kalimantan (form. Borneo) and Sumatra Iss., in the Indian Ocean since the ancient times. It was used for adornments and decoration of hilts of daggers. Since the 15th cent., it has been known under the trade name crane bill or crane comb. In China, they made flasks, combs and buckles from it, and in Japan – netsuke. In Europe, this material appeared only in the 19th cent. Nowadays it is processed mainly in Singapore and Hong Kong. The price of an engraved flask from hornbill ivory, 5x2.2x1 cm. in size, yellowish-brown with red in color is $2,800 per one thing.

Tortoise shell is a protecting horny cover of sea turtles inhabiting tropic seas. It consists of 30 back plates or corselets, from 13 to 32 cm. long, 9-12 mm. thick; and of 24 edge plates and 12 plates of the down part of the shell. Their hardness is 2.5, density – 1.2-1.3. Opposite to other bioorganic materials, plates of the shell are not electrified in the process of friction. The most valuable are translucent, amber-yellow plates of the upper (back) part of the shell with red and red-brown spots – “hawks-bill turtle”. Plates from the down part of the shell are less valuable, because they are non-transparent and too light colored. Plates of the tortoise shell are well polished, they can be softened in boiling water, and in that moment some parts can be pressed together, which gives a chance to produce big goods. For pressing they use all the elements of horny cover of turtles, including claws and chips after the processing of their shells. Products from melted shells are different in texture.

Feathers. An adornment for a hair-dress or for a hat in the form of fluttering feathers decorated with precious things is called “esprit” (Fr. – mind, consciousness). It appeared in the epoch of the Great French revolution, but a passion to use feathers in costume decoration had more ancient history. Feathers set up vertically in a female hair-dress or in a hat, often decorated with precious things, are called “aigrette” (Fr. – plume). The nature of this adornment is linked with East. Feathers, decorated with gold, spinel, turquoise and pearls, were in the collection of Mikhail Feodorovich, the first Russian Tsar from the Romanovs. In one of the models of watches by the House of Cartier they use a panel from turquoise-blue and violet halcyon feathers for the decoration of the dial. In India a blue peacock’s feathers were underplayed under pale sapphires to improve their color. Modern Switzerland master J. Albert uses peacock’s feathers and chitin beetle wing cases in gold necklaces with gemstones.

Treatment. According Pliny the Elder, tortoise shell was widely used in the ancient times, alas well as coating material in palaces’ interiors. It was a perfect material for encrustation of adornments, weapon, caskets, snuff-boxes and toilet cases. At the peak of the fashion, on fans the most expensive were made from tortoise shell. Big horny and tortoise combs (fashion on them came from Italy) were decorated with gemstones, cameos and incrustation. Then, tortoise canes came into fashion. Among the preserved unique work of art we should mention an escritoire of Louis XIV, richly decorated with tortois shell and bronze. After a while, such encrustations get dark, it is necessary to polish them with charcoal mixed with olive oil. In the Great Peterhof Palace by St Petersburg, in the room of the wife of the Emperor Nicolas I, there was a tortoise case with gilding and bronze. Fashion on tortoise shell in female adornments came to its peak only in the early 20th cent. That time, there were imitations of tortoise shell from horn and amber. Nowadays, there are imitations of tortoise shell from different plastic, and sometimes plastic is covered with a fine film of tortoise shell.

Ostrich egg’s shell. Big eggs of ostrich have thick shell. Earlier they were used for manufacturing of goblets. Such goblets mounted in silver appeared in Russia in the 14-15ss cent. A big collection of them by German masters from Hamburg (about 1610) is represented in the Grün. Gew., Dresden. These goblets are from 37 to 48 cm. high, they are mounted in silver and decorated with gemstones. Such goblet, 36 cm. high, is exhibited also in the Armory Museum Kreml., Moscow. Nowadays, in Jordan, they make painting on ostrich egg’s. The price of such egg can vary from $100 to $500.

 Chitin beetles wing cases of bright colors are used sometimes in jewelries. Iridescent yellowish-green beetles from Thailand up to 40 mm. long are used as adornments, mainly brooches, or they are pressed into transparent plastic. In the ancient times, bright green Egyptian scarab beetles were taken as a symbol of selfgeneration and eternal life. A scarab digs down its spherical cocoon in the period of 28 days. The Moon passes 12 signs of Zodiac in the same period. When the way of the Moon is crossing with the way of the Sun, a new scarab comes out of its cocoon. In Ancient Egypt, it was a symbol of the second deliverance – resurrection. That’s why depiction of scarabs was so popular in ceramic, gemstones and gold. Besides, we should mention such rarity as Mexican beetles, about 3 cm. long. They display strong fluorescence in the night. They were used as evening adornments: small lace or tulle bags with these beetles were pinned to dresses. In the end of the 19th cent., they came into fashion in Paris together with dried Brazilian beetles, under the name brisk diamonds, or cuckoo.