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Use of turtle shells


I was recently in Houston and happened to come across 3 turtle
shells at an antique market. These shells are cleaned and
(apparently) sealed/finished with some acrylic or other similar
clear product. They appear to be brittle so I imagine if I saw into
them, they will be fragile.

I bought these to make inlays/intarsia. Is there anything I should
know about doing this with turtle shells?

Here’s a reference for those unfamiliar with intarsia.

Thanks, Elizabeth


Since trutle shell is organic like egg or abalone shell you should
make sure not to breath any dust as you carve or cut it. Proper dust
collection is a must with this type of media.


Please, The reefs are seriously being stressed by mankind. Promoting
the use of any material products from the creatures who live and
feed in this ecosystem is adding to its extinction. THIS INCLUDES
CORAL. Put on a mask, snorkel, and fins and see a world like no
other on this planet. Please, please, please stop the exploitation
of our marine life. We already use the ocean as our toilet, and
chemical dump. Everything eventually winds up on the ocean floor.
Still luv ya, but THINK GREEN.


If you mean “tortoise shell”, which is the sea turtle, those are a
protected species and are covered under the same law as ivory. That
is the brown mottled shell everyone knows of. You can use it if it’s
antique, but you better be prepared to document it fully and
thoroughly, because you’ll have to. Other turtles I don’t know about.
As far as working with it, think fingernails. Use steel saws -
jeweler’s saw, hacksaw, etc., not diamond. It will grind and sand
like wood or plastic than stone. It takes the most beautiful shine,


Yes you can test the think they are coated by immersing them in
water like a sea shell they are mostly damaged by moisture loss
soaking these materials makes them softer less brittle and easier to
saw and reduces dust so wear a mask soak em and see if they are
shellac coated if they are acetone swabbing with cloth may remove
that or once cut soak and water will absorb and swell the shell and
perhaps flake off resin or shellac after you have finished and before
setting a thin wipe in mineral oil is the best thing I have found to
prevent moisture loss in future and it doesn’t hurt thatit improves

Silver & Cameo Heritage Jewelry


Are these Tortise shells? If so they may be illegal except in
antiques as they are protected. You might want to check this out
before using them.

Casmira Gems, inc

The reefs are seriously being stressed by mankind. Promoting the
use of any material products from the creatures who live and feed
in this ecosystem is adding to its extinction. THIS INCLUDES CORAL. 

I have been wondering about coral. I have stopped buying it on a
hunch that it is coming from places it shouldn’t be harvested from,
but I don’t know for sure. If it were certified to be ecologically
sound, I could use it. Is there any coral out there on the market
that is taken in a way that is not harmful to its ecosystem? I love
the material, but I won’t use it, even any that I happen to now have
on hand, if it is a bad idea, ecologically, to do so. Putting it in
a nice jewelry design might promote it on the market, and could, at
least theoretically, help spur that market on to do further
destruction of reefs.

So: is there any “Green” coral? (Not the color green!) Promoting that
might be a good thing for reefs (if it exists) as a talking point.

M’lou Brubaker
Minnesota, USA


Have to chime in on this one!

I worked as a “reef guide” for about 3.5yrs and it was a magical
time in my life. One of the ‘tours’ we conducted was the “Turtle
Watch” primarily focused on hatcheries of the Green Turtle and
occasional Leatherback. At around the same time my mariner partner
was working in Northern Australia, the Gulf of Carpenteria to be
precise. His task was to service aboriginal communities on a weekly
basis and I could have cried every time he described rotting turtle
carcasses lined up around the communities - so much for traditional
hunting rights…anyway…I agree with Craig - put on a mask,
snorkel and fins and go take a look…this world is truly from the
story books…peaceful, perfect and deserves to be preserved!

:slight_smile: Kimmyg


Teri, Yes there are techniques for manipulating the tortis shell just
as their are for manipulating ivory. The first time I had the
experience of diving with these guys I was about fourteen. That was
about fourty years ago in the Cayman islands. When I was young and
dumb I bought a giant sea tortis shell, farmed turtles. Thousands of
these turtles had to be destroyed as they were not the indigious
species for that ecosystem. But back to your question, if you are
taking the material from the intact shell you will probably have some
issues with rot even if they are shellaced or polyeathaned or what
ever they are coated with. Mine hung on my wall for years, and slowly
deteriatated. If you have acquired the material from I believe the
Victorian age when personal grooming sets were made of tortis shell
you probably won’t have any problems. But if you intend to
manufacture the thin layers they used to make combs, brushes, and
other personal items from the shell itself you possibly will be in
for a considerable amount of laybor. Another thought that has occured
to me is possibly alot of other folks may be aware of the stress on
these beautiful creatures and now illegal import of this material.
Second part of this thread, are there any green sources for coral.
I’m not sure, but I do know that beautiful black coral could actually
be viewed growing in depths friendly to the average diver. Now
vertually all of it has been harvested down to around 150 ft, the
outerlimits for experience local divers. Coral is actally a colony of
living creatures that magically spon all over the world at the same
time. WOW! Thats some sort of a grand plan, beyond the comprehention
of my basic knowledge. Good luck with your project, make stunningly
beautiful art with it, and pass on your knowledge. Still luv ya.

Regards, Craig


This whole subject of ‘conservation’ as it relates to biological
materials is a mess. For example, you could be in serious trouble for
incorporating parts of Aunty Bessie’s pet tortoise into jewellery
after it has died and yet you could quite freely use Aunty Bessie’s
teeth, hair etc. in jewellery after her death and sell them on the
open market if you want (e.g. as mourning jewellery). Tons of coral
is dredged up every day, ostensibly quite legitimately, by fishermen
who just throw it back - what are the chances of it surviving?
virtually nil. Much of this coral together with that disturbed by
storms is washed up on beaches around the world - who is to
’certify’ that this is OK to use as it is 'ecologically collected’
and has not caused avoidable harm to the environment. Similarly with
turtles and other marine creatures - dead ones are often washed up
and many island communities also rely on turtle meat as a food
source. According to the law, the shells of these cannot be used as a
materials resource as they are not ‘certified’. It appears that to
be certified, there has to be some planning of the collection of the
material and the application of a quota system. So, almost by
definition, this implies that the collection will involve killing
live animals! The situation becomes even worse when you look at old
material. I had some small pieces of ivory which I obtained
twenty-odd years ago from the dusty back corner of a storeroom in an
old cutlery factory which was being demolished and I occasionally
used bits of this to replace missing escutcheons from around the
locks on antique furniture. I know from discussions with people who
worked at the factory that no new ivory had been bought in over 30
years so making this stuff at least 50 years old and probably older
but this is only heresay and, since all the company’s records were
destroyed, I cannot prove it. So, should I have used it or what? I
did so in the hope that, should it ever be questioned, there would
be some expert somewhere that could date the material by scientific
methods. But how would this apply to material which is, for
instance, salvaged from old cutlery or broken antiques. By
definition, anything on an antique should be old enough to pre-date
the ecological restrictions but can you be sure that it hasn’t been
replaced or repaired with new material? The whole area of the
restoration of antiques is fraught with difficulties - if the
restoration is not carried out with materials which are identical to
the original, the piece may become virtually unsaleable and will
certainly have a much reduced value. Another consideration is - how
can you trust the certification system? It is well known that, in
some countries, the whole framework in which the certification
originates is corrupt and probably more than 50% of the materials
allowed onto the market ‘legally’ are, in fact, ‘poached’. This
particularly applies to exotic timbers and, whilst the dealers in
western countries may do everything in their power to assure
themselves that what they are buying and selling is ‘ecologically
correct’, this is never certain. Even if they actually go to the
seller’s premises in Africa, the far East or wherever, they will only
be shown what the seller wishes them to see! There is currently
controversy on the China/Russian border where forests in Russia are
being rapidly denuded by China’s insatiable thirst for timber. It has
apparently been shown recently that the agreed quotas are being
totally ignored and that far more timber is being taken than is being
documented leading to great ecological damage. It is difficult to
educate rich purchasers not to want beautiful materials such as ivory
and tortoiseshell but this is obviously key to reducing demand and
hence reducing the supply chain. there should, however, be a way of
making some material for repairs available legally which only exists
as a result of the natural death of creatures or from justifiable
food production.

Ian Wright
Sheffield UK



Actually I was not the originator of the question and I use pre-ban
ivory and have some pre-ban tortoise shell. The sea turtle is one of
my favorite creatures. You see before my health made me shake so much
I was drawing and earning a living as a wildlife artist.

you can click on artist originals on my slowly being built webpage.
Half way down on the right is my sea turtle. :slight_smile: I love and respect
nature. I just get tired of explaining that using pre-ban anything
really does not contribute to the modern problem. So little is
available of this material. I get a chance to explain about the ban
and the reasons and do a little soap box lecturing to the public.

Peace or as I saw on a liscense vanity plate yesterday Amo Pax

Silver & Cameo Heritage Jewelry


Since I was the original poster of this tread, I guess I should have
been more specific. These are box turtle shells, not sea turtle
shells. I bought them from an antiques dealer who said people find
them dead on their farms and save the shell because they are
"pretty". She usually sells them to people to put on bookcases as
decorations (seems odd to me but that’s what she said). I don’t
believe turtles are being killed for this purpose (or for even being
bookcase do-dads). So, am I in trouble if I use the shell in jewelry
but am I’m ok if put them on my holiday tree?



Ian, Good morning. I contemplated your response over night and I
feel we are interring into a debate. Auntie Bessie(god rest her
soul) and her pet turtle are not in dangered species, at least not
yet. Your remarks about tons of reef being dredged up by fishermen
seems a little odd to me as most dredging for say oysters,yummy, and
clams are done in a different part of the ecosystem. To my knowledge
the practices of New England clam and oyster fishermen are done in
the sandy bottom part of the ocean floor where these shellfish can
borrow down for protection, breeding, and spanning. Yes quotas and
abuse of regulations happen whenever a buck is to be made. But it is
not the rule as these men that make a living from the sea are
anxious to maintain their life stile without completely diminishing
their source of income. This harvesting is done by dredging these
shellfish out of the sand. I am unaware of what food source is
dredge off the reefs. Plus the assumption that it would be very hard
on the equipment. Storms are a natural occurrence that have been
having an effect on reefs for as long as there have been reefs. I
believe natural section, and evolution may have something to do with
the reefs existence to this day. Hume? Coral on the beach usually
bleach and rounded beyond the beauty of it’s living community. You
also brought up the issue of indigenous peoples harvesting sea
turtles for food, that’s fine. But if we did not put a ban on the
import of these sea turtle products, they would be harvested for
export so they could buy TVs. Everyone likes TV. Especially where
there are very few of them. The next point you made about
certification through some scientific method( carbon dating )seems
very expensive and not financially viable. You would probably have
to pay for it. I also think if you brought your ivory to customs and
explained your source these men would have enough experience to know
the difference between your ivory and illegally imported banned
ivory. Unfortunately many very poor people in remote areas consider
it their right to take that which is available to them
traditionally. When tons and tons of poached ivory is burned each
year I don’t think they were snared and left to rot as a food
source, maybe some.On to the next point. Clear cutting of trees goes
on every day. The first time I saw the side of a mountain that had
been clear cut I was only a kid and I could not understand why this
would happen. It is very ugly. Either Indonesia or Malaysia for all
practical purposes have extinguished their Mahogany forest. They
didn’t mind while they were making a pay check, but what are they
going to do now? Move to the city and live in the slums. From the
posts that I have read on this subject I am convinced that
orchadians are aware of the problems, sensitive to the issues, and
acting responsibly. I am glad to jump off my soap box, as I feel I
am preaching to the choir. WOW! Look, a green orchid. It doesn’t get
any better. Ian thank you for bringing up these points as I know you
know the difference. I am not the person to be dictating morality to
anyone, as I have used all these materials.Thank you. This thread
has put a question in my mind. Can jewelry beyond buttons and
insignias be a viable media for political, and educational purposes?
Elizabeth, please forgive me for jumping on your very polemically
correct turtle shells. Luv ya,

Regards, Craig

Since I was the original poster of this tread, I guess I should
have been more specific. These are box turtle shells, not sea
turtle shells. I bought them from an antiques dealer who said
people find them dead on their farms and save the shell because
they are "pretty". She usually sells them to people to put on
bookcases as decorations (seems odd to me but that's what she
said). I don't believe turtles are being killed for this purpose
(or for even being bookcase do-dads). So, am I in trouble if I use
the shell in jewelry but am I'm ok if put them on my holiday tree? 

Elizabeth Lyne, I am truly sorry for the tyrage I laid at your door.
As I mentioned in another thread I am the guilty party that had a sea
turtle shell on my wall. Thank you for explaining about your
beautiful and politically correct shells, and with this entry opening
a window giving me a chance to apologize. I hope you don’t assume
other members of orchid are as blunt as I was, and incorrect. If
there is anything I can do or say to help I will do it. I have lots
of extra hand tools, and some materials you may be interested in for
the taking, I truly wish to make amends for my rash comments I made
to you in public. Please excuse me.



Craig way to go takes an Orchidian to know when to saw oops lol We
love ya

One of my favorite musicals brings to mind this quote and why I love

Stephen Hopkins who is “in the necessary”. He returns in time to
vote in favor of debate, stating that he’d “never seen, heard, nor
smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn’t be talked about.”

Silver & Cameo Heritage Jewelry


Better check your local fish and game regulations (as well as
federal) before using any wild animal parts in your artwork. You’ll
be surprised at what is not legal to use.

Better check your local fish and game regulations (as well as

How exactly do you check for Federal Jewelry Regulations? I was in NM
at the Navajo Reservation, watching a well known Indian Jeweler
create his works of art, and we were discussing using Bears Claws in
Indian Jewelry. He said he was once at a show and the “FEDS” were
confiscating jewelry that had Bears Claws in it. He has never used
them since.

How would one check for the legality of Bears Claws or Turtle Shell,
or coral or…

Love and God Bless


Hi Randy,

How would one check for the legality of Bears Claws or Turtle
Shell, or coral or.... 

I think your best bet is to check with US Fish and Wildlife Service
and avoid any endangered or threatened species. You should be able to
determine which species to stay away from at the following link:

James S. Duncan, G.G.
James in SoFL


Well it isn;t easy but you can go hear and hope the site gives you
US put cassia rufa on endangered species lists and I
thought oh heck where am I gonna get shell to carve but all it seems
to have done is allow the increas of a 4 dollar shell to 22 dollars

In any case check here your states wildlife management website for
endangered species locally and federal customs site cursorary

you can ask questions directly and search for your specific species
in the search engine

Silver & Cameo Heritage Jewelry

How exactly do you check for Federal Jewelry Regulations? 

I would start with the DNR (Dept. of Natural Resources) in your area.
They should know.

M’lou Brubaker
Minnesota, USA