Are we wearing bones, shells and whole dead creatures?


So many vegetarians use dead animals unwittingly in their adornments. Since it is your pocket that decides who is to live and which species dies you need information. In this piece let me tell you about the jewellery you wear.

Abalone is a mollusk with a shell that is iridescent on the inside. The creature is killed and the shell is used for mother of pearl which goes into jewellery, buttons, and the inside of vanity boxes

Coral is an animal that grows in colonies in the ocean. Thousands of corals live together and branch out. They grow very slowly, often 1 mm every few years but they die very fast when they are hacked illegally by coral poachers for the jewellery trade. They come in different colours from red, orange, pink, white and black. The white died while it was in the sea from being exposed to sewage waters, ship anchors, tourist divers who urinated on the corals or broke them off and other infections that are manmade. Corals are extremely important as they make a barrier between the land and the sea and these tiny animals protect us. By buying them, you destroy not just the lives of thousands of harmless animals; you also endanger the land which will now be eaten up by the sea encroachment. Basically coral is just dead calcium skeletons.

Coral or Moonga and pearl or moti are both often recommended by astrologers – as if wearing a dead body will save you from some malefic happening. Even men wear coral or pearl rings. Corals make the standard jewellery items, beads (as those you buy from the Tibetans who cannot do a single legal thing in India) , or are left in their natural branch-like form and polished. Since coral is a protected item, I am surprised that jewellers are allowed to sell it.

Oysters and other mollusks are the unfortunate creatures whose scabby skins we have chosen to wear as jewellery. Pearls are formed when a foreign object like a tiny stone has got caught in the mollusk’s shell. The oyster/mollusk is so sensitive that the invading object hurts it unbearably and becomes a wound. To protect itself , the oyster – and all other mollusks like mussels, snails etc – secretes a whitish, pus like substance called nacre from its body and this coats the intruding object so that it doesn’t roll about and hurt other areas on the body. The oyster keeps producing this pus and finally a hard scab is made round the wound which, unfortunately reflects light and so we call it “lustrous”. We then send divers down to the waterbed and break the spine of the animal throw it dying back into the water and take the pearl made from layers of nacre out.

Either that or we prise open the shell, cut away the pearl and then put another foreign object inside so the oyster now has to protect itself against this new intruder. Natural pearls are those which are formed with no human interference, the oyster had hurt itself naturally, cultured pearls which are made by surgically inserting a bit of mussel shell( the dead body of yet another sea creature) into a living oyster . After some years, the oysters are torn apart and the pearls are “harvested”. This method of “manufacturing” pearls was invented in 1893 by Kokichi Mikimoto. The value of a pearl is also dependent on the thickness of the scab (imagine trying to sell the scab that forms on the knees of children when they scrape themselves in school).

Black or Tahitian pearls, are taken out of the large, black-lipped oyster, a mollusk found in the tropical Indo-Pacific Ocean. The color of the dark nacre is determined by the minerals in the oyster’s diet. The oyster mainly eats a small sea creature called plankton- which is the same as what the whale eats. A blister or bouton pearl is a natural pearl that is only half developed. It is attached to the inside of the mollusk’s shell and has to be cut off the shell. Hemispherical, it is used for rings and earrings. Abe pearls are the cultured pearls of this type. A freshwater pearl is harvested from a freshwater mussel. These pearls are shaped like crisped rice cereal. Most of these are from the animals that live in fresh water lakes like Biwa Lake in Japan. Pearls found in abalone mollusks are awabi pearls. Seed pearls are tiny, round pearls less than 2 mm in diameter. The oyster is killed very early. Seed pearl jewelry was originally strung on horsehair.

The biggest natural pearl, the “Pearl of Allah” weighs 6.4 kg and was formed inside a giant clam. Thousands of such clams have lost their lives subsequently while being cut and poked to produce nacre for another such pearl.

What are the other forms of killed animals that we wear to adorn ourselves in this civilized age? Ivory is elephant tusks, which used to be carved into jewelry, trinkets, and piano keys. Both African elephant and Indian elephants are massacred for this ivory and are now in danger of going extinct. So instead of a beautiful animal that lives in families and thinks exactly like humans, we now have marriage bangles (which people are still buying illegally and clandestinely for North Indian marriages) and beads.

Bone bangles and beads have become really big with Rajasthan and Moradabad making everything from jewellery to picture frames, statuettes and cutlery usually made from the bones of cows, donkeys and camels. Do not believe the shopkeeper when he says that they buy it from animals that died naturally. Not true. An industry as huge as this does not wait for one animal to die in one village and then cure its bones to make them fit for humans to wear or display. This industry KILLS the animals that it needs – and it needs more than 20,000 a day.

Conch is a marine animal with a large white or pink pearly shell. The creature inside is repeatedly stabbed with a long pin and then its bloody corpse is taken out. The Conch is made into beads, cameos. And the Queen conch goes into temples.

The operculum is the disc-shaped “trap door” that opens and closes to protect the animal inside its shell. The operculum from a sea snail called the Turban Shell is eye-like with a natural round shape and is used in jewelry called Pacific Cat’s-eye. Cameos are carvings made on coral, mother of pearl or any other shell. Heishi necklaces are made of jagged uneven pieces of flat shell strung round the neck.

Tortoise shell is the shell of a tortoise. It is banned today but people still buy the jewelry, hair combs, spectacle frames. Tortoise shell is pulled off the backs of live tortoises – something like pulling off your skin.

Butterfly wing jewelry is made from real wings pulled off living butterflies. The wings are enclosed in glass or plastic and mounted in metal to make brooches, pendants and earrings. Thailand sells these dead bodies at tourist centers.

In the mid 1800s jewellery made of or containing human hair was very popular. Now we shudder at the thought. But we wear bones, shells and whole dead creatures and scabs from wounds. Will future generations not shudder at our weirdness?

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