Tortoiseshell: An 18th and 19th Century Luxury

August 17th, 2013 | posted by Susan Lapene

One of the rarest and most luxurious materials of the 18th and 19th centuries, tortoiseshell has long been valued for the manufacture of jewelry cases, tea caddies, snuffboxes, and other decorated items.  This rare and exquisite material is mainly produced from the shell of the hawksbill sea turtle. The large size and unique, unevenly distributed shades of orange, brown, and black make the hawksbill’s shell especially suitable for these beautiful crafts. Early European artisans sought out tortoiseshell material despite its expensive price because it was easily molded by heat unlike other similar, ductile materials. The final product would be a flexible yet durable material with a vibrantly mottled appearance.  In our gallery, we have a wide array of tortoiseshell products that are truly amazing in color and form. Come by today and see for yourself!

This beautiful George III tea caddy is enveloped in elegant tortoiseshell. Caddies of rare tortoiseshell are especially prized, for they are among the scarcest and most luxurious examples produced.

This beautiful George III tea caddy is enveloped in elegant tortoiseshell. Caddies of rare tortoiseshell are especially prized, for they are among the scarcest and most luxurious examples produced.

 

Crafted of luxurious tortoiseshell, this sleek desk clock by J.E. Caldwell & Co. exudes Art Deco elegance. This sophisticated timepiece is set in a frame of bronze ormolu, a flawless match to the tortoiseshell's warm mottled beauty.

This beautiful George III tea caddy is enveloped in elegant tortoiseshell. Caddies of rare tortoiseshell are especially prized, for they are among the scarcest and most luxurious examples produced.

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