Throughout the ages, artists have carved beautiful one-of-a-kind pieces from ivory. Today, there is a rich history to be told through the stunning netsuke pieces from Asia. Carvings depict wild and historic scenes, mythology and spiritual symbolism.

While the use of Elephant ivory endangers those beautiful creatures that were killed to near extinction for their tusks, another type of ivory has long entranced Asian carvers.


Mammoth Ivory

Mammoth Ivory was first unearthed in Siberia more than 300 years ago. It made its way to China, Japan and the Philippines in the same way Elephant ivory had come from Africa.

The best carvers were drawn to it even before Elephant ivory became controversial. Coming from an animal long dead and extinct from the planet, the ivory has always held a special mystique and value.

Mammoth pieces were always carved with a reverence to that deep and fanciful history, which is one of the elements that first drew Carol Barrett to the netsuke when she saw them during her first travels through Asia.

Not only are these carvings antiques filled with history and beauty and culture, but the material itself also stretches deep into history to a time well before artists were making art for art’s sake.

Mammoth Ivory Jewelry

Today, mammoth ivory netsuke are still a cornerstone in the Carol Barrett Jewelry collection. The carvings are special in their own right. And many artists carved netsuke from Elephant ivory – in fact, far more used elephant tusks than used mammoth – but Carol Barrett only collects mammoth pieces.

There are a few reasons for that. One reason, of course, is the danger to elephants. The jewelry maker is ethically opposed to pieces that use elephant ivory because of the harm it has caused to such a spectacular species of animal. On top of the ethical dilemma is an international trade ban on elephant ivory, making its sale illegal – even when it’s antique.

However, Barrett only collects mammoth ivory carvings for her jewelry. There are plenty of other substitutes available today, including a profoundly renewable source in a hard nut grown primarily in South America.

Barrett is drawn to the mammoth pieces for a few reasons.

The Russians estimate there are more than 10,000 mammoth fossils remaining buried under the Siberian tundra, but exhuming the remains is no simple task. There is no such thing as a mass market for mammoth ivory. It’s hard to get, expensive and special.


Ivory that tells a story

The ivory is still shrouded in the mystery of ancient history. Those who see it, touch it and own it are privileged – giving a new life to something that could otherwise be buried, frozen in time and forgotten. That privilege is only magnified by the quality of the artistic carvings. Most of the pieces Barrett uses in her jewelry come from skilled carvers, many of whom lived decades and even centuries ago. Giving the pieces new purpose in jewelry brings those stories, their artists and the material back to life.

Barrett is always careful to examine the pieces she collects carefully to confirm they are made from mammoth ivory. It’s a distinction she takes seriously and one she has become skilled at making after decades of collecting the beautiful one-of-a-kind ivory carvings.