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Tortoise Shell: Real or Plastic?

Introduction

Hawksbill Turtle Saba, Netherlands Antilles Clark Anderson/Aquaimages

Courtesy Wikipedia All Rights Reserved

When you talk about authentic tortoise shell you have to first talk about the hawksbill turtle.

Many people are surprised to discovered that genuine tortoise shell, was originally derived from the hawksbill which is the smallest of sea turtles.

The Hawkbill is also known as the Eretmochelys imbricata and is known as a caret which is a general species of turtle.

It is important to note that in 1973 the United States Congress passed the Endangered Species Act making it illegal to buy or sell endangered species like the hawksbill turtle.

This includes buying any products or items that were made from the hawksbill. Thus authentic Tortoise Shell products are illegal in the US.

Hawksbill sea turtles are also considered critically endangered and are protected under national laws of many nations throughout the world, and their sale internationally is restricted. The ancient hawkbill turtles have survived on Earth for about 100 million years, and may take 20 or more years to reach sexual maturity.

Bellisimo Cellulose (Faux Tortoise)

Courtesy HairBoutique.com All Rights Reserved

The killing of these animals has been banned in most of the world to protect them from being hunted into extinction. If you would like to help preserve these incredible sea turtles visit the Caribbean Conservation Corporation to adopt a turtle.

Tortoise Shell made from the hawksbill was used by humans for a variety of items ranging from hair accessories like ornate hair combs and accessories to eyeglass frames.

In some Feng Shui circles, the tortoise shell is considered a very important symbol of protection. It represents the protective force behind the long-lived tortoise. The tortoise symbolizes longevity, endurance and stability.

The hawksbill turtle usually weights somewhere between 100 and 200 pounds which is actually small for a typical marine turtle.

The turtle usually has a mottled upper shell and a lower yellow or yellow tone underbelly. All parts of both the tortoise colored shell and the turtle's belly are used for the purpose of creating accessories and ornaments.

Tortoise shell, when taken from the actual shell or belly or a turtle is authentic. It is the most natural of all plastics. It can be heated and cut or gently moulded into a variety of forms.

Bellisimo Cellulose (Faux Tortoise)

Courtesy HairBoutique.com All Rights Reserved

Due to its exclusiveness tortoiseshell has been imitated with various materials. An imitation of this exotic material by the use of horn is presented.

Some forms of horn, when exposed to variations in temperature, humidity and light makes it a reliable material to be used in some circumstances like patching authentic Tortoise Shell pieces.

Celluloid is a form of synthetic plastic that can be created to completely fool an untrained eye. A well created celluloid can pass as authentic tortoise shell or naturally formed plastic.

Celluloid was named by John Wesley Hyatt when he created the synthetic Tortoise Shell in 1869. This man-made plastic consists of a mixture of pyroxylin and camphor and it can be used to imitate tortoise, ivory and even coral pieces.

One of the downsides to Celluloid is that it is extremely flammable and was considered to be unsafe as a result. Celluloid also sizzles when it burns and has an intense smell of champhor, just like the oil that is sold in health food stores.

Bellisimo Cellulose (Faux Tortoise)

Courtesy HairBoutique.com All Rights Reserved

How do you determine if your beautiful antique Tortoise Shell bracelet is real or is celluloid plastic? A simple test with a hot needle will determine the truth.

When the hot needle makes contact with authentic Tortoise it will emit a smell of burning hair. If it emits the smell of champhor, it is celluloid. If it doesn't smell like either, it is plastic.

A poly-resin version of authentic Tortoise is currently used by high end accessory manufacturers.

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- Revised Publication Date: 05/21/10

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