Chinese Concentric Puzzle Balls
and other Ivory Puzzles

 

ARE THEY ALWAYS MADE OF IVORY?

A: They were usually made of ivory but can also be found in synthetic ivory, resin, wood, jade, and other materials. They often come with a tall and elaborate stand.

 

WHAT IS SYNTHETIC IVORY?

"Synthetic Ivory", sometimes called "Mandarin Ivory" or "Hong Kong Ivory", is usually made of a finely ground powdered ox bone mixed with resin. Articles are cast in their basic shape then finished by hand carving and decorating. They have exactly the same look and feel as the "real thing"; but are much cheaper and, most importantly, are not the cause of the death of any elephant.

 

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST PUZZLE BALL?

The largest ivory ones can be over 6 inches in diameter and have over 20 balls inside each other.

 

IS IT OK TO PLAY WITH THEM?

They are very fragile and it is important that they are not damaged. There is a tempting puzzle of trying to line up all the holes; but If you want to try use something soft. Smaller balls can be manipulated with a wooden toothpick. For larger ones be especially careful and use something like a quill.

It is advisable not to allow children to play with good examples. Young children have not usually developed the required physical co-ordination, delicacy and patience. It takes very little force to damage the inner shells and dropping them is usually fatal.

 

HOW ARE PUZZLE BALLS MADE?

The sphere is turned on a lathe then conical holes are drilled towards the center. The maker has a set of "L" shaped tools: the one with the longest upright has the shortest cutter, and the one with the shortest upright has the longest cutter.

Starting with the longest tool he lowers it to the narrow bottom of each hole in turn and rotates it to cut the innermost ball free. Then he gets the second tool which does not reach so far down the hole but can cut a wider arc and separates the second ball. He continues working from the innermost to outermost shell. For obvious reasons, usually only the outermost balls are elaborately carved.

 

IS IT OK TO BUY PUZZLE BALLS?

Always remember that a live Elephant is much nicer than the finest puzzle ball. Always refuse to buy ivory carvings unless you KNOW they are genuinely ANTIQUE or made of synthetic ivory. It is illegal to buy or sell modern ivory without CITES certification. Remember that elephants will no longer be killed for their tusks when people refuse to buy modern ivory.

 

You are free to use this document if quoted complete with this statement of its source:
"Copyright 2006 James Dalgety. The Puzzle Museum http://puzzlemuseum.com"
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