Beijing and Guangzhou are China's two cities famous for ivory carving. Beijing is known for ivory carvings of figures of ladies, as well as flowers and birds. Guangzhou is well known for its exquisitely carved ivory balls.
Beijing ivory carving can be traced back to more than 2,000 years. It matured as early as the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. Owing to the rarity of elephant tusks, most ivory carvings belonged to imperial nobilities, forming a graceful royal art form.
Unlike emeralds and other gemstones, ivory has no cleavage. When carved, sanded and polished, which is smooth to the touch. Ivory carving has two main carving techniques: round carving and openwork carving. Round carving can be adopted to make characters, animals and mountains. Openwork carving is adopted to make boats, vases, towers and ivory balls. Other techniques include plane carving, three dimensional engraving and shallow or deep relief carving.
It is illegal to kill elephants for their tusks in most countries. Hence, jewelry, figurines, and other products made from carved ivory have become hard to find and are now hot collector's items.
Although international officials lifted the overall ban on the ivory trade in the 1980s, ivory carving techniques in Beijing continue to decline due to lack of materials, fewer skilled artisans, and diminishing interest among the younger generation.