Reston, Va.--New regulations proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) could make it illegal under federal law to commercially sell, transfer or deliver African elephant ivory, and while exemptions are included in the proposal, they may not extend to jewelry.

In a proposal released in late July, the FWS stated that it wants to prohibit the “sale, or offer for sale, of ivory in interstate or foreign commerce and delivery, receipt, carrying, transport or shipment of ivory in interstate or foreign commerce in the course of a commercial activity.” 

There are, however, exceptions to the regulations, two of which concern--but may not include--jewelry. 

The de minimus exemption is for items that contain a limited amount of ivory that is not the primary driver of the item’s value. The FWS provides a list of criteria an item must meet to be included in this exemption, such as the total weight of the ivory component being less than 200 grams and the ivory not being raw in nature. Examples include objects such as knife handles, insulators on old tea pots and the ivory veneer on a piano with a full set of ivory keys. 

The FWS lists examples of items it does not expect to meet the de minimus exception, among them “ivory earrings or a pendant with metal fittings” and “figurines, netsukes (small sculptural objects) and jewelry.”

Also, Sara Yood, assistant general counsel at the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, points out that, “The clause is set up as an ‘and’ clause, not an ‘or’ clause, meaning that an item must meet all of the criteria in order to qualify for an exemption. So a piece of ivory jewelry would need to meet all of the criteria in order to qualify.”

The FWS’ proposal also includes an antique exemption, which ivory jewelry may fall under if it is old enough. 

This exemption pertains to “bona fide antiques,” meaning items that are 100 years old or older; are composed in whole or in part of an Endangered Species Act-listed species but have not been repaired or modified with any such species after December 27, 1973; and are being or were imported through an endangered species “antique port.”

“A seller would need to be able to affirmatively prove all of the above, with documentation, in order to sell an antique (ivory) piece,” Yood said. 

The fact that the federal government is looking to severely restrict the trade in African elephant ivory comes as no surprise. Poachers are killing off the species at an alarming rate to feed international demand for ivory, and governments worldwide are moving to protect the animals by limiting ivory sales. Ivory bans already are in place in New Jersey and New York.  

The FWS currently is soliciting comments on its proposal restricting the sale of African elephant ivory. Comments can be submitted here from now through Sept. 28. 

The American Society of Appraisers said it plans to file comment with the FWS regarding the proposed regulations though further details on those comments were not available by press time. 


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