The History of Tagua Use

After learning that Soraya Cedeno earrings and necklaces are made from tagua nuts, you might be wondering how and when people realized they could use ivory tagua in their jewelry. The tagua nut has a fascinating and unique history, so check out its story and how it was used throughout the years.

Tagua Nuts Are Brought to Europe

The tagua nut originated from the Amazon Jungle of South America, particularly along the Napo River in Ecuador and Peru in the Amazon. When the Europeans first came into contact with vegetable ivory, they initially used it as a material to stabilize the hulls of their trade ships; the South American palm nuts served as a practical solution to prevent cargo shifting. However, after arriving in Europe sometime in the mid-1800s, tagua nuts became considerably more sought after.

Carving Tagua Nuts in Germany and Italy

Once the tagua nut landed ashore at the port of Hamburg, it eventually came into contact with an Austrian wood crafter named John Hille. He proved to the people of Germany that tagua nuts could be carved into a variety of products thanks to their durability, and as a result, they became highly sought after. German families began establishing trading posts in South America along the coast of Ecuador to gather and sell the vegetable ivory back in Europe. As they were the only ones who knew where it came from, it was a secret for 50 years.

The German traders supplied Italian artisans with tagua nuts, and they used them to create buttons for clothing. They then traded the completed product back to the Germans so that they could sell it. However, after the completion of the Panama Canal, an Italian family known as the Zanchi discovered the tagua nut’s origin and set up trading posts of their own to harvest it. They eventually merged with a German trading company, and they found great success exporting the nut across the Earth.

Tagua Nuts Spread Throughout the World

Eventually, many products across the world found uses for the tagua nut. After the first buttons carved from tagua nuts were displayed at the 1862 Universal Expo in Paris, vegetable ivory became much more popular. Americans began using tagua in their buttons too, and they were present for both the Civil War and the First World War in the early 1920s. They also reached Japan, where they were carved into netsuke, which are decorations hung from kimono sashes. Chess pieces, dominoes, and many other small items were made using tagua. Now, Tagua buttons are the most commonly used button for high-end apparel today and the use of organic vegetable dyes for high-end clothing is the same dye utilized in Tagua Jewelry.

Fall and Rise

Despite tagua imports reaching millions of dollars yearly, its harvesting declined after plastics became more commonplace. Families and companies that made fortunes off of trading tagua also fell into decline. However, the need for nuts from the tagua palm would return one day.

After conservation groups halted the trade of ivory, fashion groups began looking for sustainable alternatives and found that the tagua nut made for an excellent elephant ivory substitute. Clothing companies like The Gap and Patagonia started to incorporate vegetable ivory into their products to become more eco-friendly, and tagua nuts once again became popular in the market.

If you’re interested in tagua-based jewelry products, check out the Camila Ecuador bracelets from Tagua By Soraya Cedeño.

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