Precious coral is among the oldest forms of gemstone, with some museum pieces dating back to 25,000 years ago. Coral jewelry has been found at prehistoric European burial sites and in ancient Egyptian pyramids, and it has always been a favorite with royalty. It was quite popular during the Victorian era, and it continues to be popular today.
WHAT IS CORAL?
While many believe that coral is a mineral gemstone, it’s actually the skeletonized remains of tiny invertebrate creatures called coral polyps that make up coral reefs. Though each polyp is an individual, coral lives communally; as old coral polyps die, new ones build on top of them, creating fascinating undersea structures that protect land from erosion and provide homes to countless sea creatures. Coral is part of the living sea, and today it is protected in most areas.
WHAT TYPES OF CORAL ARE AVAILABLE?
There are a few different types of precious coral including black coral, which is extremely lustrous and rare; pink or “angel skin” coral, which is often seen in large pieces and which comes in colors ranging from nearly white to brilliant hibiscus pink to deep salmon, with marbling and shading in many of the nicest examples; and red or “oxblood” coral, which has a rich, deep color and which is highly treasured. Hawaiian gold coral is a newly discovered species which grows at depths beyond 1,200 feet, and which must be carefully harvested by submarine. Many of the finest examples of gold coral exhibit chatoyance – a cat’s eye tendency in which moving light can be seen inside the gems.
WHAT FACTORS CAN AFFECT THE VALUE OF CORAL?
Numerous factors affect coral value, including rarity, coloration, and source. Like precious gems, no two pieces of coral are exactly alike. All sustainably sourced coral is rare, and vintage and antique pieces are sometimes even more difficult to obtain. If you see coral for sale at low prices, you can almost bet that it has been harvested illegally or unsustainably; in some cases, items marketed as coral are simply dyed bone or rock.
Size and cut affect the value of coral too; cheap, shoddily cut pieces are much less valuable than carefully cut ones, and large pieces that show the nature of the coral can be much more valuable than tiny pieces.
Finally, age is often an important factor in determining price. Beautiful pieces of vintage coral jewelry are highly desirable among collectors.
HOW DO YOU TELL IF A CORAL IS REAL?
Imitation coral is common, and is made in a variety of ways including the addition of paste, wax, dye, and even glass to poor-quality coral. Often, experts are the only ones who can tell the difference between true precious biogenic stones such as coral and pearls, and worthless fakes. For this reason, it is vital that you buy and sell coral with the help of an experienced appraiser. SheRedZad remains one among the few sources of real coral .
WHAT MAKES CORAL JEWELRY ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY?
Much of the coral available for making jewelry was harvested long ago, before reefs were endangered. Use caution in selecting new coral, as many species are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and go for sustainably-harvested certified coral such as that sourced from Hawaii, or choose antique or vintage coral instead. It is much more valuable and is an ecologically sound choice.
WHAT TYPES OF JEWELRY IS CORAL TYPICALLY FOUND IN?
Top-quality coral is rarely seen in modern jewelry. Instead, it is typically found in vintage jewelry including some truly astonishing Victorian and Art Deco pieces. Because it is relatively soft and fragile, earning a hardness score of 3.5 on the Mohs scale, it is typically used to make beads and cabochons which are often used in jewelry that contains other precious and semiprecious gemstones. Earrings, brooches, necklaces, and pendants are common, and despite precious coral’s fragile nature, it often finds its way into rings, bracelets, cufflinks, and shirt studs. Beautifully carved examples made from large pieces of coral typically fetch good prices, as do antique coral figurines.