Borne from coral reefs and present since ancient Egypt and prehistoric Europe, corals are becoming popular again. Precious corals exist in the warm ocean waters of the Red Sea, the Bay of Biscay, the Canary Islands, Japan, Hawaii, and various regions of the Mediterranean.
Corals are semi-translucent to opaque. Like pearls, ivory, amber, and jet, they derive from a living organism. They contain calcium carbonate with a trace of carotene deposited by tiny sea creatures that live in extensive colonies in the depths of the sea. Corals grow in branches that resemble trees under water.
If you’re looking to buy a piece of coral jewelry and want to make an informed decision, you’re in the right place. This guide shares how coral jewelry is made, the different types of coral jewelry, where to buy it, and much more.
How is coral jewelry made?
After harvesting the corals, the harvesters clean, dry, and sort them by shape, color, and size. Then they cut, polish, and shape them into oval or round beads. Corals can also be cut and polished but unfaceted, meaning they have a flat back with a convex rounded surface. Unfaceted gems are also known as cabochons; they’re used to make necklaces, brooches, and rings.
Types of coral jewelry
Corals have over 7300 species. However, not all corals are for making jewelry. Corals used in jewelry and decorative arts are known as “precious corals”, distinct from common corals and endangered reef corals. Here are the different types of coral jewelry.
Also known as Sardinian coral, it’s from the Corallium rubrum genus. lts impressive red color is popular and highly sought after. It’s available in medium to high saturation and exists in the Mediterranean and Atlantic oceans.
Oxblood coral (also known as aka coral) belongs to the Corallium japonicum genus. As the name implies, its color is a deep rich red. It’s the rarest and most valuable type of coral jewelry. Most of the deep red coral on the market is dyed.
Also called Cerasuolo or Satsuma coral, this type belongs to the Corallium elatius genus. It has a white interior and comes in bright red, orange, salmon, and pinkish cream.
Angel skin coral
Angel skin or pink coral is the albino variety of the momo coral. It’s also known as Boké or Magai coral. It’s known for its soft, romantic pink color and can be found off the coasts of Taiwan and Japan.
This coral is also known as Midway or white-pink coral. It’s a veined white or pink coral that sometimes presents with red marks. It can be found off the coasts of Hawaii and Midway Island.
Pure white coral
This is a milky white coral that may have pink or red marks. It’s also called Shiro coral and belongs to the Pleurocorallium konojoi genus. It’s harvested in the South China Sea and off the coast of Hainan.
Deep Sea coral
Found off the coast of Midway Island, the deep sea coral is also known as Shinkai coral. It can be bright white, white pomegranate with pink or red marks or veins, or unclouded pink. It belongs to the Hemicorallium laauense genus.
This precious coral is found in Hawaii and comes in different pink hues. It’s from the Hemicorallium regale genus.
Also known as Miss or Missu coral, this type comes in colors from pink to violet. It’s from the Hemicorallium sulcatum genus and can be found in the Philippines.
Is coral jewelry worth anything?
Yes, it is. While corals can be very affordable, they can also be expensive, costing tens of thousands of dollars. In 1987, a Cartier coral that had initially belonged to the Duchess of Windsor was auctioned at Sotheby’s for £110,500.
How much does each type of coral jewelry cost?
The cost of each type of coral jewelry depends on factors such as size, color, and shape. You can purchase a piece of coral jewelry, like a necklace or bracelet, for around $55 to $100. However, lab-created, simulated, or reconstructed coral jewelry pieces can cost approximately $14 and above.
Which coral color is most valuable?
Red coral is the most valuable because of its intense, uniform color.
How can you tell real coral jewelry?
Corals, like their organic counterpart, pearls, can be simulated using glass, plastic, bone, and dried shells. If you’re yet to buy coral jewelry, how can you avoid tossing your precious money in exchange for a counterfeit? Here are a few tests to help you identify genuine coral jewelry.
The acid test
Real corals are composed of calcium carbonate, which reacts with acid. To carry out this test, rub lemon juice on a small, inconspicuous portion of your coral jewelry. Observe the surface. If tiny bubbles appear, clean the lemon juice quickly to prevent further reaction. Your coral jewelry is likely genuine.
The milk test
Corals are porous; thus, they absorb solvents. This characteristic lends another way to tell real coral jewelry. To do this, drop the corals in cow’s milk. Real coral will change the milk’s color to light pink. A fake coral will leave the milk in its white state.
The magnification test
To carry out this test, you’ll need a high magnifying glass, a white or neutral-colored piece of cloth, and good lighting. Examine the coral jewelry under the magnifying glass. If the surface is smooth, your jewelry is likely genuine. The coral is fake if you notice imperfections such as lumps and grains or patches. Real corals are smooth under magnification and to the touch.
How to care for coral jewelry
Coral is a soft organic gemstone that scratches easily. Here are our best tips for keeping your corals in excellent shape:
Avoid harsh chemicals
Keep coral jewelry away from household chemicals like bleach, cleaning solutions, and nail polish remover. They contain elements that can disfigure corals. Put on coral earrings and necklaces after applying makeup and hair and body spray because the chemicals in these cosmetics can damage corals.
Avoid ultrasonic cleaning or soaking your coral jewelry in water or a cleaning solution. Use a soft, damp cloth to wipe off dust when cleaning. Let the corals dry completely.
Store them properly
Store jewelry in a soft jewelry pouch separate from other jewelry pieces to ensure harder jewelry doesn’t scratch the corals. Keep corals away from heat and drying environments. They thrive underwater for so long, so exposing them to high temperatures like heat from the sun or cooking would cause cracking or discoloration.
Remove during exercise
Avoid strenuous activity while wearing your coral jewelry. Your sweat could cause your corals to become dull.
Handle them carefully
Handle your corals with care. Corals are delicate so avoid applying pressure when handling them to prevent breakage. Avoid taking a shower or swimming in your coral jewelry. Keep your jewelry away from colored fluids, as corals are porous and can absorb these fluids.
Don’t forget maintenance
Take your corals to a jeweler for regular maintenance, perhaps yearly. A jeweler will help you restring your corals and fix any issues so they can remain in good condition.
How to polish coral jewelry
Over time, coral returns to its original nature (opaque) and loses its polished shine. If your precious coral jewelry becomes dull and opaque, take it to a jeweler for polishing. However, if you must polish your coral jewelry at home, apply a few drops of extra virgin olive oil on a soft cotton cloth and gently wipe it to restore its shine temporarily.
Where to buy coral jewelry
You’re probably eager to get a beautiful piece of coral jewelry into your jewelry collection. We’ve come up with a few sources for your consideration.
On Amazon, you’ll find corals for a wide range of budgets, for example, lab coral earrings, pendants, and bracelets for $25 or less. You’ll also find natural coral rings, bracelets, and some pieces combined with gemstones like onyx, opal, citrine, and emerald, costing from around $40 to over $700.
A fantastic array of antique high-end coral pieces combined with gold, diamond, and other precious stones in 1stdibs. If your taste is unusual, you’ll love 1stdibs.
Being in the jewelry business for 70 years and boasting some of the best prices, Ross-Simons is another option to check out. You’ll get beautiful pieces without breaking the bank, like this torsade necklace.
Frequently asked questions
You may have more questions about corals and are eager to find answers. Let’s delve into a few.
Why is red coral jewelry expensive?
Red coral jewelry is expensive because it’s rare and popular for its uniform, intense red color.
How does coral jewelry affect the coral reef?
Mining of corals destroys coral reefs. Since coral reefs protect coastlines and build beaches, mining for corals can significantly affect coastal towns, villages, and the tourism industry. Also, reef rocks or the skeletal framework of reefs take hundreds to thousands of years to build. Sadly, it will take as long for these to grow back when destroyed by coral mining.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “coral reefs support more species per unit area than any other marine environment, including about 4,000 species of fish, 800 species of hard corals and potentially millions of other undiscovered species”. Coral harvesting destroys these habitats for fish and other animals.
What is being done to protect coral reefs?
Worldwide, scientists are researching the impact of natural processes and human activities on the health and sustainability of coral reefs. According to the World Jewelry Confederation (CIBJO), coral-producing countries like Taiwan and Japan are also implementing strict regulations regarding coral fishery.
For example, only licensed vessels and boats are allowed to fish for corals. In Italy and the Mediterranean, the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), a regional fisheries management organization, recommends prohibiting red coral harvesting at less than 50 meters depth until scientific studies indicate otherwise.
What colors does coral jewelry come in?
Precious corals, specifically for jewelry and decoration, come in red, white, and pink. Common corals occur naturally in black, gold, and blue.
How hard are corals?
Corals are not hard gems. They rate at 3.5 on the Mohs hardness scale and can easily scratch.
Why is coral jewelry colorful and dead coral white?
Coral jewelry is colorful because of algae known as zooxanthellae which produce color pigmentation. Millions of zooxanthellae live in the transparent tissue of coral polyps, giving corals their beautiful colors.
Dead coral, on the other hand, is white because of coral bleaching due to changes in ocean temperature, light, or lack of sufficient nutrients. The most common reason for coral bleaching is increasing ocean temperature due to climate change. These changes cause coral polyps to expel zooxanthellae and become white.
On what occasions can I wear coral jewelry?
Coral jewelry works for various occasions, from casual to dressy. You can wear them to complement a casual outfit for the beach or a professional outfit for work. They also go great with formal outfits for dinners or special occasions like weddings. In some Nigerian cultures, coral jewelry prominently features in the bride’s attire during her traditional wedding.
Beauty from the depths of the ocean
Coral jewelry is valuable, exotic, and a symbol of rarity and beauty. The jewelry pieces from this beautiful gem make a lovely addition to a lady’s wardrobe for any occasion, from casual to glamorous. So get yourself some pieces and flaunt their gorgeous colors.
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