Coral is an organic material which has been used to make jewellery since people noticed bits and pieces washed up on the shore. It is composed of the calcified shells of once-living polyps, an animal that congregates with its fellows into a massive structure from many of the shallow reefs in the ocean. These tiny shells are a group of microcrystalline structures of calcium carbonate. When these animals die and their remains are subjected to heat and pressure over time, the remains metamorph into layers of Limestone and Marble.
Other animals, Oysters, a much larger cousin of the polyp, secrete a modified mixture of the same chemicals to line their shells with Mother of Pearl. Sometimes an irritant causes the mollusk to protect itself by creating a Pearl. Unfortunately, the Polyp is too small to create Pearls for us. The outside material of the shell, used to created Cameos, is more like that of coral.
Coral is produced in a variety of colours, from white through shades of pink to red and all the way to Black in areas with subsurface volcanic activity and with microscopic particles of soot floating in the water. Red is the most valuable colour, especially if the colour is solid and uniform.
Coral is frequently left in its natural shape of long twig-like branches with holes drilled into it. Sometimes, if the branches are large enough, the pieces are cut and shaped into cabochons and mounted with custom bezels to make jewellery. Sometimes the pieces are simply shaped into beads and strung. Because it is very soft, it can easily be carved into sculptures or attractive shapes.
All soft stones require caution, so treat your coral with the same delicate care as you would a pearl. Since coral is a Calcium material, a base, care must be taken to avoid interaction with any acids. Regular vinegar and swimming pool chemicals can quickly erode the surface into a myriad of pits and bleach the colour out of the exposed surfaces.
The price range of coral mimics that of pearls, which can be quite varied depending on the type and quality.
Though it has been collected and worn for centuries, coral has become somewhat controversial among today’s consumers. Unlike ivory, no living animal is killed to obtain the coral, but the methods of harvesting can be destructive to the seabed. In addition, removal of too much coral can be damaging to wildlife habitats. All over the world, Coral is a disappearing species. The Mediterranean Sea has been completely devoid of Oysters and Coral for decades. Collecting Coral is strictly regulated now as pollution is degrading the protective natural reefs everywhere. For this reason, all of our pieces in stock are vintage, and we try to avoid purchasing new coral. Surprisingly, Coral is also found in the Himalayas and in the deserts of Nevada, a result of geological upheavals.
A convincing but eco-friendly coral substitute available on the market today is made from dyed bamboo, plastic, or dyed Howlite. Howlite is a white, slightly porous rock that accepts dyes easily and has been used to simulate Turquoise, Coral and many other soft Calcium based minerals.
We generally have antique pieces of Coral, at several price points, in our showroom for your viewing pleasure.