Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Types of Coral Used in Jewelry

Coral has been used in jewelry for thousands of years and it remains very popular. Coral is an organic substance composed of tiny skeletons of coral polyps, which are tiny marine organisms that live in warm sea waters. The polyps pile up on one another over thousands of years, and create coral reefs. Coral is derived from the skeletons of the polyps. Gem corals have been divided into "calcareous" (stony) and "proteinaceous" (horny) types. With these two sources becoming scarce, two other types; "sponge" and "bamboo" corals are commonly seen.

There is a misconception that the coral used in jewelry is the same as that found in the Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs that are important for sustaining marine life. These endangered reefs are threatened by warming ocean waters, harmful bacteria, pollution, and destructive fishing methods and are not harvested. The endangered reefs are composed of different species of coral than those used in jewelry.

The types of coral used in jewelry today are natural, but a different species than the endangered coral. Currently these species are available, but, in the future, it is believed that supplies will begin to dwindle. It should be noted that worldwide, governments are regulating the coral species used to make jewelry. Harvesting regulations mean that the supply of newly harvested coral is limited. Prices for coral have increased as supplies have decreased.

The good news is, in the near future it may become possible to "farm" coral much like we do with pearls. There are pilot programs attempting this in Japan and Hawaii.

 Coral Colors 
Red Coral

Coral occurs naturally in a variety of colors: red, lavender, black, blue, brown, gold, and white (which is usually dyed). The most popular colors are hues of red such as pink, pale pink and salmon pink.

The most expensive corals are the natural red, black and gold corals. The premier red coral color is "oxblood". Most of this highly desired coral comes from the Mediterranean, parts of the French and the Spanish coast and the Sea of Japan.

HIGH SUMMER Statement Necklace

Native Necklace with Turquoise Nuggets,Red Coral, White Buffalo Stone
Chunky Tribal Necklace with Red Coral by epicetera 

Black Coral

The other important group, whose houses are made of a tough, keratin-like protein called conchiolin or gorgonin, comprise the black and golden corals. Although not highly mineralized, the protein is very tough, so that properly prepared and polished pieces are near the equal of the stony types in durability and beauty, and sometimes exceed them in value. Colors range from black to dark brown to golden. The golden color is highly prized and can be natural, the result of injury or degeneration of the black coral organisms.

Natural Golden Coral

                                                                                 Triple Strand Rare Natural Golden Coral and Turquoise Necklace
  Triple Strand Necklace with Natural White and Golden Coral by epicetera                                                

Red Sponge Coral

Blue coral is also thought to be the result of coral decay. Blue Ridge Coral and Blue Denim Coral grow in the-pacific region have a soft denim color. Blue and sponge corals are more porous than the natural red corals. Because they are porous, these corals are often coated or lacquered. A new variety of blue sponge coral is denser with less visible pores.

Thai Sand Dollar Blue Coral Sterling Gemstone Necklace Handmade OOAK
Blue Sponge Coral Necklace by ShadowDogDesigns
Bamboo coral is known for its long branch-like appearance interspersed with scattered joints. It is naturally white with brown or black markings but it is not unusual for it to be dyed. 

Natural Bamboo Coral 
Fossilized or petrified coral from ancient colonies provide interesting beads with flower like patterns in a variety of neutral colors. Stones with shades of red are sometimes found.

Coral Care

Coral is porous so protective sealers are not unusual.
For example,wax or clear plastic coatings may be applied to improve its gloss and to seal the coral. This prevents stains from entering and permanently staining the coral.

Chemicals, cosmetics, and ultrasonic cleaners can damage coral jewelry. Put your jewelry on after applying cosmetics and hair care products. Wipe off oil or perspiration with a damp cloth. Clean coral jewelry occasionally with a diluted neutral detergent and water solution followed by a rinse with clean water. Lay the item flat to dry.

Healing and Mystical Properties

Wearing coral is said to aid in the treatment of circular and blood disorders, prevent osteoporosis, promote healthy bone formation in children, and protect the wearer from negative energy or loss of energy. Coral is supposed to promote the formation and growth of all types of new tissue. The psychological attributes of coral include immunity from resentment and envy and allowing the individual to enjoy their life. It strengthens love and is the symbol of joy and happiness.

~A special thanks to the members of the JCUiN Guild on ArtFire for providing images of coral jewelry. Please visit their shops!~


  1. What a fascinating post, Pam! You must have spent a huge amount of time researching and writing this. Love the pieces you chose to illustrate the different types of coral. I appreciate you using my blue coral necklace - thank you so much! As soon as our Internet is connected and the computer is hooked back up, I'll be sure to share this (: Thanks again!

  2. Very interesting post, and great selection of examples.
    Megan @DalyCraftworks