Sunday, February 17, 2019

The History Of Coral Jewelry

I read a very facilitating article from my latest issue of Beachcombing Magazine and wanted to share it with you as it really raises awareness of the importance of sustainable practices when using items from the ocean. Here it is in it's entirety.
by Meg Carter

The ocean and beach have never failed to provide an endless stream of inspiration for artists. Since the beginning of history, ocean and beach found objects and shapes have found their way into songs, paintings, architecture, sculpture, and many other artistic works. Jewelry in particular has seen the ocean's influence in design and material. Among these inspirations is coral. With a broad past, an interesting story, and an uncertain future. Red, pink, orange, and black are among the most sought after colors of coral used in jewelry. These colors are typically found in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Hawaii, near the Strait of Gibraltar, at the Cape Verde Islands (located off the coast of West Africa), off the coast of Portugal, and around Japan and Taiwan. Harvested coral is usually cut and polished into cabochons, shaped into beads or carved. The part of coral that is used for jewelry is actually not the living organism, but rather its carbonate secretions, which form the structure that the polyps live on, and although it is not the living part of the animal, it is essential for its survival. 

La infanta Ana Nlauricia de Austria, Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, 1602
In 77 AD, Pliny the Elder wrote in depth about coral in one of the earliest encyclopedias, Naturalis Historia (Natural History). Pliny describes the most valued coral as the reddest and most branchy. Red coral, corallium rubrum, was thought to have amulet powers for warding off dangers. It was also viewed as a thing of beauty and powerfully religious. During this period, Pliny claims that the Gauls used coral as ornamentation on their swords, shields, and helmets. The power of coral also followed into medicinal purposes. Reduced to powder or by burning and ingesting, it was said to help with ailments such as bladder problems, fever, ulcers, and scarring. The value of coral was so high that it was not commonly traded where it was harvested but rather brought to wealthier areas to trade. Coral used as an amulet spread far around the world. In 7000 Years of Jewelry, Hugh Tait describes coral as "a material to which in the ancient world great amuletic powers had been attributed. It was said, according to Greek mythology, to have originated as the spurts of blood gushing forth after Medusa's head had been severed by Perseus." Hundreds of years ago, coral was thought to be a protection against magic spells, especially for children. From Spain to Italy in historical portraits, infants are shown holding coral branches. 
Throughout the centuries, coral has held steady as a medium in jewelry. According to the book Gems and Gemstones by Lance Grande Allison Augustyn, "The use of coral as a gemstone is an extremely ancient practice, going back at least 25,000 years. Coral has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs and prehistoric European burial sites: Coral can be found in historic jewelry from Tibet as early as the 17th century. The Italians have always been known for their exquisite jewelry, and their use of coral is no exception. Through the 1800s and 1900s elaborate coral carvings were produced in Naples and throughout Italy. Techniques and styles from Italy spilled over to the U.S. in the late 1800s when jeweler Tiffany & Co. began using coral in their pieces. Today, coral has a different appeal. "Living Coral" has been announced as Pantone's 2019 

color of tile year. "Living Coral" (whether Pantone intended it or not) is an ironic title when it conies to the story of coral. Pantone describes the color as an animating and life affirming coral hue with a golden undertone that energizes and enlivens with a softer edge:' Although Pantone is describing the color, the actual marine invertebrates are definitely struggling with the "life-affirming" part. 

The world's coral reefs are threatened by pollution, over-harvesting, and climate change Several species of coral have been declared endangered and are now regulated, and more than 180 countries restrict the export of red coral harvested after 1969. 
Today, the use of coral in jewelry is controversial. Coral jewelry is still popular, and vintage pieces fetch astronomical prices at auction. While some jewelers continue to use coral in their designs, many jewelers only use coral re-purposed from vintage pieces and others have stopped creating coral jewelry altogether. In 2002, Tiffany & Co. stopped using natural coral in all of their jewelry designs. Along with this change, they have also played an active role in coral conservation. Over the past 16 years, Tiffany has donated $75 million to organizations dedicated to stewardship of natural resources, including coral and marine conservation. The jewelry industry has done damage to the world's coral reefs over hundreds of years, but changes going forward will make a difference. With fewer jewelers using coral, the reefs will have a better chance of recovering. And, until then, coral lovers can buy beautiful antique coral jewelry pieces, or if they're lucky, see coral living in the wild. 
source: Beachcombing Magazine

See a beautiful Coral Reef inspired necklace at Handmade Jewelry Haven.
Coral Reef Necklace

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  1. It's sad how coral are slowly dying. The climate changes have had a brutal effect on them. The jewellery looks pretty though. Glad that shops are repurposing antiques ones rather than use new corals.

  2. Coral living in the wild would be so much better, I think! Yes, we are ravaging the planet rather mindlessly. Perhaps it is time to think how much better this world would be if we stopped looking ahead with myopic vision!

  3. Visiting from #wordlessWedbesday :

    We also host the #ww linkup party, in case you'dlike to join us this week! Happy Wednesday and a very Happy rest of the week.

  4. Fascinating read. I know when i lived in Miami in the 1970's I loved seeing the old coral houses from early Miami history. I read about how it was outlawed as they cut the stones from living coral. Sad - thanks for sharing!

  5. Totally fascinating and your jewelry is beautiful for sure. If I could afford it I'd probably go crazy! ~hehehe~

  6. I didn't know it was that strong, but I do know you don't want to dive into it. It is pretty but I'm not sure I'd give it to an infant to hold.

  7. The color coral is very pretty. I love the necklace.

  8. In Egypt at the Red Sea there are so many corals (now they are protected) and such a choice of jewelry ! Since 2001 I go there each year for 2 weeks holidays in November because it is so warm there and it never rains. At that time divers broke corals and took them with them. Now it's not allowed anymore ! We took a glass boat and saw coral field with little very colored fishes swimming through. So beautiful !

  9. That's such an interesting article it is sad about the coral and the instruction we have done as human beings.Its sad how we waste our time on stupid things like Dallas that separate us from each other rather than coming togetehr and saving the world around us.sad sad sad

  10. I really loved reading your blog. It was very well authored and easy to undertand. Unlike additional blogs I have read which are really not tht good. I also found your posts very interesting. In fact after reading, I had to go show it to my friend and he ejoyed it as well!

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  11. This is really an excellent post.thanks