Precious coral, jewel of the oceans

June 03, 2016

Red coral branch and gold pendant. Invincible Art jewelry.

This morning, I received the newest issue of my favorite magazine, Lapidary Journal. And here it was... amongst the usual boatload of inspiring projects and articles... an article about precious coral. Not great, by the way, and somewhat inaccurate. This just gave me the kick in the pants I needed to review and publish this post that I had written already 3 months ago.

In the photo above: Precious coral and 18K gold pendant. We can clearly see the places where the polyps lived in the coral skeleton. Artist's private collection.

As a Scuba diver and jewelry designer, I know and respect coral.

Although many believe that coral is a plant, it is in fact an animal. Marine organisms called polyps who live in colonies secrete calcium carbonate to form a hard skeleton.

Red coral from the Mediterranean sea
This photo of precious red coral was taken by my friend Sophie de Wilde and published in 1993 in her gorgeous book "Le miracle de la mer". Sophie tragically died in a diving accident in 1999. She took this photo in Villefranche sur Mer (near the city of Nice), on the ceiling of an underwater cave.

 

Coral does not grow up from the floor like a plant. It grows down in stalactite formations, hanging from the ceiling of submarines caves. The red part is the skeleton of the animal. The little white flower-like part is the polype, a living animal. When the coral is broken, the polyp dies.

To be noted: the red color from the photo comes from artificial lightning used to take the photo. Red is the first color to disappear underwater and looks more like an ugly brown to the naked eye. And here goes down the myth of sharks attracted by red color :)

Natural branch of red Mediterranean coral

Apart from coral islands and reefs which consist of shallow water coral, there is the precious coral appreciated since ancient times. Coral comes in many different colors: salmon (Japan and China), pink (Morocco and Algeria), black (Hawaii) and red (Mediterranean Sea). The deep red color called “sang de taureau” (bull’s blood) is the rarest and most sought after type of coral.

The coral grows very slowly in stalactite formations at depths below 40 meters (120 feet). The most beautiful branches are found at far greater depths, growing in submarine caves.

The polyps work only by day and it takes them years, maybe centuries, to grow a branch.

Corals are highly sensitive to environmental changes.  Scientist have predicted that over 50% of the coral reefs may be destroyed by the years 2030.

Precious coral of Mediterranean is an endangered protected species. It is not to be confused with other species of coral (mostly found in the China sea) that are not endangered.

This bracelet is made of red bamboo coral from the China sea. This type of coral is not endangered. It is most likely dyed to look bright red.

 

Coral, measurer of times

After a night of rest, the polyps resume their building work. Those breaks, as well as moon phases, cause variations in the branch, variations which can be seen with a microscope.

With the discovery of corals and fossils in the deserts, scientists have been able to find out precisely when these deserts were oceans.

Coral, jewel of the ancient times

Coral has been highly appreciated for centuries. Romans used to make necklaces to preserve themselves from infectious diseases. Ancient Egyptians believed that coral would ease the pain of babies when they are teething.

Raw branch of red Mediterranean coral
"Raw" branch of precious red coral. Artist's private collection.

While it takes many years to polyps to create their branches, one week of work is necessary to give this coral its polished finish.

Precious coral jewelry 

Red Mediterranean coral and gold Scuba diving pendant
Scuba diving tank jewelry. Precious red coral and 18K gold. Artist's private collection.

I do have a small limited number of coral branches that I plan to set as earrings and pendants and sell in my store. They are genuine Mediterranean red coral, the rarest and finest quality of coral. This type of coral is classified as precious coral and is jewelry grade. Today it is protected and extremely rare.

Like the pieces pictured above, these pieces have been collected more than 60 years ago by a friend who was one of the last licensed coral divers in Spain and France. At the time, coral was not protected nor endangered. In fact, at this time no one knew much about ocean protection. Commandant Cousteau was the first to declare it after his movie "Le monde du silence".

My friend was used to scuba dive in caves at about 180 feet deep on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. Collecting coral is a dangerous activity and is integral part of the Mediterranean basin's culture. These branches were part of his private collection and he gave some to me.

I do not know when I will list them, but if you'd like to be the first to know, join my mailing list.

Patricia

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