Precious Coral in Jewelry: New Discoveries

Posted on November 1, 2020 by Dr. Laurent E. Cartier, SSEF

Precious corals are some of the oldest gems known to and used by humans, and coveted in many regions of the world. Of the thousands of species of corals found in our oceans only a very small number can and have been used in jewelry. INTRODUCTION Corals used in jewellery are commonly referred to as precious corals. These include red, pink, orange and white varieties from the family Coralliidae. Up until the discovery of large precious coral beds in Asia in the 19th century, the Mediterranean –with its so-called Sardinian coral from corallium rubrum- was the sole source of precious coral. Marco Polo was known to trade precious corals from his native italy all the way to Tibet in the 13th century. Today, the centre of production, trade and consumption of precious coral has increasingly shifted to Asia. Torre del greco near Naples (italy) remains an important trading and manufacturing hub for precious corals. As conservation concerns around our oceans and corals continue, it is important to examine the present state of the coral industry and the progress science is making in protecting and identifying these precious species. WHAT IS CORAL? Corals are formed by compact colonies of many identical individual polyps. These polyp groups live in deep ocean waters and secrete calcium carbonate to form a hard skeleton that offers polyps shelter and structure. The raw material for precious coral used for jewelry is in fact just the hard coral skeleton. Similar to pearls, precious coral is a product of biomineralization, as living organisms (polyps) secrete the calcium carbonate. Precious coral is generally found between 200m and 1500m depth. in the Mediterranean, red coral (corallium rubrum) has been found at shallower depths, but due to overfishing in recent centuries fewer shallow populations exist. recent gFCM (general Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean) rules now forbid coral harvesting at depths shallower than 50 meters, to further protect these populations. These deep-sea coral species are different to those found in shallow coral reefs known by the general public. There are...

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