Red Coral: A Living, Beading Wonder!
Creative Beading|Vol 16 No 6
RED CORAL HAS BEEN USED IN JEWELLERY AND DECORATIVE ITEMS SINCE THE AGES OF THE PHARAOHS AND REMAINS A VERY POPULAR CHOICE TODAY, AND NOT JUST FOR ROYALTY. SARAH EZZY-DICKSON DIVES INTO THE HISTORY AND USES OF THIS SOUGHT-AFTER SEMI-PRECIOUS BEAUTY.
SARAH EZZY-DICKSON

RED CORAL BEGINS LIFE at anywhere between three and 1500 metres below the surface of the ocean in areas such as the Mediterranean Sea and areas in the Pacific Ocean around Japan and Taiwan. It has also been found in areas in the Atlantic Ocean, near the Strait of Gibraltar and at the Cape Verde Islands. Believe it or not, none of the world’s supply of red coral comes from Australian waters; it is not the right species of coral and all of our coral reefs are protected. Coral starts as a polyp surrounded by a fleshy skin which secretes calcium carbonate, forming branches and fans that can be found in colours ranging from crimson red to pale pink and white. The coral structures can grow up to 50cm in height and contain tentacles that collect passing zooplankton for nutrition. Red coral can live for up to 75 years and is quite slow-growing, sometimes only growing as little as one to eight millimetres in a year.

Usually found in dark areas such as the seafloor or in caves or crevices, red coral is often hard to harvest. In the past, the most common method has been dredging; the process of dragging a net attached to a heavy chain across the seafloor, breaking off and collecting the coral as it goes. This has resulted in the loss of up to 66 per cent of the coral colonies in the Mediterranean and surrounding areas. The preferred method to collect coral these days is for scuba divers to individually select coral based on age and quality, leaving the younger corals to develop further.

Red coral is naturally matte regardless of the colour, and needs to be polished in order to achieve the glassy shine that is often associated with coral used in jewellery and other decorative items. It is quite soft, with a rating of 3.5 on the Mohs scale and has been used as beads or as a medium for carving for many centuries.

Coral is one of the most ancient of semiprecious materials and evidence has been found to suggest that it was first harvested in Palaeolithic times and has been used over time by the ancient Egyptians and Romans, the Native Americans and the Celtic race as well as many other civilisations. Commonly found in decorative items or jewellery, coral has many mystical properties surrounding it as well; it has been used as a talisman to ward off evil, to protect crops and ships and to aid in eliminating hatred from the home. Powdered coral is popular in homeopathic medicine and is used to help or prevent a wide range of ailments from asthma and epilepsy to smallpox and fever.

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