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Sustainable Option: The Preservation & History of Antique Coral Jewelry Collectibles

Tanzy Ward

Throughout history, coral jewelry has been used in ancient societies for a variety of reasons. Historically, coral was often used for sentimental adornments, which included serving as 'good luck' protection from illnesses & pandemics that were common. Coral accessories that are thousands of years old can be found in many different ancient societies, which includes Egypt, Rome, Greece, and China. In America, Native American tribes were first introduced to red coral through the Spaniards during the 16th century. One of the most highly sought after and collected coral is found in the Mediterranean waters, and is often called 'blood coral' due to it's deep red tone. Although we often refer to coral as an 'organic gemstone', it is actually the carbonate secretions of polyps, which are tiny marine invertebrates. The color of coral can range from deep red, peach, pink, and even black hues. In modern times, many coral reefs have been damaged and endangered due to pollution and climate change impacts. Antique and vintage coral is a great option for wearing sustainable jewelry while emphasizing historic preservation.

In today's antique and vintage market, popular precious coral jewelry collectibles are often from the 18th &19th centuries. During the Georgian Era (c.1760-c.1837), coral was collected from the Mediterranean regions of France, Italy, and Algeria. The jewelry in this period included finely designed vibrant red coral pieces such as necklaces, which were one of the most common styles of the time. Coral necklaces were often given to children for sentimental purposes, such as protection from illnesses. In fact, there are many 18th and 19th century painted portraits of women & children wearing coral beaded necklaces and earrings. During the Georgian Era, some of the most intense 'blood coral' hues were used in jewelry, many of which are very rare to come by presently. 

Carracci Annibale | Portrait of a black lady, bust-length, wearing ...

(Portrait of a Lady wearing a Coral Necklace & Holding An Ormulu Table Clock, by Annibale Carracci)


(Early 19th Century Painting Showing Child With Mother Wearing A Coral Strand Necklace.  Artist Is Unidentified)

During the Victorian Era (c.1837-c.1901), coral was often intricately carved into cameos and commonly used during the Romantic Period (c.1837-c.1860) of Queen Victoria's reign. In the 19th century, coral also became increasingly more of a fashion trend and not just for sentimental purposes. The coral jewelry made during the 18th & 19th centuries were finely designed. Italy was one of the leaders in producing magnificent artisan crafted coral pieces with intricate carved designs. Italy's techniques and styles of carved coral jewelry greatly influenced the U.S in creating exquisitely designed pieces as well.

In Native American jewelry, coral began to be commonly used after the Spaniards introduced red coral to native tribes during the 16th century. The trading of coral became popular among the two cultures. Coral in Native American jewelry symbolizes different concepts, which includes the earth, the ocean, strength, wealth, and war.  

(Vintage Handcrafted Coral & Sterling Silver Native American Style Necklace, Zanathia Jewelry)

 The conservation and preservation of coral is historically significant & has a very interesting sentimental background. While today's coral is threatened by climate change and pollution, antique & vintage coral are sustainable & historically significant jewelry options. Coral jewelry has been worn for thousands of years, and many antique & vintage coral accessories are still amazing pieces to own if they were preserved properly. In modern times, it is possible to wear a sentimental piece of history & help preserve coral with rare antique & vintage collectibles. 


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