Precious coral

Last updated

Precious coral
Corallium rubrum (Linnaeus, 1758) 4.jpg
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Cnidaria
Class: Anthozoa
Order: Alcyonacea
Family: Coralliidae
Genus: Corallium
Cuvier, 1798

31 species, see text.

Precious coral, or red coral, is the common name given to a genus of marine corals, Corallium. The distinguishing characteristic of precious corals is their durable and intensely colored red or pink-orange skeleton, which is used for making jewelry.



Red corals grow on rocky seabottom with low sedimentation, typically in dark environments—either in the depths or in dark caverns or crevices. The original species, C. rubrum (formerly Gorgonia nobilis), is found mainly in the Mediterranean Sea. It grows at depths from 10 to 300 meters below sea level, although the shallower of these habitats have been largely depleted by harvesting. [1] In the underwater caves of Alghero, Sardinia (the "Coral Riviera") it grows at depth from 4 to 35 meters. The same species is also found at Atlantic sites near the Strait of Gibraltar, at the Cape Verde Islands and off the coast of southern Portugal. [1] Other Corallium species are native to the western Pacific, notably around Japan and Taiwan; [2] these occur at depths of 350 to 1500 meters below sea level in areas with strong currents. [1]


In common with other Alcyonacea , red corals have the shape of small leafless bushes and grow up to a meter in height. Their valuable skeleton is composed of intermeshed spicules of hard calcium carbonate, colored in shades of red by carotenoid pigments. [1] In living specimens, the skeletal branches are overlaid with soft bright red integument, from which numerous retractable white polyps protrude. [3] The polyps exhibit octameric radial symmetry.


The following are known species in the genus: [4]

As a gemstone

The Queen Farida of Egypt red coral parure by Ascione, made in 1938 in Naples, Coral Jewellery Museum Parure realizzata per la regina Farida d'Egitto (1934).JPG
The Queen Farida of Egypt red coral parure by Ascione, made in 1938 in Naples, Coral Jewellery Museum
Chinese coral sculpture. Gift of Mr and Mrs Charles D. Field, 1988 and gift of Alice Meyer Buck, 1968. Coral woman p1070258.jpg
Chinese coral sculpture. Gift of Mr and Mrs Charles D. Field, 1988 and gift of Alice Meyer Buck, 1968.

The hard skeleton of red coral branches is naturally matte, but can be polished to a glassy shine. [2] It exhibits a range of warm reddish pink colors from pale pink to deep red; the word coral is also used to name such colors. Owing to its intense and permanent coloration and glossiness, precious coral skeletons have been harvested since antiquity for decorative use. Coral jewellery has been found in ancient Egyptian and prehistoric European burials, [3] and continues to be made to the present day. It was especially popular during the Victorian age. [5]

Precious coral has hardness 3.5 on the Mohs scale. [6] Due to its softness and opacity, coral is usually cut en cabochon , or used to make beads. [7]

History of trade

6-Strand Necklace, Navajo (Native American), ca. 1920s, Brooklyn Museum 6-Strand Necklace, Navajo (Native American), ca. 1920s, 71.57.1.jpg
6-Strand Necklace, Navajo (Native American), ca. 1920s, Brooklyn Museum
Coral earrings. Orhangen i guld och korall - Hallwylska museet - 110121.tif
Coral earrings.
Red coral precious raw gemstone Red coral gemstone.jpg
Red coral precious raw gemstone

At the beginning of the 1st millennium, there was significant trade in coral between the Mediterranean and India, where it was highly prized as a substance believed to be endowed with mysterious sacred properties. Pliny the Elder remarks that, before the great demand from India, the Gauls used it for the ornamentation of their weapons and helmets; but by this period, so great was the Eastern demand, that it was very rarely seen even in the regions which produced it. Among the Romans, branches of coral were hung around children's necks to preserve them from danger from the outside, and the substance had many medicinal virtues attributed to it. The belief in coral's potency as a charm continued throughout the Middle Ages and early in 20th century Italy it was worn as a protection from the evil eye, and by women as a cure for infertility.

From the Middle Ages onward, the securing of the right to the coral fisheries off the African coasts was the object of considerable rivalry among the Mediterranean communities of Europe.

The story of the Torre del Greco is so interwoven with that of the coral so as to constitute an inseparable pair, and is documented as early as the fifteenth century. In 1790 the Royal Society of Coral was established in the town of Torre del Greco, with the idea of working and selling coral fish. This shows that the coral fishing flourished for many years in the city.[ citation needed ]

It was also enacted December 22, 1789, by Ferdinand IV of Bourbon Code coral (prepared by the Neapolitan jurist Michael Florio), with the intent to regulate the coral fishing in those years starring, in addition to the sailors Torre del Greco, the locals and those in Trapani This regulation did not have the expected success. From 1805, when he founded the first factory for the manufacturing of coral in Torre del Greco (by Paul Bartholomew Martin, but with French Genoese origin), the golden age for the manufacturing of coral in the city situated on the slopes of the Vesuvius started, because working together with the coral fishing was increasingly under the control of Torre del Greco fishermen. Since 1875, the Torre del Greco began working with the Sciacca coral and a school for the manufacturing of coral was built in 1878 in the city (which closed in 1885 to reopen in 1887), with which in 1933 established a museum of the coral. Then came the time of processing of Japanese coral found in the markets of Madras and Calcutta.[ citation needed ]

Other story instead a short period the Tunisian fisheries were secured by Charles V for Spain; but the monopoly soon fell into the hands of the French, who held the right until the Revolutionary government in 1793 threw the trade open. For a short period (about 1806) the British government controlled the fisheries, but this later returned to the hands of the French authorities. Before the French Revolution much of the coral trade was centred in Marseille, but then largely moved to Italy, where the procuring of the raw material and the working of it was centring in Naples, Rome and Genoa. [8]

In culture

The origin of coral is explained in Greek mythology by the story of Perseus. Having petrified Cetus, the sea monster threatening Andromeda, Perseus placed Medusa's head on the riverbank while he washed his hands. When he recovered her head, he saw that her blood had turned the seaweed (in some variants the reeds) into red coral. Thus, the Greek word for coral is 'Gorgeia', as Medusa was one of the three Gorgons. [9]

Poseidon resided in a palace made of coral and gems, and Hephaestus first crafted his work from coral.

The Romans believed coral could protect children from harm, as well as cure wounds made by snakes and scorpions and diagnose diseases by changing colour.


Intensive fishing, particularly in shallow waters, has damaged this species along the Mediterranean coastline, where colonies at depths of less than 50 metres are much diminished. Fishing and now climate change threaten their persistence. The three oldest Mediterranean Marine Protected Areas Banyuls, Carry-le-Rouet and Scandola, off the island of Corsicaall host substantial populations of C. rubrum. Since protection was established, colonies have grown in size and number at shallow and deeper depths. [10] [11]

See also

Related Research Articles

Amethyst Mineral, quartz variety

Amethyst is a violet variety of quartz. The name comes from the Koine Greek αμέθυστος amethystos from α- a-, "not" and μεθύσκω methysko / μεθώ metho, "intoxicate", a reference to the belief that the stone protected its owner from drunkenness. The ancient Greeks wore amethyst and carved drinking vessels from it in the belief that it would prevent intoxication.

Topaz Silicate mineral

Topaz is a silicate mineral of aluminium and fluorine with the chemical formula Al2SiO4(F, OH)2. It is used as a gemstone in jewelry and other adornments. Topaz in its natural state is a golden brown to yellow. A variety of impurities and treatments may make topaz wine red, pale gray, reddish-orange, pale green, pink, or opaque.

Alghero Comune in Sardinia, Italy

Alghero, also known in the local Algherese dialect as L'Alguer, is a town of about 45,000 inhabitants in the Italian insular province of Sassari in northwestern Sardinia, next to the Mediterranean Sea. Part of its population descends from Catalan conquerors from the end of the Middle Ages, when Sardinia was part of the Crown of Aragon. Hence, the Catalan language is co-official and known as the Alguerès dialect. The name Alghero comes from Aleguerium, which is a mediaeval Latin word meaning "stagnation of algae".

Cameo (carving) method of carving

Cameo is a method of carving an object such as an engraved gem, item of jewellery or vessel. It nearly always features a raised (positive) relief image; contrast with intaglio, which has a negative image. Originally, and still in discussing historical work, cameo only referred to works where the relief image was of a contrasting colour to the background; this was achieved by carefully carving a piece of material with a flat plane where two contrasting colours met, removing all the first colour except for the image to leave a contrasting background.

Necklace Article of jewellery worn around the neck

A necklace is an article of jewellery that is worn around the neck. Necklaces may have been one of the earliest types of adornment worn by humans. They often serve ceremonial, religious, magical, or funerary purposes and are also used as symbols of wealth and status, given that they are commonly made of precious metals and stones.

Brooch Large ornament with a pin fastening

A brooch is a decorative jewelry item designed to be attached to garments, often to fasten them together. It is usually made of metal, often silver or gold or some other material. Brooches are frequently decorated with enamel or with gemstones and may be solely for ornament or serve a practical function as a clothes fastener. The earliest known brooches are from the Bronze Age. As fashions in brooches changed rather quickly, they are important chronological indicators. Many of the ancient European brooches found in archaeology are usually referred to by the Latin term fibula.

Torre del Greco Comune in Campania, Italy

Torre del Greco is a comune in the Metropolitan City of Naples in Italy, with a population of c. 85,000 as of 2016. The locals are sometimes called Corallini because of the once plentiful coral in the nearby sea, and because the city has been a major producer of coral jewellery and cameo brooches since the seventeenth century.

Black coral Order of soft deep-water corals with chitin skeletons

Antipatharians, also known as black corals or thorn corals, are an order of soft deep-water corals. These corals can be recognized by their jet-black or dark brown chitin skeletons, surrounded by the polyps. Antipatharians are a cosmopolitan order, existing at nearly every location and depth, with the sole exception of brackish waters. However, they are most frequently found on continental slopes under 50 m (164 ft) deep. A black coral reproduces both sexually and asexually throughout its lifetime. Many black corals provide housing, shelter, food, and protection for other animals.

<i>Montastraea</i> Genus of corals

Montastraea is a genus of colonial stony coral found in the Caribbean seas. It is the only genus in the monotypic family Montastraeidae and contains a single species, Montastraea cavernosa, known as great star coral. It forms into massive boulders and sometimes develops into plates. Its polyps are the size of a human thumb and fully extend at night.

Strait of Sicily The strait between Sicily and Tunisia

The Strait of Sicily is the strait between Sicily and Tunisia. The strait is about 145 kilometres (90 mi) wide and divides the Tyrrhenian Sea and the western Mediterranean Sea, from the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The maximum depth is 316 meters (1,037 ft).

Southeast Asian coral reefs Marine ecosystem

Southeast Asian coral reefs have the highest levels of biodiversity for the world's marine ecosystems. They serve many functions, such as forming the livelihood for subsistence fishermen and even function as jewelry and construction materials. Coral reefs are developed by the carbonate-based skeletons of a variety of animals and algae. Slowly and overtime, the reefs build up to the surface in oceans. Coral reefs are found in shallow, warm salt water. The sunlight filters through clear water and allows microscopic organisms to live and reproduce. The Indian Ocean holds 60% of the world's coastal reefs, 25% are in the Pacific and 15% are in the western Atlantic. There are coral reefs in the Persian Gulf, Madagascar, the Philippines, Hawaiian Islands and off Southeast Asia. Coral reefs have been preserved and identified in rocks over 400 million years old. Coral reefs are actually composed of tiny, fragile animals known as coral polyps. Coral reefs are significantly important because of the biodiversity. Although the number of fish are decreasing, the remaining coral reefs contain more unique sea creatures. The variety of species living on a coral reef is greater than anywhere else in the world. An estimation of 70-90% of fish caught are dependent on coral reefs in Southeast Asia and reefs support over 25% of all known marine species. However, those sensitive coral reefs are facing detrimental effects on them due to variety of factors: overfishing, sedimentation and pollution, bleaching, and even tourist-related damage.

Alcyonacea An order of octocorals that do not produce massive calcium carbonate skeletons

Alcyonacea, or soft corals, are an order of corals. In addition to the fleshy soft corals, the order Alcyonacea now contains all species previously known as "gorgonian corals", that produce a more or less hard skeleton, though quite different from "true" corals (Scleractinia). These can be found in suborders Holaxonia, Scleraxonia, and Stolonifera. They are sessile colonial cnidarians that are found throughout the oceans of the world, especially in the deep sea, polar waters, tropics and subtropics. Common names for subsets of this order are sea fans and sea whips; others are similar to the sea pens of related order Pennatulacea. Individual tiny polyps form colonies that are normally erect, flattened, branching, and reminiscent of a fan. Others may be whiplike, bushy, or even encrusting. A colony can be several feet high and across, but only a few inches thick. They may be brightly coloured, often purple, red, or yellow. Photosynthetic gorgonians can be successfully kept in captive aquaria.

Alonnisos Marine Park Marine protected area in the Aegean sea, Greece

The National Marine Park of Alonnisos Northern Sporades was founded by Presidential Decree on May 16, 1992. It was the first of its kind in Greece, and is currently the largest marine protected area in Europe. Besides the sea area, the park includes the island of Alonnisos, six smaller islands, as well as 22 uninhabited islets and rocky outcrops. It is located in the region of the Northern Sporades Islands, in the northern Aegean Sea. There is one other marine park in Greece, namely Zakynthos Marine Park.

A range of gemstones are mentioned in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation. Much has been written about the precise identification of these stones, although largely speculative.

Museo del Corallo - Collezione Privata LIVERINO is a coral museum located in Torre del Greco, a town in the Province of Naples, in Italy.

Coralliidae Family of corals

Coralliidae, also known as precious corals, is a taxonomic family of soft corals belonging to the phylum Cnidaria of the family Scleraxonia. These sessile corals are one of the most dominant members of hard-bottomed benthics environments such as seamounts, canyons and continental shelves. From this coral family results 69 descendants in which each species plays a key role in forming habitats for a variety of marine species. Due to their unique trait of possessing a red calcium carbonate skeleton, these corals can be harvested in order to create handcrafted amulets, jewelry and other valuable artifacts giving rise to its reputed name of "precious corals". Correspondingly, members of this family are vulnerable to the negative impacts of overharvestation imposed by mass coral trade.

Hawaiian gold coral Species of coral

Hawaiian gold coral is a rare, extremely long-lived deep-sea coral found on seamounts near Hawaii. It is the only member of the monotypic genus Kulamanamana. One colony has been dated as 2,740 years old, while others are considered 5,000 years old. Although it has been harvested commercially for use in jewellery for a long time, it was not formally described by taxonomists until 2012 when it was found to be related to both the genus Savalia and the octocoral-associated zoanthid, Corallizoanthus tsukaharai.

Coral poaching

Coral poaching is the confiscation of highly valued coral species from protected areas for sale as many types of jewellery that could be sold of upwards to $1,800 per gram. The illegal removal of coral is one of the most major environmental issues in many counties of Eastern Asia that destroys valuable ecosystems that harbors marine life. The resulting effect of harvesting coral colonies causes a significant financial loss to the surrounding economies and the destruction of environments.

The Riviera del Corallo is a coastal stretch of north-west Sardinia in the south of the Nurra plain, which includes the town of Alghero. It is co called because of the great importance of the red coral that is fished in its waters and worked to make jewellery and ornaments since the days of ancient Rome.

Tritonia coralliumrubri is a species of dendronotid nudibranch. It is a marine gastropod mollusc in the family Tritoniidae. It feeds on the octocoral Corallium rubrum, the red coral.


  1. 1 2 3 4 "Corallium species". ARKive. Archived from the original on June 20, 2007. Retrieved February 15, 2007.
  2. 1 2 "Gemstones: Coral". Archived from the original on February 9, 2007. Retrieved February 15, 2007.
  3. 1 2 "Red Coral". Marenostrum. Retrieved February 15, 2007.
  4. "WoRMS - World Register of Marine Species - Corallium Cuvier, 1798". December 21, 2004. Retrieved October 9, 2013.
  5. Anderson, Katharine (2008). "Coral Jewellery". Victorian Review . 34 (1): 47–52. doi:10.1353/vcr.2008.0008. JSTOR   41220397.
  6. "Jewelry Central" . Retrieved February 15, 2007.
  7. Balzan, Francesca; Deidun, Alan (2010). "Notes for a history of coral fishing and coral artefacts in Malta - The Significance of Coral: Apotropaic, Medical, Symbolic, Precious". In Joseph F. Grima (ed.). 60th anniversary of the Malta Historical Society: a commemoration. Zabbar: Veritas Press. pp. 435–454. ISBN   978-99932-0-942-3. OCLC   779340904. Archived from the original on March 25, 2019.
  8. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Coral"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 7 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 131.
  9. "Ovid's Metamorphoses". Metamorphoses. Retrieved November 6, 2014.
  10. "Marine protected areas conserve Mediterranean red coral". May 11, 2010. Retrieved October 9, 2013.
  11. Linares, C.; Bianchimani, O.; Torrents, O.; Marschal, C.; Drap, P.; Garrabou, J. (2010). "Marine Protected Areas and the conservation of long-lived marine invertebrates: The Mediterranean red coral". Marine Ecology Progress Series. 402: 69. Bibcode:2010MEPS..402...69L. doi: 10.3354/meps08436 . hdl:10261/79508.