Beautiful vintage and antique coral…

If you love vintage and antique coral jewellery the way I do you may enjoy some of these stunningly beautiful coral pieces in the shop right now.

You may also enjoy reading some of my previous articles about coral here. And please do have a look at all these lovely old works of art featuring coral jewellery – truly inspiring.

Natural Materials

Natural Materials

The wide variety and beauty of the natural materials used in vintage and antique jewellery is staggering. It seems jewellery designers never cease in their inventiveness. Here is a list which I believe is comprehensive or almost comprehensive (there is bound to be something I have left out).

I have excluded metal as that seems to deserve it’s own separate list.

 

Amber

Animal parts (ie Rabbit Foot)

Bog Oak

Bone

Butterflies and insects

Cinnabar

Coral

Flower and Plants

Gems & Gemstones

Hair

Horn

Ivory

Jade

Jet

Marcasite

Pearl

Sea Shell

Stone (Mosaics)

Tortoise Shell

Tooth

Tusk

Wood

 

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Children and Coral

Throughout the Georgian and Victorian eras, children were given coral jewelry to wear as coral was considered protective and health giving.  Consequently, there are quite a few surviving of examples of small earrings, necklaces and bracelets from the times.  Babies were also given rattles and teethers made from coral.

Types of coral used in jewelry

In a previous post, I discussed the colors of coral; in this post I will discuss the types of coral used in jewelry. Most fine coral jewelry is made from ‘precious coral’ (‘Corallium rubrum’ or ‘Corallium Secundum’).

There are three basic kinds of precious coral that are commonly used.  These are:

Branch Coral

This is when the coral is left in it’s natural state.

Coral cabochon or beads

Antique Coral Gold Earrings 8 karat k Salmon 333 Austrian Antique Vintage Pierced Classic Simple Drop

 

Carved or faceted coral

Non-precious coral jewelry

Because of the rightful protection of coral in contemporary times, the vast majority of modern coral jewelry is not made from ‘precious coral’. These are different kinds of coral altogether and have only been in use in recent times (with the exception of ‘synthetic coral’ and ‘reconstituted coral’ which both appear to have been around for longer.)  Although they are not relevant to the study of antique jewelry, it is worthwhile becoming familiar with these other corals for the sake of identification.  In a future post, I will discuss ways to test coral for dyes and treatment.

Sponge coral

Can be treated and dyed in a variety of ways.

Bamboo Coral

Usually dyed red, in natural state it is marbled green and brown.

Reconstituted coral

This is made from small pieces of coral or coral powder soaked in binding agents then pressed into a solid piece and then re-cut to form beads and shapes. It is usually dyed red and has a uniform appearance.

Synthetic coral

This can be made from wood, plastic, resin, bone, glass, crushed stone with resin or ceramic.

Coral Dyed Synthetic Stone Rhombus Beads

Sources / further reading:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precious_coral

http://www.collectorsweekly.com/fine-jewelry/coral

http://www.ehow.com/about_6745010_sponge-coral_.html

http://www.ehow.com/list_6303345_types-coral-jewelry.html

http://www.allaboutgemstones.com/organic_gems_red-coral.html

http://www.modernjeweler.com/online/article.jsp?siteSection=1&id=344&pageNum=1

http://books.google.fr/books?id=-Kewxb0G5IkC&pg=PA89&dq=Le+vie+del+corallo&hl=fr&sa=X&ei=doVNT8qyJMjT0QW557GYAQ&ved=0CEIQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=Le%20vie%20del%20corallo&f=false

The Colors of Coral

Coral is considered to be one of the ‘organic gemstones’ (the others being amber, jet and pearls).  It was highly prized by the Victorians and throughout history. It is actually one of my absolute favorite materials used in antique jewelry.  There is so much that I’d like to say about coral in fact, that I’ve decided rather than trying to tackle it all in one post, I will be breaking it down into several future posts. (It seems that every time I start to write about antique coral I get so overwhelmed with enthusiasm that I have to stop myself from saying too much!)

In this post, I will simply write about how the different colors of antique undyed or unbleached precious coral (corallium rubrum) are usually defined and how to recognize each. Angel skin and oxblood are generally considered the most valuable today.  The more solid the color, the more valuable it is. There are some other colors (black, gold, lavender, blue) that are so rare I am not going to discuss them here as it is so unlikely to come across them in antique jewelry.

It is interesting to note that neither Christie’s or Sotheby’s or the V&A Museum generally refer to coral pieces by their color.  It also appears that the more reputable dealers on the Internet tend to try and describe the nuanced color of each piece rather than simply labeling the colors with one of the labels I’ve put below. I am wondering how ‘official’ these definitions I have put below actually are.  It has been said that coral experts can classify over one hundred shades of red! Nevertheless, it seems that these are practical ways of describing the colors that are generally agreed upon elsewhere.

I have also added the Italian names here which although the are not generally used in the Anglo world seem relevant as Italy is and was the center of the precious coral industry. (When I’ve put the French name it is because that is sometimes used in the Anglo world.)

White coral

Italian: bianco

This is pure white or somewhat beige coral.  If there is some hint of pink it will be sometimes be called blush.

A pair of pink sapphire and diamond earrings, by Michele della Valle, and a coral and pink sapphire necklace

Christie’s Sale 7804
10 December 2012
London, South Kensington
A pair of pink sapphire and diamond earrings, by Michele della Valle, and a white coral and pink sapphire necklace

Angel skin

French: ‘peau d’ange’

Italian: ‘pelle d’angelo’

Can also be called ‘Fresh rose’

This color of coral was particularly prized in the Art Nouveau period.  Angels’ skin coral is solid pale pink or a solid pale peach color, but sometimes blush coral is referred to as angel skin.

A GROUP OF CORAL AND DIAMOND JEWELLERY

A group of coral (angel skin) and diamond jewelry
Christie’s Sale 4000
Jewels for Hope: The Collection of Mrs Lily Safra
14 May 2012
Geneva

Salmon coral (Sciacca)

Italian: ‘Rose pallido’ (pale rose) or ‘roso vivo’ (bright rose)

Salmon coral ranges from a pale orange-pink to a deep, rich dark orange.  This is the ‘coral’ color that most people associate with coral (ie coral lipstick etc).  Salmon coral was particularly prized by the Victorians.

A pair of late 19th century gold and coral earpendants

A pair of late 19th century gold and coral earpendants (salmon)
Christies’ Sale 5892
Jewels at South Kensington, including Fine Hermes Handbags
17 June 2009
London, South Kensington

Red coral or Oxblood (also known as Sardinian or royal coral)

Italian: ‘Rosso’ (red) or ‘rosso scuro’ (dark red) or ‘carbonetto’ or ‘arciscuro’ (meaning darkest red of all)

Red coral or oxblood coral is greatly prized and rare.  It ranges from very dark orange to red to dark purplish red. (If it is more orange than red then it should be defined as salmon but could also be called ‘dark salmon’.)

AN ANTIQUE CORAL BEAD NECKLACE

Antique coral bead necklace (red), Dutch mid 19th century
Christie’s Sale 3011
Amsterdam Jewels and Watches
10 October 2012
Amsterdam

Sources / further reading:

https://pippatreevintage.wordpress.com/2013/02/18/types-of-coral-used-in-jewelry/

http://www.langantiques.com/university/index.php/Coral

Copeland, L. Lawrence, Coral, The Forgotten Gem, Gemological Institute of American Literary Research

http://www.gia.edu/research-resources/gems-gemology/back-issue-archive/spring-1950.pdf

http://www.mauidivers.com/overview_1.asp

http://www.museodelcorallo.it/

Coral Jewelry in Artwork 1619 -1939

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Louis Édouard Rioult – Portrait Of A Lady Wearing Coral Jewellery

Antique, untreated coral is one of the most loved of materials in antique jewelry.  It is considered to be one of the ‘organic gemstones’ (the other two being amber and jet and pearls). Women who first own a piece of old coral jewelry soon become addicted to it and tend to become collectors.  There is something truly sumptuous and almost edible about antique, untreated coral.  It has long been worn as a talisman and later for its pure beauty; it was considered by the Victorians to promote good health and vitality, and you can really believe that it does once you experience wearing it.

One of the wonderful things about coral is that it tends to adapt over time to the woman who is wearing it and will subtly change color in a very organic way.  Many women have reported a feeling of ‘rightness’ about their particular piece of coral jewelry, as though the piece is actually part of them. Coral ranges from white, to ‘Angel Skin’, to ‘Salmon’, to ‘Oxblood’ and every nuance in between.

Since ancient Rome, coral has been considered to be protective for children and in the Georgian and Victorian era children were often given carved coral rattles. Children were also given coral earrings, bracelets and necklaces to wear. There are many works of art from Regency, Victorian and the early 20th century that show coral being worn by both women and children.  Looking at old works of art can be a truly wonderful way of understanding antique jewelry. I really got quite carried away finding these beautiful images on the Internet and had to make myself stop! (If I haven’t put the artists name it’s because I don’t know; if you do know please do send me a message or make a comment so I can add it).  I would like to share some of these truly lovely art works with coral jewelry here:
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Robert Lefevre.
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School of Andrea Appiani, Elisa Bonaparte
regency children 2
Regency children, John Hoppner, 1796.  Girl on left is wearing a coral necklace.
Generally, girls only wore very simple jewelry until about ages 15 or 16.
VA+18th+c.+necklace6
Young Regency woman in coral necklace
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 Lady in coral earrings, oil painting circa 1820, currently for sale here
Nicolaas Rubens Wearing a Coral Necklace, Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1619
Jane Elizabeth, Countess of Oxford, by John Hoppner 1797
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Portrait Miniature
Christies Sale 7817,
The Manolo March Collection From Son Galcerán, Mallorca
28 – 29 October 2009
London, King Street
Lady Maria Hamilton, Thomas Lawrence, 1802
Little boy with dog and coral necklace (it is unclear if dogs were sometimes given coral collars or if the child is giving the dog his own necklace) – Martin Drolling.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Portrait of a German Princess, 1828, François-Joseph Kinson

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Nude with coral necklace, 1910, Auguste Macke, Sprengel Museum Hanover

Portrait of a Lady with a Coral Necklace, Charles Webster Hawthorne, 1872-1930
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‘Coral Earrings’ by Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874-1939)