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:
School of Andrea Appiani, Elisa Bonaparte
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.
Young Regency woman in coral necklace
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
Christies Sale 7817,
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.
Portrait of a German Princess, 1828, François-Joseph Kinson
Nude with coral necklace, 1910, Auguste Macke, Sprengel Museum Hanover
Portrait of a Lady with a Coral Necklace, Charles Webster Hawthorne, 1872-1930
‘Coral Earrings’ by Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874-1939)