by Darlynn Lydick.
I used to think of coral as the color of coral. You know, that orangey-red color that was hip in the 70’s?
Well, yes, coral can be “coral” in color.
But did you know that coral occurs naturally in just about every color – shades of blue, red, orange, pink, blue, tan, gray, lavender, white and even black?
To test coral for dyes,
you can try one (or more) of these:
Lightly rinse coral in warm water and lay it on a paper towel.
If you notice any color bleeding on the towel after a few minutes, you can bet it’s dyed.
Test a small spot near the hole of one of the beads or branches with a cotton swab and fingernail polish remover to see if any dye comes off.
Check where beads may have rubbed together exposing a different color. Check the color of the string, as it could have been dyed the same time as the beads.
Color of Coral and Its History
The beauty and mystique of sea coral is appreciated today, as it has been for hundreds of years.
The Victorians carved detailed pink coral roses and cameos; Native Americans mixed smooth, red coral with turquoise and silver in their important pieces of jewelry.
During the 1960’s, orange, red and white branch coral was readily available near the beaches of Florida, Hawaii and the Caribbean.
In 1972 trade and harvesting regulations made it illegal for US importing, to help protect the world’s coral reefs.
Today, new (and legal) coral coming into the US is likely a gray Bamboo coral from the Philippines. It grows fast and usually dyed to replicate a variety of natural coral colors, quite often red.
Dyed coral frequently has no color variation on the outside of the bead or branch, or from piece to piece.
As well, coral importers have become quite sophisticated in their coloring techniques. Besides the basic dipping method, a method that injects the dye is commonly used to saturate the coral all the way through for a more convincing look.
Two very special corals are the soft-red-and-golden-yellow Apple coral and the tan-and-brown-striped Tiger coral.
Most people have never even seen real Apple or Tiger coral because it is so rare. Limestone is commonly hand-painted to imitate these corals, since limestone, like coral, has high concentrates of calcium carbonates in them.
Real thing or painted bling, just confirm what it actually is before you buy.
More About Coral Colors
Pink coral is very dense and relatively hard. It can span the entire spectrum of pinks, from almost white to pink to nearly red.
While all shades of pink coral are coveted, pale pink Angelskin coral is very much in demand. When dangled together, larger branches (say, 30mm+) of real Angelskin coral makes delicate clinks and clatters that you might expect from tiny pieces of fine bone china.
Red frangia, or branch, coral can vary in color from light shades of red, to a deep red color commonly found in coral off the coast of Italy. In fact, the Mediterranean Sea is famous for its prized, red coral, which is a dense but slow-growing species that sprouts a only one millimeter per year!
Lavender, orange and white coral grows in the form of branches, but can also be found in a much more porous species that is usually carved into simple, round beads. Of these three, the lavender is the rarest color and most difficult to find, if at all, due to its unique but very popular color.
Blue Denim coral is also a sought-after color; it’s stonewashed denim tones make it easy to wear, especially with jeans. Found largely in Hawaiian reefs, blue coral is quite porous and therefore usually only carved into rounds or heishi beads.
The more iron salt deposits found in this coral species, the darker blue it becomes. Blue Denim coral is so highly sought-after, in fact, that I once sold two dozen strands to a little coral shop in Hawaii!
Black coral is a light-weight coral with cross-section slices similar to the rings found in trees. These circular patterns are very subtle, but are brownish-red in color. They give the black coral a special luster not seen in other corals.
So whether you inherit Grandma’s coral, buy new dyed coral or search out the vintage stuff that hasn’t been color-enhanced or bleached, just choose your color and enjoy nature’s glorious gift from under the sea.
Author Darlynn Lydick lives in Houston, Texas and is a member of the San Antonio and Houston Bead Societies. She formerly owned The Bead Drawer and The Bead Hive, which specialized in vintage coral, ivory and Swarovski crystals.