Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary tells us that: "With their hardened surfaces, corals are sometimes mistaken as being rocks. And, because they are attached, “taking root” to the seafloor, they are often mistaken for plants. However, unlike rocks, corals are alive. And unlike plants, corals do not make their own food. Corals are in fact animals.
The branch or mound that we often call “a coral” is actually made up of thousands of tiny animals called polyps. A coral polyp is an invertebrate that can be no bigger than a pinhead to up to a foot in diameter. Each polyp has a saclike body and a mouth that is encircled by stinging tentacles. The polyp uses calcium carbonate (limestone) from seawater to build a hard, cup-shaped skeleton. This skeleton protects the soft, delicate body of the polyp."
Jewelry Shopping Guide tells us that: "Used over thousands of years to make jewelry, coral is known for its distinct warm colors and smooth, satiny texture. When crafted into beautiful jewelry, coral is as stunning as any gemstone. But coral isn’t like any other gemstone out there. In fact, it is one of the most unique substances used in jewelry....
"Coral is a member of a small and exclusive group of precious stones known as organic gemstones. Organic gemstones are created from living matter, such as plants and animals and not from minerals. Some other examples of organic gemstones include pearls which come from oysters and amber from fossiled resin.
"Coral polyps build their shell-like, hard, protective homes by secreting calcium corbonate around them. This is how coral reefs are formed. Over time, the polyps die in their homes and become a part of the structure. The next generation of polyps continue the cycle, building their homes atop those of the previous polyp generation and adding to the growth of the coral reef.
"Like aquamarine and turquoise, coral is one of the few gemstones that specifies a certain color, referring to a beautiful pinkish-orange color. However, in reality, coral occurs in a range of colors, including white, pink, red, orange as well as rare gold, blue and black varieties.
"The most common coral color is white, although the variety used in jewelry is typically pink to red. This is known asprecious coralorred coraland is the most sought after.
"Since ancient times, coral has been believed to be aprotective stone, and was worn as an amulet to safeguard oneself from negativity, evil spirits and intentions....coral was used in Italy to protect from the evil eye. Even today, many still believe in coral’s protective properties and wear coral jewelry for this reason.
"Coral is believed to be a stone of transformation, peace and relaxation. For those trapped in negative thoughts about the past, coral is believed to be able to help you free yourself and move on. It provides a sense of calm and creates an environment of relaxation, reminiscent of the sea from which it originates.
"Coral is also believed to hold healing properties, especially for women and children. It is thought to assist in relieving issues related to the circulatory and nervous systems, blood-related problems and strengthening the skeletal structure."
Don in SOFL on a discussion board at Ganoksin Orchid tells us that: "Certain corals are subject to rigid control based on international treaties (such as CITES). These treaties make it a crime punishable by various penalties based on the attitude of the country doing the punishing. Penalties can range from Ho Hum to heavy fines and time in prison.
"Other corals are subject to controls of various states, provinces or entities (such as non-profit organizations) and, again punishments cover a large range. At one time in my research, I counted 21 such societies/organizations outside the state/country/national involvement. Most do good work and most are dedicated to preserving or critical coral reefs.
"Corals such as the octocoral (blacks), red, blues and certain specific corals as staghorn, brain, etc., each has its own niche in these control mechanisms but nearly all corals are considered endangered.
"What you are seeing at the gem shows consists of a number of types of corals. A fair 90% of it is either bamboo or grass coral very common in the south seas. They are prolific and grow similar to the grass on a lawn. They are dyed and I do not recommend then because they easily transfer color.
"The remaining 10% at the shows consist of various corals such as hard calcacious (and normally dead) coral that has been dyed. You will see ‘black’ coral that is nothing more than hard coral dyed with various dyes including shoe polish. It is heavy to the hand while true black corals are all light to the hand like plastic. You will never see true red coral and mostly never see true black coral at a gem show unless it is already set in jewelry…and then rarely. Such coral of any quality is usually sold by the carat and is too expensive to sell in any quantity.
"The true reds and blacks are highly controlled and, while there remains some uncontrolled poaching of the red in Asia, the rest can only be acquired by licensed/certified collectors. The black/gold corals of the Hawaii trench, for example, now comes from 200 feet or more down and requires specialized diving equipment to acquire. The reds not as difficult to acquire but must still be controlled. The amount that can be harvested is also controlled and must be accounted for. Of course, I’m speaking of such collection is areas that are members of the international treaties and who care about natural environment. There are always going to be some nuts who do it outside the law.
"I could go on but this is long enough. As for the corals at the shows, they are cheap, dyed and though they look good, do not make a strong statement against the environment."