How to Choose the Color of Your Antique Coral Jewelry

Coral has been worn in jewelry throughout history. It was especially prized by the Victorians.

Many stylish women today are in love with antique coral jewelry and consider it their favorite. It is chic, rare, sumptuous, and utterly tempting.

But with so many beautiful colors of coral to choose from, how do you pick out the right shade for you? 

It pays to inform yourself before you start your antique coral collection. After all, you may become a coral addict and will need everything to match.

Some Things to Know About Coral

  • Coral is considered to be one of the ‘organic gemstones’. (The others are amber, jet, and pearls.)
  • Angel skin and oxblood coral are usually 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 it is unlikely you will come across them in antique jewelry.
  • It has been said that coral experts can classify over one hundred shades of red!

Definitions of Coral Colors

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.  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 you’ll find below.

Nevertheless, it seems that these are practical ways of describing the colors that are agreed upon.

(Please note: The Italian names have also been added here. Although they are not generally used in the Anglo world, they are relevant as Italy is and was the center of the precious coral industry.  The French name has been added when it 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 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 ear pendants (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

Are you ready to choose your coral color?

Now that you know a little bit more about the different colors found in antique coral jewelry, are you any closer to making a decision?

They are all beautiful. It’s hard not to want all of them.

Ultimately, however, you must go with the one that most draws your eye and makes your heart sing.

As always, it is recommended that you buy your antique and vintage jewelry from a reputable dealer.

What is Granulation in Antique Jewelry?

Granulation can form truly beautiful designs, lines, and texture which give an exotic and magical flavor to a piece of jewelry.

Granulation (grainti) is:

  • When a jeweler takes tiny beads of either a high carat gold or a silver alloy. (Other metals are not suitable.)
  • Through a fusing heat process attaches them to a metal of the same type, with no apparent visible solder.

Known since ancient times, this process was revived by Castellini in the early 19th century along with the Etruscan and other archeological revivals.

Throughout the 19th century and into the 20th century, there are many fine examples of granulation used in fine jewelry.

However, it was particularly popular in the years 1860 until the 1880s.

According to the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Victorians never quite mastered the precise art of granulation to the same degree as some ancient cultures, but their works were none the less truly astonishing.

AN ANTIQUE PERIDOT, SAPPHIRE AND GOLD BROOCH, BY GILLOT & CO.

GILLOT & CO. Jewels: The New York Sale
16 April 2008
New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Gold pendant earrings, early 19th century, applied with gold granulation

Sotheby’s (L.12055)

Earrings

Victoria and Albert Museum, earrings, gold with granulation, Italy c. 1870, maker unknown.

Bracelet

V&A Museum

Gold ram’s head bracelet with filigree and granulation, c.1860-1870

Possibly made by Pasquale Novissimo

 

How to Buy Marcasite Vintage and Antique Jewelry

Marcasite brooch made from pyrite and silver

Marcasite jewelry is actually made from iron pyrite or ‘fool’s gold’.  There is a gemstone called marcasite which is normally considered unsuitable for jewelry making so this can result in some confusion when discussing marcasite jewelry.

When we say ‘marcasite’, we mean marcasite jewelry made with iron pyrite (you can assume this is the case just about everywhere that you see ‘marcasite’ referred to).

File:2780M-pyrite1.jpg

Iron pyrite, used for making marcasite jewelry

Marcasite jewelry is nearly always made with silver settings. Marcasite jewelry was worn as early as 1700 or even before, but gained popularity particularly during the mid-Victorian era as it was appropriate for mourning wear.

It continued to be worn throughout the Art Deco period as a less expensive alternative to diamonds.   Even into the 1980s, it was considered appropriate jewelry for young women as it gave some glitter and glamor at a low cost.

File:Marcasite silver bracelet.jpg

Marcasite Silver Bracelet

Things to Consider When Buying Old Marcasite Jewelry

1) Is it hallmarked? If it is a quality piece it should have a silver stamp of some kind. If it is not stamped as silver, the chances are it is not a quality piece.

2) Many pieces were made in Germany before the Second World War for export.  If it is marked GERMANY, it might well be prewar.

3) Marcasite jewelry is either set with prong or bead settings (just like gemstones) or glued pieces of pyrite.  The properly-set pieces are far superior to the glued. Setting the tiny pieces of pyrite by hand would have been time-consuming labor and gave much more durability.

4) In order to tell if the pieces are set or glued, examine closely with a jeweler’s loupe.  If you see any little overlapping claws or edges from the silver, it is set (unless the piece is cast and has just been made to appear as though it is set and is still actually glued, investigate thoroughly to check if the pieces are actually held in place by the overlaps or not).

5)) Pyrite for marcasite jewelry is usually cut in tiny pieces with a flat bottom, similar to a Dutch Rose Cut. Cut steel can also resemble marcasite jewelry and unfortunately most contemporary ‘marcasite’ jewelry is actually just cut steel or is glued in pieces of pyrite. To tell the difference between cut steel and pyrite, look at the back. Cut steel pieces will be attached with rivets on the back of the piece.

6) Are there any missing pieces of pyrite in the piece? If so, this can lower the value.

7) Also, remember that just because it is old it doesn’t mean it is high quality.  Many Victorian pieces were glued and also made with cut steel. However, if the pieces are set properly and not glued, the chances are it is quite old (although not necessarily of course).

Scallop Shaped Cut-Steel Brooch.
© The Trustees of the British Museum.

Scallop Shaped Cut-Steel Brooch: Reverse. Note the Pattern of Rivets Securing the Studs.
© The Trustees of the British Museum.

Today, old marcasite jewelry is considered collectible and is also very easy to wear and enjoy with contemporary looks.  I expect marcasite jewelry will always be popular.