Daily Tip: Is My Coral Real?

By on June 16, 2010
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip

Question:

How do I tell if a piece of red coral is real?

-Pat in Aurora, Missouri

Answer:

Here are a couple of tests that you can do at home. Genuine coral is made of calcium carbonate, which will effervesce and dissolve in acid; so choose an inconspicuous part of the questionable coral and use a cotton swab with lemon juice to see if it causes that area to form tiny bubbles. (For those experienced, nitric acid can also be used.) If it does, then it is real coral.

To see if this coral is naturally colored or dyed, rub an inconspicuous area with a rag drenched in acetone. If it has been dyed, the color will eventually come off on the rag.

Genuine coral is quite rare due to overharvesting in the past. Most of the affordable coral on the jewelry maker’s market today, including much of Wire-Sculpture’s coral beads and coral cabs, is 100% legal bamboo coral, and comes from the Philippines. This is a type of coral, not a type of bamboo! Bamboo coral’s natural color is gray, which means that most of the red coral available today has been dyed. Note: natural/genuine coral does come in a rainbow of colors, blue and lavender being the rarest.

If you click on this image below of a sponge coral cabochon, you can actually see the tiny algae cells that form coral:

Red Sponge Coral Cabochon

Red Sponge Coral Cabochon

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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11 Comments

  1. avatar

    L. Ryan

    June 17, 2010 at 11:29 am

    Wow Dale, you are such a great asset to those of us learning as much as possible. Even though many of the tips are ones that are familiar to me, there are always a few that expand my level of knowledge. Thank you for all that you do.

  2. avatar

    Edith

    June 17, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    That was tremendously helpful response.

    Thanks.

  3. avatar

    Draco Dubois Camacho

    June 18, 2010 at 9:51 am

    Actually, i was about to ask you if taking the corals are legal, but good to say that you answered it already. I was once a member of the ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATIONIST during our high school years, and though I was in college now, I’m continuing the projects that my group started having with me the will to achieve our goal, “SAVING MOTHER NATURE”. Thank you for giving me the information, and for helping the Philippine’s economy. Honestly, I’m proud to say that I am a pure blooded FILIPINO citizen. Hoping that you would continue not only to help our economy but as well as PROTECT our environment. Your site is really an inspiration to others and may this site continue to inspire and encourage every individual to enjoy making jewelries with respect to protecting our nature. May God bless you and your site. Thanks a lot.

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  5. avatar

    beverly bishop

    June 19, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Thank you for the expert advice on red coral. I was recently in Hawaii on vacation and found booth after booth selling red coral jewelry, in the international market, and wondered if it was the real deal. Most of it was behind glass as if it were the real thing and quite pricey. Then there was also some mingled with other stuff. I wasn’t sure at the time and didn’t ask (wish I had) I just admired and walked on. Do you think as I do all were just dyed coral? I’m glad I didn’t buy any as I wasn’t really interested it, I was looking for abalone or mother of pearl that I could use later. I have purchased fossilized red coral and have paid a high price for it at the tucson gem show. Now I am wondering if that too is dyed. I will be checking it out. Once again Thank you for a most informative tip. Bebeaz

  6. avatar

    Carol Praissman

    July 25, 2012 at 10:03 am

    Thanks for the great tips! I have a large amount of coral that I purchased years ago & only put in very special pieces. I believe most of it is dyed, but now I’m going to check it & find out for sure.

  7. avatar

    Ginette Lavoie

    March 18, 2014 at 5:51 am

    I thought that bamboo coral was actual bamboo that was made to look like coral.

    Why is bamboo coral from the Philippines not as bad? I was told that coral takes years to regenerates and that it is what protects the sea life from predators and provide feeding for them.

    Why is it OK to take it from the Philippines and eventually deplete the stock there as well?

    Maybe I am missing something?

  8. avatar

    Beth Katz

    October 21, 2014 at 11:02 am

    Great information. I have some small beads and chips that were sold as red coral and I often wondered if they were real, and if they were, how could they have been sold at the stores from which I bought them. Now I know. Thanks so much for clarifying!

  9. avatar

    ashok shenoy

    October 28, 2014 at 4:47 am

    Is Raman Spectroscopy the only reliable test for corals?How much does it cost,and where are the tests done in India?

  10. avatar

    ashok

    March 7, 2015 at 5:30 am

    i would like to know about the scientific testing of natural corals.

  11. avatar

    Ilona B

    March 24, 2015 at 9:32 am

    Good info. When I was in Australia many years back, we went in an underwater viewing room. In there we could see the beautiful sea world including various types of corals. When we exited the viewing room we of course exited into the museum/gift shop. They had some lovely pieces of coral on display and for sale, but there were some colors that didn’t quite seem natural. Upon asking the sales assistant, he told me that live coral is naturally colored, that dead coral turns white or ivory-ish in color and are dyed once harvested.

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