A brief history of coral

As Gioia de Simone, owner of a coral company founded in 1830, states: “Coral is deeply rooted in the history of jewellery, and its trade represent a link between West an East, as North and South of the World. Different meaning and uses can be found through different cultures, from the past until today, portraying it as a symbol of life and regeneration, and a talisman against evil forces”.

Fragments of red coral amulets have been found in Neolithic graves in Switzerland, dating from about 8000 BC, and the oldest intact the coral object is a small idol, found in a grave in Italy. The Romans have used it mostly for its amuletic powers. These included the ability to control tempests, toward the evils, to protect crops from pest, and to cure diseases and evil eye, as apotropaic amulet.


In the XIII Century, coral was used mostly in rosaries in the Mediterranean countries. In many XIV and XV century paintings, it is seen adorning the neck of the baby Jesus. According to Christian tradition, the coral symbolises Christ’s blood, shed on the cross for the salvation of all mankind so that putting it on the neck of a newborn baby is tantamount to protecting it from the perfidy of the Evil One.


Pedersen, in her book, notes that (Pedersen, 2004, p.216): “By the XVII Century, coral was being fashioned into a variety of items, such as combs, candlesticks, figures and statues, jugs, bowls and jewellery. Some objects were mounted in silver or silver gilt, and some jewellery was mounted in gold. As with most of the organic gem and ornamental materials, coral found great favour at the European courts and the carvings can be found in royal collections and museums”, as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.


Coral was one of the favourite souvenirs brought by the Northern European aristocracy during the Grand Tour period, thanks to the increasing attention on the classical antiquity, after the discovery of Herculaneum and Pompeii. Coral Jewellery was so popular that was sold not only in Naples but also in Venice and Rome, engraved in
shape of ancient Roman gods and goddesses, or cut in cabochons or strings of beads.


In the Sixties of the XX century coral became fashionable again, thanks to the jewellery pieces produced by Coppola and Toppo for Valentino, at the launch of the first Italian fashion collections in the The United States. Coral in this sense was talking to these new consumers for its links to Made in Italy and the sparkling Dolce Vita. The African countries have used coral for hundreds of years. As noted by Pedersen (Pedersen, 2004, p.216): “It has been used not only as
decoration, but also for its talismanic properties, to protect both children and adults. Even houses have been adorned with branches of coral to grand against the storms and other hazards”.

Extract from Giada Giachino, 2016

Images by Giada Giachino, 2016

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