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by Mary Beth Magee
Coral is a beautiful gem that comes from the depths of the sea. Similar in structure to pearls but strikingly different in appearance, coral brings the romance of the ocean into the lives of jewelry lovers everywhere. This versatile gem offers a touch of elegance to any ensemble and also makes a fabulous gift. Coral jewelry -- necklaces, bracelets, earrings and more -- makes a beautiful addition to any wardrobe.
Origin of coral: Coral reefs are the product of living creatures. The coral reefs grow in colonies in warm ocean waters around the world. Animals called coral polyps create the beautiful gem. Jewelry-grade coral is found primarily in the Pacific Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Coral is not harvested from protected species such as those found in Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
Colors: High-quality coral comes in a wide selection of colors. Red coral is the most common and is very popular in jewelry. Pink, orange, and blue coral are also common in jewelry. The highest quality coral is even in color. Color irregularities in coral may indicate cracks or voids that have been filled in with colored wax. A lot of coral jewelry has been color-enhanced with dye or bleach.
Cuts: Coral can be cut into a variety of shapes. Coral beads are common in necklaces and bracelets. Coral beads may have a smooth finish, polished to a shine, or they may have a carved design. Coral is also cut into large pendants, teardrop earrings and other unique shapes. Irregularly-shaped coral chips are also good for use in jewelry and are commonly strung together in groups for necklaces, bracelets or earrings.
Jewelry options: Coral is found in a variety of jewelry pieces. Look for coral as pendants, necklaces, earrings, pins, bracelets and rings. Often, you'll find coral paired with other stones of complementary colors. Turquoise, garnet and pearls are common coral accompaniments. Coral can be used in nearly any kind of jewelry and with a variety of metals. Beaded coral necklaces can have a casual tropical appearance while chunky coral pendants and earrings can be elegant and formal.
Caring for coral: Coral is organic and quite soft, with a rating between 3 and 4 on the Mohs Scale of Hardness. It is important to handle your coral with care and avoid exposing it to chemicals; remove it before using household cleaners. To clean your coral jewelry, wipe it with a soft damp cloth. Store your coral jewelry with care by keeping it in a small, soft bag or individual jewelry box to avoid contact with other jewelry. Do not use a steam cleaner or ultrasonic cleaner on coral jewelry.