Monday, May 28, 2012

The Allure of Coral

Coral was traded as a valuable item for two or three thousand years before it became a gem that was bought with money.  The trade routes that became known as the Incense Road and the Silk Road were were well established migrant tracks across great lengths of many present-day nations by the third millennium B.C.  Trading was a natural outgrowth of the movement of peoples.  As they uprooted from one place, they took with them the possessions that they had accumulated, whether animals, beads, pots, skins, plant seeds, or chunks of minerals from the earth, such as pigments.  As they moved they no doubt often exchanged some of their valuables for other valuable items along the way.

This is how coral from the Mediterranean, the richest source of that organic bead material, came along the trade route that ended in what we now know as China.  As the owners of the coral passed from Italy to China through Greece, Persia, and the through the steppes of Central Asia or through India into what is now northwestern China, they could use their alluring gems of coral as items of trade.  As a result, as Christina del Mare writes

*The peoples of Arabia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tibet, Mongolia and India were all captivated by its allure: its blood-red colour, enigmatic essence, indecipherable origin and durability. *
I would add that coral was probably just as valuable in Iran (ancient Persia) as it was in India and among the various Arabic and Turkic peoples.  
In particular, the people of Yemen used it in designing the labbeh, the bride wealth that each woman wore on her wedding day.  
You can see such a piece from the early 1900s here: 

Antique Yemen Silver and Coral Beads with Mini Amulets

A yet more elaborate labbeh with more and varied sizes and shades of natural coral gemstones is shown below.  The five stranded coral bridal necklace has the added value of Bawsani work, the products of Beit Baws, the community of silversmiths that created the most desired beads and amulets in Southern Arabia. The very fine filigree and granulation on these pieces is no longer being duplicated in the quality and quantity with which the Beit Baws produced them.  

Old Yemen Silver Filigree Granulation Plaques Amulets Bawsani Beads

When we first started our collection of Middle Eastern jewelry, we included many ounces of loose coral, because of its alluring qualities.  As del Mare states in the same essay,  
* has always combined myth and magic, for its bright red colour has fascinated people in the East and West alike. Its mysterious origins and its ambiguous nature, combining the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms, have given rise to conjecture and myths, reinforcing its mythical potency....*

As part of our effort to lay in store some extra coral, we collected these three strings of coral displayed as a necklace but in fact is not securely or neatly strung together.  It is offered at my sales point at the price of 3 strings of coral, not as a necklace and therefore, you can have an idea of the current value of coral:

Old Rose Mediterranean Coral Beads Three Strands

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