Coral is one of May stones mascots

Our new post under the heading "Stone mascot of the Month" is about May coral, which is neither a mineral, nor a gemstone, and is only conventionally called a gem. Like pearls, coral is a product of the sea; it consists of the calcareous skeletons of many tiny polyps that live in vast colonies in warm seas at moderate depths. Large clusters form coral islands. Even in favorable conditions, coral growth is typically no more than one centimeter per year lengthwise, so a medium-sized reef can take centuries to form and an island can take a millennium to form. Most coral reefs are formed in shallow water in the tropics or in warm water in the sub-tropics. Nevertheless, a few reefs were found in the cold depths of the North Sea and near Scotland. The largest coral reef, the Great Barrier Reef, is near Australia and extends for 2,000 kilometers. Corals used to be 'hunted' by diving at depth, but are nowadays they are being fished with a special net or even using small “submarines”. The extracted coral "bush" is stripped of its soft parts, which have not yet crystallized, then the minerals are sorted according to their appearance and the best specimens are sent for sale.

Evidence that ancient people knew exotic corals could be found in the Paleolithic era. During excavations at sites where the Sumerian kingdom was located, objects made from coral were found. They were more than six millennia old. The name coral comes from the ancient Greek word “coralion”. According to one version, it means "depth of the sea", according to another -- it means "solidifying in hand". In ancient Russia, the gem was believed to be part of a dragon's body, so it was called "draconite". Corals in Russia were used for making jewelry. Coral beads were necessary in a girl's dowry if she came from a wealthy family.

In the 19th century, the fashion for corals spread all over Europe. There was a popular trend to travel to Italy and bring back coral items from there. It was not just string of beads or bracelets. To have an umbrella with a handle or a cane with a handgrip made of the coral was considered prestigious.
There are over 6000 species of coral, with a colour range of about 350 shades. Coral colour is determined by the composition and amount of organic compounds. The best known are pink, red, blue, white and black corals. The latter contains the most organic substances, they are even listed in the Red Book, and their industrial extraction is prohibited. The Red Sea, the Malay Archipelago, and the coast of India are the places where black corals grow. Blue corals are the rarest. They grow off the islands of Samoa. There are coral deposits in Australia, the Canary Islands, Hong Kong, near Mexico and Hawaii, and in the Mediterranean Sea. Japan, which has been strengthening its position as a supplier of marine gems in recent decades, is mining dark red and pale pink stones.
Coral talismans and amulets used to be very popular. Later, strings of beads, rings, earrings, necklaces, tiaras and other jewelry items came into fashion. There are international names for coral, understandable to any jeweler. Almost all of them have Italian roots. "Rosso", "rosso scuro" is red coral that is highly prized by jewelers. Pink coral comes in two shades: "rosé pallido" -- pale pink; "rosé vivo" -- bright pink. "Secondo coloro" is a salmon shade.

The therapeutic properties of coral are recognized by folk and traditional medicine. They are due to the presence of a large number of biologically active substances. Doctors use coral powder to treat the endocrine system, muscular-skeletal system, skin and vascular diseases, and anaemia.

Ancient Greeks believed that gem could prolong life and bring happiness. The Romans were inclined to believe that coral was the most reliable protection against evil spirits. Modern esotericists also recognize the properties of coral. According to their views, the stone makes a person that is wearing coral invulnerable to the spell, evil eye, hex and curse. Furthermore, the stone can protect against violence, both physical and emotional. With a special ritual using untreated coral can bring good luck to its owner. Modern lithotherapists believe that coral is beneficial to a person's mental health. It helps to cope with depression, improve sleep, and eliminate neurosis and anxiety.
Nowadays, the unusual stone is experiencing a new wave of popularity; most corals come to the world market from India, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

New thematic photo album "Coral -- stone mascot of May"  is posted in the museum Photo Gallery.

On the cover: Eagle and hares. Pepe Tatore. China, the 20th century

Anderson "Definition of gemstones", M., World of Stone 1996
Kornilov, Solodova. "Jewellery stones", M., Nedra, 1986