Victorian Coral Jewelry

“Florrie, too, looked very lovely, in her little white dress and coral armlets and necklace, her golden hair curling in little short ringlets all over her head, and her cheeks the color of a May rose.”  Godey’s Lady’s Book, June 1860 [emphasis mine]

The term ‘coral’ describes a vast group of marine invertebrates (animals without backbones). There are at least 100,000 known species throughout the world, and they are found everywhere - from the polar regions to the equatorial regions, and all depths from the intertidal zone to the deepest ocean trenches. Coral also occurs in an amazing array of colors - white, orange, pink, red, tan, gray, lavender and blue, all the way to black.

Coral has been used for jewelry and decorations for centuries by many peoples and has been traded around the world. The Victorians loved coral and an endless variety of beautifully carved jewelry dates from the era.

Because it is fairly soft, coral can easily scratch and scuff. Prolonged lights can cause it to darken and excessive heat can damage the finish. Even sweat from one’s hands can soften coral over time. Therefore, coral jewelry should be carefully taken care of. It is most safely stored in a cloth bag in controlled temperature.

A range of ages wore coral in a variety of ways, as the following quotes and pictures will illustrate:  

Fig. 2.  Zouave jacket of blue armure silk, embroidered.
The shirt, with wide bouffant sleeves, is made of white muslin,
buttoned up in front by a row of coral buttons or studs.
Godey's Lady's Book, July 1861

“Dress for evening, of perfectly plain white grenadine. The under skirt has three flounces of moderate width; the upper one is perfectly plain. There is no pattern, no edge of any description, to the flounces, sleeves, or waist - the richness of the material obviates it - with the exception of a rich satin ribbon, also of plain white, which forms the heading of the berthe, and has a bow on each shoulder and in the centre of the corsage, bracelets and belt-clasp of gold, set with red coral.”   
Godey’s Lady’s Book, July 1860

Le Bon Ton, March 1857

“The headdress consists of a wreath of the foliage of the service tree, intermingled with festoons of coral beads.”  
Godey’s Lady’s Book, September 1860

Portrait of Maria Sawiczewska, Leopold Loeffler, 1861
“The articles in wear for so long a time have been added to this fall - notwithstanding the pressure of the times, and the economical resolves of most families. Among them we note the rich combs of coral, ivory, silver, and gold, intended for evening wear, in full dress.”  
Godey’s Lady’s Book, September 1860

Detail, "Young Roman Girl with Basket of Fruit" (1847)
Johann Endler

“The newest hair nets are made of small shells or coral. They are very pretty and dressy.”
Godey’s Lady’s Book, September 1864

Ferdinand Schauss, Portrait of his wife, 1863
They even had recipes for faux coral as illustrated by this entry from Godey’s.

"ARTIFICIAL CORAL — This may be employed for forming grottos and for similar ornamentation. To two drachms of vermilion add one ounce of resin, and melt them together. Have ready the branches or twigs peeled and dried, and paint them over with this mixture while hot. The twigs being covered, hold them over a gentle fire, turning them round till they are perfectly covered and smooth. White coral may also be made with white lead, and black with lampblack, mixed with resin. When irregular branches are required, the sprays of an old black thorn are best adapted for the purpose; and for regular branches the young shoots of the elm are most suitable. Cinders, stones, or any other materials may be dipped into the mixture, and made to assume the appearance of coral." 
Godey’s Lady’s Book, August 1860

Comtesse Sauvigny, nee Marie Alice Singher by Auguste Pichon 1858
If you love coral as much as I do and need something pretty and Victorian, check out the coral in my shop! Here's a peek at some of my coral jewelry. Thanks for reading!

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