A Man of the Ocean: Diving for Organics with Eric Fritz

In a recent trip to the London headquarters, Eric Fritz, FDGA DGA manager of North America for Gem-A stopped by for an industry insider Q&A, educating us on theoretical and practical guidance of organic materials. Sarah Salmon speaks to the man of organic passion exploring the nature of these beautiful materials.

With a passion for pearls, a deep love for shells since the age of four and an extensive knowledge of coral, minerals and gemstones, Eric Fritz reveals his top tips when it comes to his specialty: organic gem materials.

Q. When identifying pearl, what are Gemmologists looking out for when grading their quality?

For value, you will be looking at whether it is a salt-water or freshwater pearl, whether it is natural - formed without any human involvement - or whether the pearl has been cultured. The most valuable in terms of quality across the board would be natural saltwater pearls. This would then be followed by natural freshwater pearls, saltwater cultured pearls to freshwater cultured pearls.

Roundness is also preferable when grading a pearl where the more perfectly round and larger it is without blemishes, the more precious it is considered. The bigger the pearl, provided it still has a good ‘roundness’ and lustre finish to it with minimal spots and blemishes to it, the more desirable and valuable it becomes.

Q. What causes the blemishes and imperfections to form on a pearl?

The blemishes are caused by the formation of the organic material itself. Formed by living organisms which, just like us are made up of a range of different imperfections, gives each pearl its unique, flawed composition. The living environment of the shellfish is also a key factor where surrounding waters may contain disease or the shell mechanism itself may malfunction; all of which directly affects the pearl quality.

Q. Where in the world are the most desirable pearls located?

Probably the most desirable and rarest natural pearl will always be the mellow mellow pearl. This is a yellow - golden range commonly found in Myanmar, Burma and Vietnam. The mellow mellow pearl is often hailed as the holy grail of all pearls due to being that of the most value.

The price of a pearl can vary widely in correlation to its size, ranging from $3000 to $65-70,000 at many Gem trade shows, even when such pearls contain blemishes and are therefore still considered imperfect

Q. We often hear about Mikimoto pearls, is this a particular brand or is it a type of organic pearl?

Mikimoto was the first person to commercially produce cultured pearls in Japan in the late 1800’s. Prior to this, cultured pearls had only been produced on an experimental basis but Mikimoto found a technique that he could use to sustainably produce small cultured pearls – typically 7mm - in small saltwater shells.

Its predecessors, being Gem-A, launched the first global Gem lab in London in order to differentiate cultured Mikimoto and natural pearls. The value of each was quite starkly different which meant that many London jewellers became concerned at the introduction of cultured pearls against the trade of more expensive natural pearls. Mikimoto, dating back over 100 years was, and probably still is, the top quality Japanese Akoya pearl on the market.

Q. Being similar in name, what is the key difference between a conch shell and a conch pearl?

Great question! The Conch shell, Lobatus Gigas being its scientific species, occurs only in the Caribbean off the coast of North America, from Florida down through to the West Indies. It is a big shell that was originally gathered by the native people for food due to its very large edible muscle. It is said that 1 in a hundred conch shells could produce a pearl. Conch pearls come in a range of colours from whites to pinks to browns and yellows but it is the pink variety that remains to be the most valuable. We often believe that the very inside of the Conch shell is pink in colour which is why the pink pearl remains the rarest.

However it is also the inside of the conch shell that produces all of the varying colours of conch pearls. Imitations are created when people take the conch shell and try and cut around a bead, passing it off as a genuine pearl. However, these imitations always have concentric bands where, if you look at the side of the bead, you will see what looks like tree ring growth around the edges. This is a kay indication that this is not a real pearl, but an imitation that has been cut out of a shell.

Q. With a huge variety on the market, how do you identify and compare different seashells from one another?

Seashells come in such a wide variety of genus, ranging from freshwater to seawater environments. Dating back to the Victorian times, seashells were and still are highly collectable objects of nature. Linnaeus, founder of the Linnaeus society extensively named over half of the shells we have identified so far. Seashells are very easy to tell the different species apart as they visually look very different from one another.

Today however to differentiate shells via its species level, identification can require DNA analysis to indicate the differences from one shell to the next. They may look very similar but there is stark variation between the different species.

Q. If you’re looking to purchase a high quality shell, what attribute should one be looking for?

People are attracted to different shapes and colour forms with some buying what we call ‘valves’ where two halves of a shell are held together by a muscle, whilst others favour gastropods where the shell is one piece. Some people like to collect a whole family of shells, preferring only to select pieces within the same genus of shells, leading to a lot of variability. Shell prices for collectors range from £2-£3 up to £100,000 for those that are highly desirable.

Q. What are the key differences between 'hard' and 'soft' coral?

A lot of the time when you look at soft corals in its natural habitat under water, they can often look like plants or sea fans which move with the ocean current. They can range in appearance from big broad fans to tall upright branches but most tend to move. Hard coral contains more calcium carbonate than soft and are often what we refer to as coral reef. An expansive garden of skeletons makes up the coral bed where tiny living organisms live within the pores of these hard corals.

Q. Where is Coral found in abundance across the world?

Coral is most commonly found within temperate waters, including the Caribbean, Australia and the Pacific, with its particular type ranging from place to place. Coral will vary widely in habitat from shallow 3-5ft soft coral waters to deep hard coral found over 1000m underwater. The most precious coral for jewellery is the red coral of the Mediterranean, originally found 100ft under water by early fishermen.

This precious coral was thought to be extinct until divers located caves as shallow as 10-12ft containing this red coral species.

Q. So if you’re looking for a piece of jewellery containing red coral, how do you identify it as genuine and not an imitation?

Corals are fairly easy to differentiate with most of the corals – the precious corals – having visible striations that move across the stone/bead. This identifies the growth where the small tree -like structures were with vertical striations of the stems. Many corals are treated with dye to enhance their appearance so being aware of this when purchasing coral is important as those that have been dyed are no longer considered precious. Dyed coral can be identified when a concentrated colour is found along the edges of the stone where the dye has run in a cut stone or if the coral itself is a perfectly uniform colour without imperfection.

Coral value is similar to pearl where the more intense the colour, like red, the more valuable the material is deemed to its pink and orange counterparts.

Q. Final question, I promise! Out of pearl, coral and shell, what is your favourite organic material and why?

That’s a hard one! I have a much more extensive collection of shells since I started collecting them at only 4 years old on the coast which continues till today. In this case, since I’ve been interested for over fifty years, I would probably have to say shells. I collect two main families, the Cowrie shells as well as Conch shells of which The Queen conch is one of them. It was from collecting shells that I got to love pearl, especially as I am yet to find one. The question is tricky as the pearls live inside the shells which then live beside the coral so they are all connected!

Interested in finding out more about gemmology? Sign-up to one of Gem-A's courses or workshops.

If you would like to subscribe to Gems&Jewellery and The Journal of Gemmology please visit Membership.

Cover image of Coral Skeleton and Pearl. All images courtesy of Henry Mesa, Latin American Ambassador at Gem-A.


The Fascinating History of Antique Turquoise Jewellery

The Fascinating History of Antique Turquoise Jewellery

In his third Gemstone Conversations column for Gems&Jewellery, Jewellery Historian and Valuer John Benjamin FGA DGA FIRV explores the fascinating history of turquoise and its use in jewellery design from the Shahs of Persia to the Art Deco design movement.

Read more


Birthstone Guide: Garnet For Those Born In January

Birthstone Guide: Garnet For Those Born In January

If you're lucky enough to be born in January, vibrant garnet is your birthstone. A rainbow jewel of the gem world, garnet displays the greatest variety of colour of any mineral and is very often untreated, making it a rarity in the gem world. 

Read more


Getting Started with Quartz Inclusions

Getting Started with Quartz Inclusions

Do you know your calcite inclusions from your dumortierite, epidote, fluorite and rutile? Here, Charles Bexfield FGA DGA EG explores some incredible quartz inclusions and explains what to look for when shopping for quartz specimens.

Read more


Understanding Iridescence: Opals, Pearls, Moonstones and Fractured Stones

Understanding Iridescence: Opals, Pearls, Moonstones and Fractured Stones

Iridescence has to be one of the most mesmerising and magical optical effects seen in gemstones. But have you ever wondered how it occurs? Gem-A's Collection Curator Barbara Kolator FGA DGA shines a light on this fascinating optical effect and tells us about the gems that are most likely to display it.

Read more


Hidden Treasures: Highlights of Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection

Hidden Treasures: Highlights of Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection

Gem-A Gemmology Tutor Pat Daly FGA DGA offers us a glimpse at some of the more unusual items in Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection.

Read more


Tanzanite: The Contemporary December Birthstone

Tanzanite: The Contemporary December Birthstone

Are you looking for the perfect festive gift for a December baby? Gem-A tutor Lily Faber FGA DGA EG considers tanzanite – one of three birthstones for December – and shares how this relatively new gemstone compares to its purple and blue-hued rivals.

Read more


Birthstone Guide: Turquoise For Those Born In December

Birthstone Guide: Turquoise For Those Born In December

Beautiful blue turquoise is one of three birthstones for the month of December (in addition to zircon and tanzanite). It is enriched with real cultural significance that can be traced back thousands of years. Here, we explore the blue shades of turquoise and explain what makes this gemstone so special...

Read more


Understanding the Cat's Eye Effect in Gemstones

Understanding the Cat's Eye Effect in Gemstones

Chatoyancy is the gemmological name given to the curious optical effect in which a band of light is reflected in cabochon-cut gemstones, creating an appearance similar to light bouncing off a cat's eye. Gem-A's Collection Curator, Barbara Kolator FGA DGA explains chatoyancy and highlights some of the many gems in which it can occur.

Read more


Jade and its Importance in China

Jade and its Importance in China

Jade has long been revered by gem lovers internationally, but nowhere more so than in China. But what is it that makes this gemstone so special? Gem-A's Assistant Gemmology Tutor Dr Juliette Hibou FGA gives us an overview of jade, how to identify it and its significance in Chinese culture.

Read more


Highlights of Gem-A Conference 2019

Highlights of Gem-A Conference 2019

The Gem-A Conference is always the highlight of our gemmological calendar! If you didn’t manage to make it, we’ve put together a few of the highlights from this year’s event to fill you in on what you missed, and whet your appetite for Gem-A Conference 2020!

Read more


Additional Info

Read more...

The Ethics of Coral Jewellery and Sourcing for Gemmologists

December 2017: An Update from the Author 

No matter how much any information has been checked prior to publication, it is always possible that – sooner or later - some facts are proved incorrect. An author may be contacted by a person who has read an article and has more information on the subject, and of course with time new research often uncovers new details that were simply not available when a book or an article was written. 

Whitby jet comes into the latter category as it has been the subject of research in recent years. We have long believed it to derive from the wood of one species of tree only (a species of Araucaria), but now research proves that it in fact derives from half a dozen or so tree or plant species. As yet nothing has been published about it, but we look forward with great anticipation to a paper on the subject. It is exciting news, and means that most of the accepted gemmological texts will need to be re-written. The updated knowledge does not, however, diminish the quality of good Whitby jet which is still of the highest order: very uniform, homogenous, deep black, and it takes a very high polish.

Since writing about corals in the Autumn issue of G&J, more information has come my way from Italy about the condition of the coral beds in the Mediterranean. I am assured that they are healthy, and that the fishing is now so tightly controlled by licencing and fishing methods (scuba diving only, size of coral permitted to be harvested, quota and permitted areas), that Corallium rubrum can be traded without a danger of over-fishing. These corals grow in deep waters, so are also less affected by changes in the sea temperatures and pollution. It is good to know that the situation is controlled and that we may continue to enjoy precious coral, but, as with all gem materials, I would always advocate buying only from a reputable source.

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A Connection to Coral: Gems&Jewellery Autumn 2017 Vol 26 No.3

Coral may not inspire the same emotional outpouring as ivory, but its delicate ecosystem needs to be protected, says Gem-A president Maggie Campbell Pedersen FGA ABIPP.

Coral has a long and rich history. Red coral has been found in Neolithic graves and two thousand years ago was much sought-after by the Chinese. The Ancient Greeks preferred black coral, while in some African countries red coral beads signified wealth. Few gem materials have been believed to have such powers as coral, both talismanic and medicinal. For example, it was thought that coral could cure madness, could strengthen babies' teeth, and that it turned pale when worn by someone who was sick. A piece of coral above the door of a house would protect its inhabitants, or its wearer from being struck by lightning.

Coral use today is more limited and consists of some jewellery and carvings. It does not have the same emotive impact as some other organic gem materials (notably ivory), yet it is understood that corals are vital to marine eco-systems and that they are threatened, and it should perhaps be remembered that they are animals, not plants - albeit tiny headless ones (called polyps).

The coral used in past times in Europe was predominantly the red Corallium rubrum (often termed 'precious coral' by the gem trade), mainly from the Mediterranean. In recent years we have used several different species of coral, originating from many different seas and oceans.

World-wide, coral beds are diminishing. Each species of coral needs different conditions to flourish, but all of them are extremely sensitive to alterations in the temperature of the water and in the acidity of the sea. Our coral fishing methods have been refined and we are far more aware of the risks of over-fishing, but the threats to corals of global warming and pollution remain, and many believe that corals are still being over-fished.


1: Different colours of Corallium corals.

Most corals consist of a white core - the 'communal skeleton' - made of calcium carbonate in the form of aragonite or calcite. They are covered by 'flesh' which consists mainly of tiny polps connected to each other by living tissue. In most corals the tissue also contains algae called zoolxanthellae with which the corals live in a symbiotic relationship. It is the algae that give the living corals their wonderful colours. In only a few of them is the calcium carbonate 'skeleton' coloured (1).

Global warming is causing ocean temperatures to rise, which can result in 'coral bleaching' - a phenomenon where large areas of corals reject their vital algae (zooxanthellae) and consequently die off, losing their coloured fleshy covering and leaving just the white skeletons. Corals grow very slowly - some at a rate of a few millimetres per annum - so it takes from 10 to 20 years for a reef to regenerate. As coral bleaching is today happening more often it is becoming less likely that the corals can recover, hence the worry about the Great Barrier Reef off Australia's north-east coast, and also the reefs around Belize.

The phenomenon affects reef corals because they grow in shallow water, however, of our gem corals only blue coral is a reef coral, and all other gem corals are either solitary or colonial in habit. They live on the seabed and grow at greater depths where they are less vulnerable to changes in the water temperature. Despite this, they are still sensitive to the raised acidity of the water and rising sea levels caused by global warming, and to all pollutants that find their way into the oceans. A further risk to their survival is physical impact which breaks them, for example caused by fishing nets, or divers. But perhaps their greatest threat has been over-fishing for the gem trade.

Corallium corals grow in colonies, and have a tree-like appearance (2). They range from white through shades of pink, salmon, and blood red to deep red. There are several Corallium varieties, of which C.rubrum is the best known. The Latin names of a number of the others are at present being changed - a frequent occurrence with corals. The colour in Corallium corals is in the hard skeleton, as they lack zooxanthellae.


2: Unpolished branch of Corallium rubrum showing the tree-like shape.

The coral is recognised by the tiny striations along its 'branches', which are still visible after cutting and polishing as they penetrate the entire skeleton. They are about 0.25-0.5 mm apart. The material takes a very high, porcelaineous polish (3).

Corallium coral is found in the Mediterranean and around Japan, China, and other areas of the Pacific. Fishing is now being regulated in several of these areas due to extremely depleted coral beds, and the rarity of the material is reflected in its price. It has been suggested that some Coralliums should be included in the CITES Appendices (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), but this has not happened as the trade prefers to regulate itself. Methods being used include rotating areas where fishing is permitted, specifying the amount and minimum size of coral taken, the number of licenses granted, and the equipment used.


3: Detail of Corallium rubrum beads, showing structure and high lustre.

Torre de Greco (on the outskirts of Naples in Italy), has been a famous centre for coral carving for hundreds of years. Today the large companies cannot rely entirely on local coral to meet demand, so make up the shortfall - about 30%- from the Far East. The Mediterranean raw material is generally smaller in size, so larger items are carved from the Far Eastern material.

Several years ago at gem fairs such as those in Tuscon, bamboo coral (of the family Isididae), was sold in abundance, but today we see only small amounts for sale. A beige colour in its natural state, it is bleached and dyed, usually red or orange. It is a heavy material, and although the outer surface displays longitudinal striations similar to Corallium corals also have a growth habit resembling that of a tree, but they have nodes of organic material called gorgonian between the internodes of calcium carbonate. These characteristics limit the coral's use, and it is most commonly seen sliced into discs and used as beads, or as simple carvings. Occasionally it is seen imitating Corallium coral. It has been so popular that the coral beds are now severely depleted (5).


4: Bamboo coral: natural coloured rough, dyed rough, and dyed beads.

Heliopora coerulia or blue coral is found in many parts of the Indo-Pacific region and in the Great Barrier Reef. It appears on CITES Appendix II, indicating that it is permissible to trade but only under very strict conditions, and licences are required. It is a reef coral with a blue aragonite skeleton - one of only two reef corals with a coloured skeleton - and is massive in form rather than tree-like. It is covered in tiny holes in which the polyps lived (6).


6: Blue coral, Heliopora coerulia: rough and polished beads.

Some years back another red coral began to appear on the gem market: Melithaea ocracea. It is often called red sponge coral. It belongs to the family of soft corals, which create a less compact skeleton. Though it is still rigid, it is less stable as a gem material and is usually impregnated with a resin to stabilise it and to enable it to be polished to a satin finish. The resin also makes it much more comfortable to wear as it is a very rough material in its untreated state. It is naturally a red colour in the beige veins. It is found in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and the China Seas (7).


7: Melithaea ocracea: polymer impregnated disc, colour enhanced beads (inner row) and reconstructed (chips in a red polymer, outer row).

Black and golden Antipatharia corals are found around the Philippines and Indonesia. They are also listed on CITES Appendix II. They differ from other corals in that their skeletons are made up of organic matter (closely related to keratin), not of calcium carbonate. Although flexible when growing, the material becomes rigid after fishing (8).

Golden corals are rare, but black Antipatharia can be bleached to a golden colour, and is often sold as a natural material. Once popular at gem fairs in the form of loose beads, black or bleached material is still occasionally encountered today, and is generally sold as 'old stock'.

There are other coral not mentioned here that can be used for jewellery or objets d'art, and not all are listed by CITES - often because they have not been adequately researched. It is incumbent upon the buyer or seller to check a species' status, which can be problematic as coral is notoriously difficult to identify when it has been cut and polished.

In the EU, licences must be obtained (e.g. from APHA, the Animal and Plant Health Agency in UK), for any corals that are listed by CITES on Appendix II. Each request is considered individually with many criteria taken into account. Other countries have different guidelines, sometimes stricter than ours, for example the beautiful Kulamanamana haumeaae golden coral from Hawaii is not listed by CITES, but is protected by US law.


8: Black Antipatharian coral, genus Leopathes: rough, and polished beads.

Some coral jewellery is still sold at the high-end of the market, beautiful items are still being produced in coral in the Far East, and there is still a coral industry around the Mediterranean, but generally not nearly as much coral is being worked today as in times past, partly due to fashion, partly due to the rarity of raw material, and partly because there are many people who feel that corals are too endangered and vulnerable should not be fished.

Attempts have been made at culturing corals, but so far it is a tiny industry, targeted mainly at the aquarist market where small corals are a popular addition to tropical fish tanks. Gem corals grow too slowly to make it a feasible alternative to wild-caught corals.

We do not emotionally equate the use of coral with that of ivory, but corals play a significant role in marine ecosystems and need to be protected, and failure to do so will eventually result in a total ban. Meanwhile the gem trade should ensure that any coral purchased is reliably sourced.

Gem-A members can log in to read the full article Gems&Jewellery Autumn 2017 / Volume 26 / No. 3

Interested in finding out more about gemmology? Sign-up to one of Gem-A's courses or workshops.

If you would like to subscribe to Gems&Jewellery and The Journal of Gemmology please visit Membership.

Cover image: Corals for sale at the Tuscon fairs in 2008. All images ©Maggie Campbell Pedersen.


The Fascinating History of Antique Turquoise Jewellery

The Fascinating History of Antique Turquoise Jewellery

In his third Gemstone Conversations column for Gems&Jewellery, Jewellery Historian and Valuer John Benjamin FGA DGA FIRV explores the fascinating history of turquoise and its use in jewellery design from the Shahs of Persia to the Art Deco design movement.

Read more


Birthstone Guide: Garnet For Those Born In January

Birthstone Guide: Garnet For Those Born In January

If you're lucky enough to be born in January, vibrant garnet is your birthstone. A rainbow jewel of the gem world, garnet displays the greatest variety of colour of any mineral and is very often untreated, making it a rarity in the gem world. 

Read more


Getting Started with Quartz Inclusions

Getting Started with Quartz Inclusions

Do you know your calcite inclusions from your dumortierite, epidote, fluorite and rutile? Here, Charles Bexfield FGA DGA EG explores some incredible quartz inclusions and explains what to look for when shopping for quartz specimens.

Read more


Understanding Iridescence: Opals, Pearls, Moonstones and Fractured Stones

Understanding Iridescence: Opals, Pearls, Moonstones and Fractured Stones

Iridescence has to be one of the most mesmerising and magical optical effects seen in gemstones. But have you ever wondered how it occurs? Gem-A's Collection Curator Barbara Kolator FGA DGA shines a light on this fascinating optical effect and tells us about the gems that are most likely to display it.

Read more


Hidden Treasures: Highlights of Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection

Hidden Treasures: Highlights of Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection

Gem-A Gemmology Tutor Pat Daly FGA DGA offers us a glimpse at some of the more unusual items in Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection.

Read more


Tanzanite: The Contemporary December Birthstone

Tanzanite: The Contemporary December Birthstone

Are you looking for the perfect festive gift for a December baby? Gem-A tutor Lily Faber FGA DGA EG considers tanzanite – one of three birthstones for December – and shares how this relatively new gemstone compares to its purple and blue-hued rivals.

Read more


Birthstone Guide: Turquoise For Those Born In December

Birthstone Guide: Turquoise For Those Born In December

Beautiful blue turquoise is one of three birthstones for the month of December (in addition to zircon and tanzanite). It is enriched with real cultural significance that can be traced back thousands of years. Here, we explore the blue shades of turquoise and explain what makes this gemstone so special...

Read more


Understanding the Cat's Eye Effect in Gemstones

Understanding the Cat's Eye Effect in Gemstones

Chatoyancy is the gemmological name given to the curious optical effect in which a band of light is reflected in cabochon-cut gemstones, creating an appearance similar to light bouncing off a cat's eye. Gem-A's Collection Curator, Barbara Kolator FGA DGA explains chatoyancy and highlights some of the many gems in which it can occur.

Read more


Jade and its Importance in China

Jade and its Importance in China

Jade has long been revered by gem lovers internationally, but nowhere more so than in China. But what is it that makes this gemstone so special? Gem-A's Assistant Gemmology Tutor Dr Juliette Hibou FGA gives us an overview of jade, how to identify it and its significance in Chinese culture.

Read more


Highlights of Gem-A Conference 2019

Highlights of Gem-A Conference 2019

The Gem-A Conference is always the highlight of our gemmological calendar! If you didn’t manage to make it, we’ve put together a few of the highlights from this year’s event to fill you in on what you missed, and whet your appetite for Gem-A Conference 2020!

Read more


 

Additional Info

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The Role of Fingerprinting Technology in the Fight Against the Ivory Trade

At New Scientist Live, Barbara Kolator B.Sc. M.Sc. FGA DGA EG met with Dr. Leon Barron, senior lecturer in Forensic Science at Kings' College London about some innovative fingerprinting technology with implications for gemmologists, antique dealers, collectors and wildlife conservationists worldwide.

As you may have recently seen in the news, the UK Government intends to ban the sale of all ivory (with some exceptions). 

The team, including Dr. Barron from Kings' College, Mark Moseley who works with the Metropolitan Police, and David Cowdrey from IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare), has been instrumental in this ban with the development of a technique for the recovery of human fingerprints from ivory.

This kind of testing was identified as a priority in 2014 by Law Enforcement Agencies and the team furthered galvanised by a request from Mark's children that he should do something about elephant poaching. Since then the children have had the opportunity to demonstrate the kit themselves. It was also shown that at the US Embassy and IFAW currently fund kits to any country requesting them. So far at least 60 kits have been sent to 15 countries across Europe and Africa. 


Fingerprint testing kit. Image by Leon Barron.

How does it work and who is it for?

The technology is very simple. Normal fingerprints cannot be lifted from ivory, its odontogenic pores soak them up within a day or two. With this chemically tailored and finer magnetic powder, less fingerprint sweat material is needed and the powder can adhere to residues from 28 days previously, although they are still at their best quality within the first seven days.

The powder can be coloured for use on dark materials such as rhino horn. Jewellery made with rhino horn is now beginning to appear on the market. The kit has also been tested successfully on tiger claws, hippopotamus teeth, sperm whale teeth and even bird's eggs.

The kit costs £100 and comes in a robust lightweight field case suitable for use in remote or hostile range areas. Everything needed to carry out the forensic test is inside and the powder itself is relatively inexpensive.


Demonstrating fingerprinting kit. Image by Leon Barron.

The kits have been used successfully by the Kenyan Wildlife Service. Their use has already led to 15 arrests including those of five police officers. Border officials have also performed tests at airports when ivory has been found.

The kits have been validated to UK Home Office guidelines and excellent results have been obtained for individual identifications using in-service fingerprint databases.


28-day old fingerprint on ivory enhanced with reduced scale powder. Photo by Barbara Kolator.

In the absence of databases in several countries, Barron explained, fingerprints can also be used for comparison to those of known suspects to see if they are connected or can be excluded from the investigation. This helps with policing and enforcement even at a basic level.

The aim now is to gather large amounts of data to enable these databases to be built from the ground up. Fingerprint technology was chosen because it is simpler to use, but now even DNA can be extracted at a later date if required.

Why is this important?

The trade in illicit ivory is increasing and the UK is a major trafficking centre, with ivory from Africa going to Asia, passing through British ports and airports. In 2007 there were 11 seizures of ivory, in 2015 there were 345 including one of 100kgs at Heathrow Airport. This was the largest seizure in the UK. The unworked ivory and bangles were chopped up to fit into suitcases and were en route from Angola to Germany where they were going to be carved. 


Leon Barron at New Scientist Live. Image by Leon Barron.

So how will this novel technology impact gemmology and the antique trade? How will the industry respond? Is it worth remembering that the illicit trade in endangered species not only damages the planet but also involves organised crime terrorism on a global scale?

Is there a way of protecting and controlling endangered species, conserving ancient ivory works of art while at the same time making the trade of ivory so unprofitable and undesirable that it goes out of fashion? Perhaps this is a good time for some reasoned debate?

For more developments watch this space.


Electron micrograph of a reduced-size magnetic particle. Image by Leon Barron.

Interested in finding out more about gemmology? Sign-up to one of Gem-A's courses or workshops.

If you would like to subscribe to Gems&Jewellery and The Journal of Gemmology please visit Membership.

Cover image Examples of fingerprints enhanced on a full tusk, the top image complete with annotations. All images by Leon Barron unless otherwise stated.


The Fascinating History of Antique Turquoise Jewellery

The Fascinating History of Antique Turquoise Jewellery

In his third Gemstone Conversations column for Gems&Jewellery, Jewellery Historian and Valuer John Benjamin FGA DGA FIRV explores the fascinating history of turquoise and its use in jewellery design from the Shahs of Persia to the Art Deco design movement.

Read more


Birthstone Guide: Garnet For Those Born In January

Birthstone Guide: Garnet For Those Born In January

If you're lucky enough to be born in January, vibrant garnet is your birthstone. A rainbow jewel of the gem world, garnet displays the greatest variety of colour of any mineral and is very often untreated, making it a rarity in the gem world. 

Read more


Getting Started with Quartz Inclusions

Getting Started with Quartz Inclusions

Do you know your calcite inclusions from your dumortierite, epidote, fluorite and rutile? Here, Charles Bexfield FGA DGA EG explores some incredible quartz inclusions and explains what to look for when shopping for quartz specimens.

Read more


Understanding Iridescence: Opals, Pearls, Moonstones and Fractured Stones

Understanding Iridescence: Opals, Pearls, Moonstones and Fractured Stones

Iridescence has to be one of the most mesmerising and magical optical effects seen in gemstones. But have you ever wondered how it occurs? Gem-A's Collection Curator Barbara Kolator FGA DGA shines a light on this fascinating optical effect and tells us about the gems that are most likely to display it.

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Hidden Treasures: Highlights of Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection

Hidden Treasures: Highlights of Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection

Gem-A Gemmology Tutor Pat Daly FGA DGA offers us a glimpse at some of the more unusual items in Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection.

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Tanzanite: The Contemporary December Birthstone

Tanzanite: The Contemporary December Birthstone

Are you looking for the perfect festive gift for a December baby? Gem-A tutor Lily Faber FGA DGA EG considers tanzanite – one of three birthstones for December – and shares how this relatively new gemstone compares to its purple and blue-hued rivals.

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Birthstone Guide: Turquoise For Those Born In December

Birthstone Guide: Turquoise For Those Born In December

Beautiful blue turquoise is one of three birthstones for the month of December (in addition to zircon and tanzanite). It is enriched with real cultural significance that can be traced back thousands of years. Here, we explore the blue shades of turquoise and explain what makes this gemstone so special...

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Understanding the Cat's Eye Effect in Gemstones

Understanding the Cat's Eye Effect in Gemstones

Chatoyancy is the gemmological name given to the curious optical effect in which a band of light is reflected in cabochon-cut gemstones, creating an appearance similar to light bouncing off a cat's eye. Gem-A's Collection Curator, Barbara Kolator FGA DGA explains chatoyancy and highlights some of the many gems in which it can occur.

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Jade and its Importance in China

Jade and its Importance in China

Jade has long been revered by gem lovers internationally, but nowhere more so than in China. But what is it that makes this gemstone so special? Gem-A's Assistant Gemmology Tutor Dr Juliette Hibou FGA gives us an overview of jade, how to identify it and its significance in Chinese culture.

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Highlights of Gem-A Conference 2019

Highlights of Gem-A Conference 2019

The Gem-A Conference is always the highlight of our gemmological calendar! If you didn’t manage to make it, we’ve put together a few of the highlights from this year’s event to fill you in on what you missed, and whet your appetite for Gem-A Conference 2020!

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Breaking down the Misunderstandings about Precious Coral

Inspired by Pantone’s ‘Color of the Year 2019’, Rui Galopim de Carvalho FGA DGA dives into the underwater world of precious coral and addresses some of the misunderstandings around its use in the jewellery industry.

The colour of many precious corals has been announced as the ‘Color of the Year 2019’ by Pantone, the US-based company known for its proprietary colour system widely used in the printing industry. Under the name ‘Pantone 16-1546 Living Coral’ this colour code alludes to the pink to red colour that is commonly associated with corals. A clarification is therefore in order to properly understand what it is meant by coral in the jewellery industry.

Coral is the collective name that has been used to describe a very large number of species of cnidarians of the Anthozoa class. Among these more than 7,300 species, we encounter the endangered shallow-water coral species in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and elsewhere that have been suffering from bleaching and death as a result of climate change and ocean acidification.

Read more: Understanding the 'Coral Conversation'

This dramatic situation for the equilibrium of the planet’s marine ecosystems has negatively impacted on the reputation of coral as a luxury product. It happens that the corals used in the jewellery industry do not live in the same ecosystem as those endangered reef corals. This is why those that are used jewellery and decorative arts have been designated as ‘precious corals’ by CIBJO, the World Jewellery Confederation, separating them from the ‘common corals’ and even more dramatically from the endangered reef corals.

What are Precious Corals? 

These are corals most used in high-end jewellery and decoration and are limited to species belonging to the Corallidae family, particularly from the genus Corallium, Pleurocorallium and Hemicorallium. It is in some of these groups that we can find the red and pink, sometimes salmon-coloured and often white varieties with porcelain like lustre after polishing that relate to this year’s Pantone colour.

Precious Coral and Common Coral Gem A Blog CROPA parcel of polished small branches of Deep Sea coral (Hemicorallium laauense). Photo courtesy of Liverino 1894.

Although a few varieties of red and pink coral were listed for the monitoring of the trade in Appendix III of CITES at the request of China in 2008 (Corallium elatius, C. japonicum, C. konojoi and C. secundum[sic]), no precious corals are listed in the more restrictive CITES Appendixes I and II.

It must be said that the recommendation for monitoring expired in 2013, being extended until 2016, and that for the next CITES meeting in 2019, no further action is to be proposed for precious corals. Current fishing regulations in the Mediterranean, Taiwan and Japan have played an important role in resource management of precious corals and more initiatives are being implemented to further the issue.

Let’s then establish what are the precious coral species currently recognised by the trade:

Corallium japonicum (Aka, Moro or Oxblood coral), the dark red to very dark red corals with a lengthwise white interior which live at depths of 80 to 300 in Japan

Pleurocorallium elatius comprising of two varieties: the so called Momo, Cerasuolo or Satsuma coral, a bright red, salmon, orange and flesh colour with a lengthwise white interior and its albino variety, known in the trade as Angel Skin, Boké or Magai coral, a delicate flesh pink, with different colour intensities, which live at depths of 150 to 300 meters mainly off the coasts of Japan and Taiwan

Pleurocorallium konojoi (Pure White or Shiro coral), the milky white and sometimes with red or pink specks, that live at depths of 80 to 300 meters in the South China Sea and off the coast of Hainan

Pleurocorallium secundum (Midway, Rosato or White/Pink), the veined white or pink, and sometimes with red specks, or uniform clear pink, that lives at depths of 400 to 600 meters off the coasts of Hawaii and Midway Island

Hemicorallium laauense (Deep Sea or Shinkai coral), the bright white, clear pink or white pomegranate with red veins or spots which live at depths of 1000 to 2000 meters off the coast of Midway Island, north-west of Emperor Seamount

Hemicorallium regale (Garnet coral), the pomegranate colour with different shades of uniform pink that live at depths of 350 to 600 metres off the coast of Hawaii

Hemicorallium sulcatum (Misu, Missu or Miss coral), the pink to violet uniform colour which live at depths of 100 to 300 metres in the Philippines northern coastal waters

Corallium rubrum (Sardinian or Mediterranean coral), the historically and culturally famous uniform red with medium to strong saturation that live at depths up to 1,000 metres (harvested only bellow 50 meters) in the Mediterranean and in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North Africa, including in the waters of the Canary Islands and Cape VerdePrecious Coral and Common Coral Gem A Blog 1
The taxonomy of precious corals (in Pantone 'Living Coral' colour) and Common corals (in grey).

What are Common Corals? 

Apart from the above mentioned Corallidae family species, there are a few other corals that have been used for decoration and in jewellery. These, defined as common corals, include mostly calcareous types, like sponge corals, bamboo corals and blue corals as well as black and golden corals, which have non-calcareous exoskeletons. Many of these must undergo treatment (e.g. bleaching, dyeing, impregnation) to be used as gem materials.

Contrarily to precious corals, certain common coral species are listed in CITES Appendix II, e.g. black coral (Antipatharia spp.), blue coral (Heliopora coerulea), stony corals (Scleractinia spp.), organpipe corals (Tubiporidae family), fire corals (Milleporidae family) and lace corals (Stylasteridae family).

Reef coral preservation should be on the top of the agenda not only of the jewellery industry but also of society as a whole, mainly by reducing the carbon impact of civilization that is responsible for climate change and ocean acidification.

Precious Coral and Common Coral Gem A Blog The Impact of Coral BleachingThe dramatic effects of bleaching in coral reef (before and after). Image courtesy of The Ocran Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey/Coral Reef Image Bank.

CIBJO recently argued through its Coral Commission president Vincenzo Liverino under the banner of a ‘Promise of Sustainability’ at the 21st FEEG Symposium and CIBJO Seminar on Responsible Sourcing and Sustainability held at the VicenzaOro show, Italy in January, that it is a task of the industry and first of all of the coral industry to set an example by embracing the ‘Jewellery Industry Measurement Initiative’ promoted by CIBJO to help companies within the jewellery industry understand their environmental impact, reduce their carbon footprint, and protect themselves and the industry as a whole.

The need for education of both the trade and the consumer in these matters is therefore of prime importance to correct what was a lack of consistency in the terminology used to describe precious coral, to inform the public of about the biology, ecology, history and legacy of precious coral and to raise public awareness of issues related to the sustainability of coral in general, and precious coral in particular, predominantly in light of the challenges posed by global warming and ocean acidification.

Do you want to broaden your knowlege of organics and gemstones? Discover Gem-A Short Courses and Workshops, or explore our Gemmology Foundation and Diploma Courses

This article was first published in the Spring 2019 edition of Gems&Jewellery. To find out more and read the magazine archive online, please click here

Cover image: Two necklaces: Angel’s skin (Boké or Magai) coral, the albino variety of Pleurocorallium elatius, and Oxblood (Aka or Moro), the deep red variety of Corallium japonicum. Image courtesy of Chii Lih Coral.

Images courtesy of the author unless otherwise stated.

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