Black corals (Antipatharia) are a group of deep water, tree-like corals related to sea anemones. Although the most famous are found near Hawaii, they are also found in rare dark shallow water areas such as New Zealand's Milford Sound where they can be viewed from an underwater observatory. They normally occur in the tropics and some have ben found in the Caribbean. Though black coral's living tissue is brilliantly colored, it takes its name from the distinctive black or dark brown color of its skeleton. Also unique to black coral are the tiny spines that cover the surface of the skeleton, the origin of the nickname little thorn coral. In the Hawaiian language, black coral is called ‘ēkaha kū moana. Black coral is listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
The Black Coral which grows in Hawaii's offshore waters was adopted as Hawaii's official state gemstone on April 22, 1987. Since its discovery by early Hawaiian divers, harvesting of the spectacular corals has led to the establishment of a thriving Black Coral jewelry industry and enhanced visitor and resident appreciation of Hawaii's ocean resources.
Hawaii's state gem was promoted by scuba divers, perhaps supported by the local jewelry trade. Surprisingly, the Department of Land and Natural Resources testified in favor of its adoption. Coral’s richly colored branches are living gems formed deep beneath the ocean. These precious corals polish to a gorgeous luster and have been used as gemstones dating as far back as 25,000 years—longer than pearls. Each coral gemstone color has its own distinct quality. Black Coral is exotic and dramatic and has long been considered to guard against misfortune. Pink Coral is delicate and is said to bring good health. Red Coral is best described as rich and romantic. And Gold Coral with its mysterious inner light, is the rarest of all corals.
The first new Black Coral bed found in centuries outside of Caribbean waters was discovered in the waters off Lahaina, Maui in 1958. Today, Hawaiian Black Coral -- the world's finest -- is carefully collected by hand by divers at depths that exceed 200 feet. To ensure the future of Hawaiian Black Coral, divers must strictly adhere to state regulations that prohibit the harvesting of immature colonies. Harvesting of Black Coral is prohibited in most locations in the world.
Black Coral is rare and, when polished, it shines with such luster you can almost see your own reflection in it. Its stunning contrast against yellow gold makes it a wonderful gift as well as a beautiful keepsake to treasure forever. Black Coral gives one a perfect reminder of a trip to the Islands.
As with many gemstones today, be careful that what is being bought is genuine Black Coral and not faux, plastics or other imitations that abound, especially in the Caribbean.