[Looking for] Red coral substitute

Hi Folks, I’m planning to do some southwestern style inlay but I don’t
have any red coral. Considering the possible negative perception of
coral due to overharvesting, and the related scarcity, I’m considering
alternatives. I’ve been through my stash of rough, but don’t find
anything suitable. I’ve got some nice red agates, but the colors
aren’t solid… which is probably what attracted me to them in the
first place.

The first thought I had was a nice solid red jasper, and a friend
recommended cinnabar (spelling?). Does anyone have a small quantity
(a pound or less) of either of these with which they would be willing
to part? Any other ideas for consideration?

Oh yeah… and wish me luck selling southwestern inlay in the
Carolinas… :wink:

Dave Sebaste
Sebaste Studio and
Carolina Artisans’ Gallery
Charlotte, NC (USA)

Dave and All, Most high end inlay is accomplished with totally natural
materials and is expensive. On the other end is the mass produced
inlay you see in every store. Substitutes are used for coral, lapis,
turquoise, and several other colors. There are companies in Arizona
that make these reconstituted and imitation materials. Louis Irons
at Irons Lapidary used to supply these materials in small quantities
to people doing inlay. I would contact him at 602-242-8393. He
either has the material or knows where to buy it. There are many
problems with doing inlay with natural materials of different
hardness and toughness. That is why most mass produced inlay uses
synthetic material. If I were doing inlay on a custom basis I would
use natural corals, turquoise, etc. I would try to use only material
that was harvested or mined before the new laws were passed or use
materials that were harvested according to new laws.

Gerry Galarneau

Hi Dave, I saw some “red bamboo coral” listed in the Fire Mountain
Gems catalog. I don’t know anything about the material or what quality
they’re offering but the pics show some of it is sold in freeform
chunks/branches. It might be listed on their site
www.firemountaingems.com or you can call 800-423-2319. Good luck-


Hi , I am no expert , but want to suggest the possibility of working
with tiles . There is such a variety of textures , finishes and colors
and sheen . Teriann


Many Imitation corals material is available at

Also, mention that you are Orchid member and you will get a discount


We are cutting the best deals

American Indian smiths often use pipe stone in their inlay. The cynic
in me says use cake just like most of the ‘Southwetern’ style jewelry
but the purest says use pipe stone or maybe spiney oyster but, then
you run into the harvesting problem again. Agates are too strong a
color, too shiney. Sam, Tucson

Dave, I’ve used cinnabar as an accent (in a bezel like a stone) but I
don’t think it would work in inlay, it is layer upon layer of red
laquer and cuts as easily with a saw blade as wood. It would probably
get too scratched in normal usage. Donna in VA

Dave, the regulations under the Endangered Species Act are meant to
protect ‘endangered’ species from becoming extinct and 'protected’
species from becoming ‘endangered’. These regulations are normally
not unilateral but done in an international setting under CITES
agreements. On the international scene, the US EPA has participated
since 1992 with Japan, Australia, Jamaica, France, the United Kingdom
and the Philippines in the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI).
The ICRI has identified coral reefs as ecosystems of great
biodiversity that should be given high priority for protection and
standardized management. The ICRI is working for the health and
well-being of coral reefs worldwide.

In the US, the Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlifve Service
works to conserve, protect, and enhance fish and wildlife and their
habitats. The Service’s major responsibilities include the
administration and enforcement of the Endangered Species Act of 1973
(16 U.S.C. 1531-1544, 87 Stat. 884). Under the act, ‘endangered’ means
a species is considered in danger of extinction throughout all or a
significant portion of its ranged; ‘threatened’ status applies to
species considered in danger of becoming ‘endangered’ in the

The Fish and Wildlife Service is also involved in international
activites aimed at the conversation of endangered or threatened
species through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), A TREATY THAT HAS BEEN IN
treaty, signators monitor traffic in endangered or threatened species
and, when necessary, arrest and prosecute those who violate
international agreements. (I am aware of a number of cases whereby
offenders have been arrested and prosecuted)

Of the 116 international environmental resources organizations
monitoring our environment there are at least 8 dedicated tomonitoring
coral reefs worldwide (as of 1997). Add to this, environmental
agencies in all 50 states plus the CITES and ICRI organizations and
you arrive at a huge interlocking spiderweb of governmental,
quasi-governmental and private/academic watchdog efforts aimed at
protecting coral and coral reefs.

I remember vividly in the 1970’s watching boats returning to Taiwan
from Okinawa where they had dredged hundreds of tons of gem quality
pink and red corals. Well, that isn’t the case any longer. The
regulations require strict licensing procedures and control over
harvest quotas. Is coral harvested?..yes. Is it haphazard? No, at
least not in most areas. It is done responsibly and trade is
restricted. In short the regulations are not there to stop harvesting
all together but to control it. These days, those who study coral
reefs are more concerned with natural predators and diseases of coral,
not to mention the harm from recreational diving and careless boat
operators, than the amount of harvesting being done.

In my view, if you can obtain red coral for your pieces then by all
means use it. Chances are it has been harvested legally.

I have not used the following source but understand they deal in both
tourquoise and (what is being called) Italian red coral. Note
previously red coral was taken from areas around the Med but for many
years now, most ‘Italian’ red coral has come from Okinawa.

Italian red coral. R.H. & Co., Inc, 1031 S. Central Ave, Glendale, Ca,
91204, phone 800-242-1233.

Cheers, Don

Some clarification on cinnabar–

I hadn’t heard of the term being applied to red lacquer before- live
and learn, I guess. The term “cinnabar” as I have heard it pertains to
a mercury ore which is bright red. There has been a limited amount of
this stuff which is silicated enough to cut. Given that it is a
mercury ore, I would be wary of cutting it without taking precautions
(mask, gloves, etc)

Lee Einer

Dave, if you decide to use cinnabar, use a lot of water when you are
working it. The mercury in it could vaporize at a warm temperature.
I am not an expert on mercury ore, but I have seen an opal mercury mix
from Idaho and Clear Lake, California that cuts and polishes
beautifully. The rock shop owner at Clear Lake showed me a piece of
rough that had been sitting in the sunlight in his display window for
a while. It had turned from geranium color to the gosh awfulest grey
with a pink cast. The area where we collected it in the 1950s in
Idaho had rock of that color all over the place, but we did cut some
nice stones of the geranium color. I have always kept them in the
dark and only worn them indoors or at night. It would be sad to have
some rugged outdoors person discover his inlaid jewelry had changed
color. Sincerely, Rose Alene McArthur @O_B_McArthurs