Andy, I can’t address cuttle fish backs but certainly can talk about
"black coral". There are essentially two black corals - the
Antipatharians, which are actually a sub-group of the anthozoan HARD
corals and the gorgonian which is a sub-broup of the anthozoan SOFT
corals. This may be confusing because corals are grouped
taxologically on the basis of the type of living polyps making up the
coral. (The antipatharian tends to grow at greater depths and is more
dense and harder than the gorgonian which grows in shallower waters).
Suffice it to say that the black coral used in jewelry is the skeleton
of these corals which happen to be made of the same material
regardless of the kind of animal that previously inhabited them. In
both cases, the black coral skeleton is made up of a horny substance
called gorgonin, a protein material like hair and fingernails and rich
in iodine and bromine. One type of Gorgonian coral - Common Bushy
Soft Coral reportedly contains high concentrations of prostaglandins
that funtion like mammalian hormones and can act as a birth-control
Is it dangerous to work black coral with a flexshaft? Normal
protection is essential. A good commercial quality filter mask is
adequate to filter out the dust though the iodine smell will still
permeate the area for some time. Goggles will keep the dust and
particles out of ones eyes. Any dust should be washed off the skin
after working it but it is easy to remove with soap and warm water.
Some people have shown allergic reaction to black coral dust and smell
but others do not. In have seen no analysis that indicates active
poisonous content in the black coral skeleton. When alive, some
species of gorgonian soft corals are known to secrete protective
fluids but the horny skeleton has no poison making capability.
I have been working black coral for a number of years and take normal
precautions. Do to advancing age, I have regular physicals and
blood analysis; nothing abnormal has shown up that might be attributed
to my activities with black coral.
For those interested be sure to see the August 2000 edition of the
Lapidary Journal for more Cheers from Don at The Charles
Belle Studio where simple elegance IS fine jewelry!