How To Test Coral

Today I had a request for a return on a lovely necklace that was sold as natural coral.  As a dealer, I suppose it may not be the best decision to admit that I totally blew it, but hey, I think you have to call it as you see it….I blew it.  The necklace was not coral.

Orange Torsade NecklaceOf course the instant you get the request for a return your stomach drops and you inwardly groan and I will admit, that is exactly what happened.  I have been fortunate, this is my second return in like six years but that didn’t matter, I still felt that overwhelming feeling of dread.

I’m waiting for the necklace to come back to me but I must say, this has turned into a valuable lesson from a woman that has been kind and gracious as well as smart and more than willing to share her knowledge.

Donna knows her coral and tonight she messaged me with her tests that she performs to ensure that what she purchased is in fact the real deal.

It’s hard some days to admit that you don’t know everything; that you have stumbled and make an error in order to learn but after reading her message and performing the tests on coral that I do have, I realize that a little humbling has been a really good thing.  I have learned valuable information that I would like share with my readers.

So, straight from Donna….to you…

OK, Daye, Here we go.
To test for dye: First use distilled water and an all white paper towel. Put a few drops of distilled water on the coral and wait a minute and then gently wipe. Second repeat the same action with acetone (home depot). If the coral is dyed, red coloration will be apparent on the paper towel.

To test for natural coral: Use white distilled vinegar (grocery store or sams) and a container which will allow coverage of the coral with the vinegar. Cover the coral with vinegar and watch for bubbles of carbon dioxide to form. The bubbles will form on the coral surface and as the reaction continues will eventually form enough to rise to the surface of the vinegar. A clear container is best and allows viewing from the sides as well as the top. This may take about five minutes to occur and longer if the coral has been waxed or coated with something. Because natural coral is porous the vinegar will be able to penetrate and eventually you will see bubbles. I will usually use a fingernail to gently scrap if I suspect a coating. This will not harm or discolor natural coral in any way. Note: You need not submerge the entire piece or all the beads in the vinegar. 

When done testing with vinegar a gentle rinse of water is in order.
Vinegar is a weak acid and if the cordage is very old silk or other very old stringing material, it may weaken it. However, just like real pearls, old coral should be restrung periodically if one intends to wear it.

If you have access to a microscope or other high power magnification, you will be able to discern "pores" on the coral even if it is polished (without wax or other coating).

I have tried to be very clear, but if you have any question let me know and I will do my best to clarify for you. Hubby is on his way home so question answers will be early evening after our dinner.
Regards, Donna”


1 comment


Daye is an avid collector and researcher of all things vintage.

1 comment

  • RK

    Thank you and your friend Donna for your thorough explanation regarding real and fake coral. My husband and I carefully did two tests, a milk test and the vinegar test. I’m happy to say that my little investment in coral beads was not in vain and I’ll finish up a 5 strand necklace of coral tonight for a customer.

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