Black Coral – Value

Larry asked the value of some black coral he found in an estate. 

I’ll have a go at answering this question, but you all must understand there are many many variables in determining the value of black coral ranging from the kind of coral it is, to the color (yes there are many colors of black coral), where it came from and whats been done with it to name a few.

Without going into too much detail, lets start with what kind of coral it is.  Some months ago I was at a gem show and noticed a dealer selling ‘black coral’.  I stopped by to check it out.  There were boxes of fragments out, all displaying 2-3’x1-1.5′ pieces all nice jet black.  But, when I hefted one, I new it was a fake.  It has heavy, not light and wispy like true black coral. I challenged the dealer who was asking a ridiculously low price and admitted (with a bit of conjolling) that it was hard (calcareous) coral dyed black.  Value, $5 a piece.  I bought two just to have a reference..  Sure enough I ground a small nub off and it was white inside!!!

Next is it Antipatharian or Gorgonian?  The former is usually (not always but most of the time) a deep water coral and is considered by some (mistakenly I believe) to be the only true black coral.  The latter is always shallow water coral and is what I work with as it is readily available on Florida’s beaches.  The former is quite expensive BECAUSE it is deep water and its collection is very very highly controlled.  I used to get some now and then from divers in Hawaii but can find very little on the market now.  I did see some searching today priced at $10 for 50 carats!  That’s about 10 grams (a piece roughly 1/4″ thick by 5″ long. Most of the Antipatharian coral is siphoned off to the big makers like Maui Divers or Bernard Passman. 

The Gorgonian blacks are more readily available and therefore not as valued. Not that they are that much different in their content or make-up….they are essential both skeletons of the coral colony, both made primarily of protein, most are usually black or brown in color, same hardness, same structure (rings like a tree – though Antipatharian rings usually are a bit wider than Gorgonian) virtually the same specific gravity, etc, etc.  The only difference, perhaps is in the nature of the taxology of the animal,  the Gorgonian is an ‘octocoral’ because the animal has 8 septa (some say all black coral has 8 septa) but lately I have seen references saying the Antipatharian has only 6 septa which means it shouldn’t be considered a true black coral!!!??  Go figure!!  Sorry for rambling, but you see there is a difference in the value based on the above.

Now, some Gorgonian black coral ain’t even black (remember we are only talking about the skeleton here because the animal ((when its alive)) that inhabits the outside can be any color of the rainbow). It can also be various shades of both brown and black.  There are sea plumes, considered Gorgonian black coral because the animal has 8 septa, that actually produces a skeleton of beautiful bundles of brownish fibres that take on a golden color when polished. It is much tougher than Gorgonian and can be difficult to work with due to the sharp spines along the main stems.  It is also harder to bend and shape. And the list goes on.

How can you tell the difference?  Well, if it hasn’t been smoothed and polished, the skin of Antipatharian coral has a rough texture I equate to shark skin or medium sand paper.  If you can see them,  the rings are often wide and separated.  Sometimes you will see finished jewelry with white rings. That is actually polish compound left there to define the rings. 

Gorgonian coral rough has a relatively smooth skin, the rings are thin and usually  well packed together with a very small brown core that can be hollow at times. 

In either case, if its been smoothed and polished you will not be able to tell the difference!!!

For a rough medium tree (a main truck of about 1/4″ and overall length of 10″) of Gorgonian with long, nicely shaped limbs and two secondary branches, I usually charge from $5-10.  When the main trunk is wider, longer, more branches, etc, good solid black color with no problems the price can go upwards of $20. Select pieces that are cut for specific purposes can be worth $2-5.  Antipatharian coral of same size and quality can go upwards of several hundreds of dollars.  So you see it is important to know what you have!! 

 I could go on and on but I think you get the picture.  Before actually evaluating what you have Larry, do some on -line research to see whats currently out there. 

Of course, processed coral is a whole different ball game, especially if its been made here in the States and not done by some kid in Timbuktu working for $1 a month.  There is a lot of ‘trinket-ware’ out there and tons of beads, but true pieces of jewelry made with black coral (especially if its not just a little slice added to $10k worth of diamonds and gold) can be very exciting and worth a considerable sum due to the hand work needed to process, design, shape and polish the coral.

Good luck with your coral and I hope this might also help others out there.  Cheers, Coralnut – Don




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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Taras April 24, 2011 at 3:07 pm

I have a black coral tree,Any interest ?

Taras April 20, 2011 at 8:16 pm

I have a black coral tree,Any interest ?

Elsa Byers March 31, 2011 at 9:39 am

I have two black coral (trees, or fan’s) if you wish that were given to me as a going away present when I left Guam. The person that gave me the black coral was a diver and he brought the pices up from about 300 feet.
Would like to get an idea how much the coral is worth. The pieces meassure 15 inch by 16 inch including trunk of coral.

Marie Hill February 22, 2011 at 10:43 pm

I have a black coral tree approx. 2 ft. tall, 1 1/2 ft. wide. What do you think it might be worth?

dan prockish January 25, 2011 at 8:45 pm

my dad lived in guam in 1972 and went about 205 foot for black coral 4 branches 1/4 to 3/8 thick nice pieces want are they worth

Amy Jade Lawler December 13, 2010 at 6:52 pm
Amy Jade Lawler December 13, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Hi All, In Australia, have large collection of raw black coral… all shapes & sizes; feathery branches great for fishtank ornaments, small & large diameter solids perfect for carving. Will sell at resonable prices according to needs, contact me via e-mail if interested.

matthew December 5, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Greetings from an avid carver of exotic materials or others . Recently , I came across a Black Coral dolphin I was told it came from MAUI, the piece is 4 inches tall and 2 inches in diameter. It is not signed and I would like to find out more about it, the seller said it was acquired over 20 years ago. how can I get a photo to you?

anita December 5, 2010 at 4:05 pm

hi there, I used to live in hawaii and a have a beautiful piece of black coral. its a tree. Every one that see’s it thinks it is a tree. it is so hard you cant break the trunk. A friend of my moms had a few pieces and she gave me one. I want to sell it and need to knopw what its worth. I can send you a pic I have of it. can you email me asap? thank you

Aldene Denham November 21, 2010 at 4:11 pm

I have Antipatharian black coral that I got in Jamaica in 1979.The base of 1 branch is about 2 inches thick-the base of 2 branches are about 1 1/2 inches thick and the bases of about 4 branches are about 3/4 inch.
How can I sell this?? The whole branch is about 2 feet tall.

Tabbita November 11, 2010 at 5:17 am

I have around 1kg black coral but I don’t where to sell it

Rick October 11, 2010 at 12:55 pm

I have a black coral tree 3 feet tall 4 feet wide 2 feet deep.
Any interest ?

Judd Findlay October 9, 2010 at 6:15 am

My great grandfather recently passed away he was tongan and he left me a bag of black coral about 5 kilos worth and big chunks i was thinking of carving it what tools would i need to go about doing it

april September 20, 2010 at 11:59 pm

Have lg bag of blk coral dove for in cayman is late /0 pictues upon requrst

BVD2 September 12, 2010 at 9:41 pm

From your description I have a piece of Antipatharian black coral that my husband obtained while diving (very deep) around Bimini in 1972. It is 12inches by 1/2 inch.
How can I contact buyers?
Thank you so much,

Kendra August 29, 2010 at 7:05 pm

I live in Hawaii and I have a black coral tree? I know coral is considered an animal but what I have is the whole tree, branches and limbs all attached. Its was a gift from our obachan (grandmother), we know it’s from the water off Lana’i. It’s pretty big, the main trunk is a little thicker than a cigar and the branches and limbs are a little thicker than a pencil. It stands about 5-6 inches taller than a 5 gallon bucket, I have pictures of it if someone would contact me please to get this animal appraised I would more than thankful!

My intensions aren’t really to sell it at this point. I’ve had it for a while and it’s a beautiful tree, really pretty!! Just everyone that comes over to my house says it’s worth a lot of money, so curiousity got me 🙂 Mahalo!!

geo helms July 28, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Hello: 35 years ago on a fishing trip off Baja I hooked a piece of black coral. It is covered with dried marine growth. It is a lovely specimen.
What can I do to clean off dried marine growth?

Darin June 6, 2010 at 2:45 pm

I have an authentic with certificate black coral dolphin piece from Richard’s Gallery in the Caymen Islands. I am wanting to sell the piece. Very beautiful piece, can email a picture if requested. Please email me if interested at Thank you.

jubak May 14, 2010 at 10:44 pm

i have many black coral and red coral….interested…contact me at

Ro March 7, 2010 at 2:29 pm

I am trying to determine the value of a necklace that I received back in the late 80s early 90s from a former boss. He and his wife spent every winter in Lahaina, Maui. They brought back to me a black coral necklace – 14mm beads, 19 inches long and strung by thread with clasp (35 beads). The clasp is also black coral set in metal, but the metal does not look of value. Could you recommend someone in Virgnia?

NELS COLBENSON February 22, 2010 at 9:18 am

my mother was native hawaiian born on kuai in the 20’s she left me a black coral cane I’d like to have it authenticated and appraised for insurance could you please recommend someone in salt lake city utah thank you.

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