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Precious Red Coral: Markets and Meanings

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Beads and other ornamental items made of precious red coral have been utilized by various cultures worldwide for thousands of years. Depending on its properties and market context, this highly valued material has meant different things to different peoples through time. The current industry—based in Torre del Greco in southern Italy—reflects past traditions but also incorporates new ideas into the production of beads and jewelry for the three principal world markets: fashion, ethnic, and tourist. These reflect the historic trade and use of red coral beads in several West African, European, and American cultural settings. This article describes the Torrese coral industry, revealing how the different beads are manufactured and marketed, and also delves into the cultural significance of precious coral over time.

Publisher Information

The Society of Bead Researchers is a non-profit scientific-educational corporation founded in 1981 to foster historical, archaeological, and material cultural research on beads and beadwork of all materials and periods, and to expedite the dissemination of the resultant knowledge. Membership is open to all persons involved in the study of beads, as well as those interested in keeping abreast of current trends in bead research.

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