A keen awareness of ethical sourcing methods and environmentally sustainable practices continues to drive changes in the jewelry industry—from the growing use of traceable diamonds to the rising popularity of recycled and ethically-mined gold metals and consciously obtained gemstones.
“It is vital to follow all legal restrictions to ensure the longevity of the things we treasure,” says House of Assael President and CEO, Christina Lang Assael. “When we abuse the balance of nature, we set off a chain reaction of change, to the detriment of the environment in which we live.” Lang Assael’s late husband Salvador forged relationships with pearl and coral dealers around the globe and became a trusted gem supplier for Cartier, Harry Winston and Tiffany & Co. He built what many in the industry still believe is the largest cache of pearls on the planet.
Today, the New York-based pearl purveyor is applying sustainable practices to its beloved bright red Sardinian coral and ultra-rare Angel Skin coral, whose color ranges from deep to blush pink with cloud-like marbling. Sardinian coral earring start at around $3,000 and multi-strand necklaces can garner up to half a million dollars; and prices for a pair of Angel Skin earrings start around $7,500 and can reach upwards of $2 million.
“As with all living things, coral, as well as pearl oysters, have their place in the ecosystem of the oceans,” Lang Assael says, noting that the coral used in their designs is obtained from greater depths—warming of the planet’s oceans is adversely affecting sponge and reef coral, which grow closer to the surface. Still, Lang Assael is mindful of the impact, and the need for regulations. “Over-harvesting can result in decline or extinction of a species that has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to find its perfect conditions to thrive. This is why coral harvesting is rightly limited, and also why properly harvested gem coral is so valuable and precious.”
To get a better understanding of how Angel Skin and Sardinian coral is harvested, we posed a few questions to Lang Assael.
Where does Angel Skin coral come from?
Angel Skin coral grows at great depths in the waters surrounding Japan and down to Taiwan in the South China Sea.
How did Assael begin working with Angel Skin coral?
Quite by chance, (in 2016) I came across a company that has been in the coral business for generations. The exquisite quality of this Angel Skin coral was breathtaking to me and very inspiring. I could not help but get excited as I immediately recognized the real treasure I had found. After ensuring that all of the Angel Skin coral was harvested before 1980, there was no problem for me to legally import it. Both the exporter and I can proudly prove and document that all of this Angel Skin coral meets the US government restriction requirements.
How long does it take to put together a piece of Angel Skin coral jewelry?
To assemble a strand of matching coral can take years. The different shades or hues of the coral make it very difficult to match. The more a cutter can gain from one coral tree the better.
How does Assael source it’s Angel Skin coral?
Angel Skin coral harvesting is now banned all together. We made absolutely certain and have detailed paperwork to prove that all of the Assael supply was harvested before the 1980s. The supply is limited. When it’s gone, it’s gone. There will be no more. All the more reason to truly appreciate this incredible gem and enjoy its enduring beauty.
And Sardinian coral?
The harvesting of Sardinian coral, on the other hand, is legal, but it is licensed to a few companies that have traded in coral for a very long time. It does not have the same import restrictions as Angel Skin. However Sardinian coral grows at 150-300-meter depth in the sea (about 500-985 feet), which sets it apart from the reef coral that is being challenged by global warming. Sardinian precious gem coral is difficult to reach, given the very short time that divers can stay down under at such challenging working conditions— [which are] pitch black and cold—and the need for very slow ascent to the surface. All of this makes the gem coral very scarce and all the more treasured.