Jump to content


Guest Clive

Recommended Posts

As requested some pics and info on Umimatsu.. in my opinion the most beautiful, the most difficult to work, the Queen of materials.. next to stag.. the King.


From Australian Gemmologist.. a recent news update..




Antipatharian or thorny black corals are solid keratinous corals that form flexible endoskeletons. Various species of coral that belong to:


Kingdom Animalia

Phylum Cnidaria (Coelenterata)

Class Anthozoa

Order Antipatharia

Suborder: Scleraxonia

Family Antipathidae, Leiopathidae, Schizopathidae, Myriopathidae

Species Antipathes grandis



Antipathes grandis


Of the 150 species of this coral have been formally identified, 8 genera are subject to international trade. Commonly harvested species include Antipathes grandis, Antipathes dichotoma, and various Cirrhipathes sp. Individual species of antipatharian black coral may be either branching (bushy, feathery, fan-shaped, or bottlebrush shaped), or wire-like without branches (wire or whip corals). The polyps are small (0.5-5 mm ) and have six non-retractable tentacles. Live colonies are usually white, yellow, orange, red or green. The brown to black endoskeleton of this coral is covered in tiny spines that can range in size from about 0.04 to 0.6 mm. The size, shape and density of these spines, along with the pattern of branching of the colony and the appearance of the polyps, are used to identify species in this group. Colonies may reach up to 1.8 m in height.


Antipatharians black corals are found worldwide, but are most common in the Indo-Pacific and Caribbean regions. They grow at a wide range of depths, from 1 - 6000 m, but most are found between 30 and 80 m. They tend to be associated with low light conditions, either in deep water, or in turbid or shaded areas of shallow water. Black corals are frequently found where there are strong currents.


All antipatharian black corals are colonial with a rigid, rod-like skeleton made of protein. There are no calcareous components in the skeleton, and unlike gorgonian corals there are no calcareous spines (spicules or sclerites) in the soft tissues. Individual colonies are either male or female and feed by capturing zooplankton from the water. Colonies are slow-growing and long-lived. They form an important habitat for other species and support unique communities of marine life.


These black corals have been used for centuries both for charms and as medicine. The skeletons of black corals are still highly prized and are used in jewellery or sold as curios. These species are mainly collected by divers but in some areas may be harvested by submersibles or with non-selective net dredges. A small aquarium trade in live specimens has also been reported. Black corals are valuable and are therefore subject to considerable collecting pressure. Populations are slow to recover because they grow slowly and take a long time to reach sexual maturity. Black coral may be globally threatened but data on status and trends are limited.


Antipatharian black corals are listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) , therefore trade in this species is regulated. A valid CITES export permit from the country of origin is required to bring black coral or objects made from black coral, such as jewellery, into the 158 countries that have ratified the CITES convention. In addition to CITES the export of black coral is banned or restricted by a number of countries. Black coral collection in some locations such as Hawaii is carefully managed to ensure that collection is sustainable. Black corals have been traditionally difficult to study because they live in deep water, however, a research programme in Hawaii has been running since 1970. Submersible craft are now used to investigate the ecology and distribution of black coral species. Black corals may form part of the marine community in Marine Protected Areas or areas where management plans are in place to protect the coral community.



1. Black (organic) antipatharian or thorny coral is identified by:


2. Its tree-like structure in cross-section.


3. Observation of remnants of radial spines often visible when polished surfaces of

this black coral are examined in tangential illumination with magnification. White

light is transmitted through thin superficial layers of this coral to gives these

layers a waxy brownish red colour against which the presence of spines is

immediately obvious.


4. Noticing a ‘salty burnt hair’ aroma when a hot point is judiciously applied to the

surface of this coral.


5. Determining a specific gravity of 1.34/1.35 for the material.


Clive's note.. The beginning of this article confusingly refers to the species Antipathes grandis.. there are I believe over a 100 members of the same families many of which can used for carving.


Picture notes:


Pic 1. A selection of raw umimatsu of a deep water species found in the northern pacific.. notice that the material is semi fossilized.. not nice to be using recently "live" material that has been collected. Help protect our fragile world.


Pic 2. A cross section clearly showing the ring structure and outer fossilization


Pic 3. The inner material exposed.. this is where the truly beautiful material hides


Pic 4. Another piece


Pic 5. Pic 4's end view


Pic 6. A great deal of work needs to go into carefully developing (lots of technique) and exposing the materials potential. There's a piece where I begun that process.. on the lefthand side I've brought it to a high gross with some subtle areas of work simulating a rotting log effect.. early days yet, but looking good


and next to that


Pic 7..... the back of a piece of of mine work.. height 35mm.. not quite finished though yet.








Link to comment
Share on other sites

Very cool, Clive! Is this some of the "Golden Umimatsu" of times past? If so, I managed to snag some of it as well, and have done several rotting log pieces. It just seemed a natural for that - one of the few times the material really seemed to dictate the direction for me.


PS - What are the mushrooms carved from?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes Tom.. some of it is from that old supply... also inherited some of Mr Birch and I think some of that was once owned by Mr Shaw.


The bracket fungus are fossil walrus.. You can't see on that pic (well maybe you can just make some of the bottom ones) but the top surfaces are coloured slightly darker.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you for the information and photos, Clive. I've had a question about an old acquisition:


How would I go about learning whether or not the slender black coral stems I have are CITES listed or not? I acquired them in 1974, and have only admired the bundle since then.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Aloha Clive,


Mahalo for starting this thread. I also, have a quantity of black coral and had some questions regarding it's status. I suppose that I suspected the answers to be what they are, and put the blinders on. Your thorough approach to this subject leaves me with but one question (two, really). Philosophically, what should I do with this, and legally... what can I do with it?


But first...another one of Karl's stories. A blend of someone else's history and personal observations. Maui Divers claims to be the discoverer of commercial black coral and the largest producer of BC jewelry. (Their propaganda history is on-line.) In time, they became a retail behemoth, with retail locations all over the place and a large factory. Their shuttle buses run all over town, picking up tourist for factory tours. It has made Cliff Slater a very wealthy guy. All this wealth gives them several huge advantages. 1) What I believe is exclusive control over beds of black, pink and gold coral; 2) their own submersible.


Growing up as a kid in Hawaii, I recall seeing raw black coral all over the place. In little packages at the airport; in big packages at craft centers; in fish tanks at pet stores; at garage sales...you get the idea. My earliest jewelry classes in high school used them in projects. I can still smell that unique sickly aroma when power tools would heat it up. Sadly, many display pieces would still have the base pieces of regular coral, like some animal antler and skull cap. There is one hanging over my workbench right now. I'm sure that there are thousands of pounds out there in the bottom of drawers and in old fish tanks in the weeds.


So, does CITES disallow this mass of material that may be ubiquitous to the general population? I'm going to call Maui Divers t'morrow and ask if they 1)document all their sales and, 2) do they provide a list of countries that may restrict import of finished pieces from here? We have a lot of cruise ships that pass through on the way to other countries. Hmmmm... <_<


As for me, I have a bunch of this and there are still those two questions. It's already harvested. Any opinions?





p.s. My wife just walked in and says that she will check with the Marine Sciences guys in the next building. A couple of deep ocean coral researchers there. Will keep you apprised if there is any interest. Thanks for listening to my train of thought. :huh:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Philosophically, what should I do with this, and legally... what can I do with it?


Aye up Karl,


Legally the onus is you to have the material correct identified to species level.. then simply find out its exact status with your local fish and wildlife. I have always found them extremely helpful and want to work with you to help and educate rather than just police and punish.


Philosophically, I personally like to go beyond CITIES.. just because something might not be covered by law, shouldn't mean its open to mass exploitation.. The regulations where put in place to help save our most endangered species, its a pity that things have to get that far before common sense kicks in.. if we show sense and respect for our environment then things never need to get that far.

The problem with live coral collection is that its not just a single creature that is removed but an entire ecosystem that is devastated.. its the oceananic equivalent of deforestation.. take the trees.. you take the lot. I also don't think one can make something beautiful by destroying something infinitely more beautiful.


Kind regards


Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's a gorgeous material. The organisms must be very small to live within that environment. Thanks for the info and pics, Clive.


As an aside, does everybody who carves netsuke get to have the same disease I'm developing? I seem to be collecting anything that looks as if it might be remotely carvable - plum pits, lychee pits, brazil nuts, old sea-washed small stones (Scotland's great for a variety of these, including some of the semi-precious stones - I've picked up a couple of pieces of amethyst this way), bits of old,very hard brick, chips of marble... The list goes on.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As an aside, does everybody who carves netsuke get to have the same disease I'm developing? I seem to be collecting anything that looks as if it might be remotely carvable - plum pits, lychee pits, brazil nuts, old sea-washed small stones (Scotland's great for a variety of these, including some of the semi-precious stones - I've picked up a couple of pieces of amethyst this way), bits of old,very hard brick, chips of marble... The list goes on.


Hi Freda,


One certainly ends up with a collection of very strange objects if you been at this game for any length of time.. My material collection in now so enormous I have to store most of it in tea chests in a friends barn.. hardly a week goes by when somebody somewhere sends me something.. last week a guide I know from up your neck of the woods drops by with 6 more antlers.. I must have enough for 100 life times but I can't ever say no. The week before it was croc teeth.

My wood collection.. even though I hardly ever carve out of woods these days must weigh about a ton. 6 tea chests alone. All my friends kids just love coming round to my house.. "Clive..can we see the dinosaur claw.. Clive can we see the dragons egg.. " :huh:


and then theres people like Russel who thinks he can just pop round and help himself.. It all MIIIINE!!! MY precious!! <_<

Link to comment
Share on other sites

...6 tea chests alone...


I had a feeling, Clive and Janel...


I've already got two of those large office boxes full of carvable bits and pieces, apart from the tools/materials boxes. My husband put his head into his hands and groaned today when we went to throw away some rubbish at the municipal dump. A man in front of me was dumping some branches of rhododendron he'd pruned, so I asked him for a piece and he sawed off a 18" section of 3" diameter wood for me (I carry a saw in the car with me nowadays), which is drying nicely in the shed along with some logs of boxwood, yew, holly, etc.! Waste not, want not.


However, aside over; back to corals...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You're right, thats a different species.. its the classic umimastu you see a lot of Japanese antique pieces made out of.. I got some in raw state, its jet black and very dark brown with deep red translucant areas.. I'll post some pics of when I've got time to polish it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Aloha Clive,


Just catching up to posts. Thanks for your honest and candid opinion. It is, after all, up to each of us to live with our decisions.


Black coral, tortoise shell, rosewood, ivory, honduran mahogany etc. There's a pattern here. No wonder we seek new bits and pieces that might be suitable. I am building my third kura for the latest overflow of "precious".



Link to comment
Share on other sites

In a message from Peter Welsh:


There is an interesting topic re Umimatsu on TCP which I happened to come across. There is an informative link: HERE


which states some recent info on age of the black corals. The term 'fossilized' may very well apply to some pieces of black corals as some species are said to be aged over 4000 years, and still growing. Although that is not enough time to create true fossils as we know them, it is quite feasible that a colony that reached such a great age, which then died out, and lay on the sea floor or, remained in its original position for a very long period, could well become partially fossilised or, at least, sub-fossil The growth rate is particularly interesting, I think.

I had always believed there were a little over 100 species, but now it seems that recent work shows there to be more than 200. So, both good and bad news for those wishing to know the species of their own particular piece. But at least we know that each species can be identified readily by someone, somewhere.


Also, there are attached (in email to Janel but not in this post) some pictures of umimatsu that were offered for sale in Japan earlier this year. Although the images are small, the black colour can be seen, but colour variations cannot. The size is also interesting, the larger said to be 18cm diameter (though I suspect that may actually be the basal 'root'. Both pieces were expensive. As I recall, asking price for the larger was over 140,000 Yen, but this may well be that it was a collector's specimen, rather than material for carving. The other piece had an asking price of roughly one third of the other.

I don't have copyright for any of the images, and have no way of asking for use of them, but I'm sure no one would mind too much if they were distributed privately, for individual's own use.*


I hope you are well, and getting some time in at the bench.


Kind regards,





* If any of you want to see the photos, email me, and in a week or so I will group email them out to you when I am at a WiFi spot and can send out photos. Janel

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

Just following up like I promised (finally). I spoke to reps for Maui Divers re: CITES certification. Their reply was that if they, as a manufacturer, send something out (mostly to Japan), a Certificate costing about US$150/item is required. They felt that civilians wearing individual pieces purchased at retail were not being selected out, at least not to their knowledge. Hmmmm.... ;) I got the feeling that they wondered who the hell was asking these questions and why.


I then got word from those coral researchers (who curiously wanted to remain anonymous) that they were the ones that gave testimony to CITES. Originally, they asked for protection for Atlantic, Med and a specific black coral. Whether for lack of enforcement capability, expertise or what, a blanket ban was issued. They reminded me that CITES was a permitting process that functions across international borders. (Hope I got that right.) Within your home country, you are "safe". So those of you that got care packages can relax.




Janel - thanx for the link.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As far as I'm aware the species that are listed in the order Antipatharia are Appendix 11... same as Hippo.. Permits are generally required for import export... but say if the material is semi fossilised then it can clearly cannot be regarded as a threat to current population and therefore might not need documentation under that particular Appendix, and counties interpret the rules differently.. so its always best to check with the relevant authority before hand.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...