By  on February 26, 2009

For a fashion crowd attuned to the rise and fall of heels and hemlines, the term “coral consciousness” sounds like the sign of a color trend. But the nonprofit organization SeaWeb and the Tiffany & Co. Foundation are hoping to bring new meaning to the phrase with their Coral Reinterpreted jewelry collection, which makes its debut today. The endeavor is part of SeaWeb’s Too Precious To Wear campaign.

The cause? Ocean coral — those tiny sea anemonelike organisms blanketing the reefs. It’s an increasingly endangered species due in part to harvesting for jewelry and other accessories, in addition to overfishing and climate change.

“We’re trying to raise awareness for the importance of saving coral and coral conservation,” explains Tiffany & Co. Foundation president Fernanda M. Kellogg. To that end, nine jewelers and designers were enlisted to create one-off baubles inspired by, but not using, coral. They include Vena Cava’s Lisa Mayock and Sophie Buhai, Melissa Joy Manning, Monique Péan, Hannah Garrison, Kimberly McDonald, Jennifer Meyer, as well as Paloma Picasso, Frank Gehry and Jean Schlumberger, who are already part of Tiffany’s design stable. The pieces will be auctioned off at the Web site until April.

Tiffany has banned the use of coral since 2002, but, for the other designers, the project became an eye-opening experience. It prompted Oakland-based jeweler Manning, for instance, to discontinue the use of coral in her line. For this collection, she created a sculpted tree-coral necklace made of recycled silver and precious metal clay.

What’s intriguing about Coral Reinterpreted is the diversity of its lineup. McDonald’s 18-karat white and rose gold arm cuff, with its geode embellishment and brown rhodium finish, skews downtown and edgy, while Gehry’s white gold and black pearl earrings work a cleaner and more classic mood. “We sifted through Ernest Hackel books as well as [the work of] Jacques Cousteau,” say Mayock and Buhai of their spiky sterling silver ring, inspired by coral and sea-urchin textures.

“When you think about how many fish depend on coral for food and protection and [that] so many impoverished villages rely on the fish….I think there needs to be much more transparency in terms of knowing where the coral is sourced,” notes Péan. “I mean, I don’t think the consumer even realizes that coral is a living thing.” Her own design, a 12-karat recycled gold and calcite pendant necklace, includes witty strands of coral-like vintage Bakelite.

But the campaign isn’t stopping with these baubles. SeaWeb and the Tiffany & Co. Foundation are setting their sights on the 2010 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. “Red coral, which is what’s used in jewelry most, is up for consideration,” says Kellogg. “We want to influence the passage of coral onto the CITES endangered list.”

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