Coral has been a prized material in Tibet and the Himalayan regions for many centuries. Indeed, the majority of Tibetans regard natural red coral to be more precious than gold and the most prized beads can sell for hundreds of dollars per gram in Tibet. Salmon orange to deep red beads are always the most valuable. Along with amber and turquoise, coral is also sought after to decorate ornate hair ornaments or headdresses.
The majority of antique 'Tibetan' red corals originated from the Mediterranean Sea. It travelled along the silk trade route via Iran, Samarkand, Ladakh and then finally ended up in the markets of Lhasa. It was also traded to India by a direct sea route from the end of the 15th Century. This made it much easier for Tibetan traders to get a more regular supply of this material.
Today, Mediterranean coral is now rightly protected, so it has become very difficult to find genuine beads today. The market offers many fake corals and dyed alternatives from China, however, they can never be a substitute for the real thing!