The Jewelry Diva - 'Red Gold'
inMay 2, 2008 - 7:13am
‘The Jewelry Diva’ by Ruby Lane shop owner Cindy Amirkhan - A Twinkle in Time. Cindy shares her extensive knowledge of vintage and costume jewelry with you, including historical information, styles, designers and more. We are certain you will enjoy her monthly column as much as we do. The Editors of Notes from the Lane.
Red Gold - The Coral of Native American Jewelry
Native Americans of the southwest consider coral – “red gold” - as an ornament of the highest value and esteem. The mysterious gem was attributed with such great power that it was thought to cure anything from blindness to snakebite and to bring the wearer Great Luck, Long Life and Virility.
The Navajos, Zunis, and Hopi tribes of the southwest have always treasured “Red Gold.” In the 1870’s – 1880’s, the Hopis wore coral and turquoise necklaces while performing ‘snake dances’. At Zuni dances, the deep red coral was a favorite compliment to their silver and turquoise jewelry, while the Navajos preferred red-orange coral beads.
The most prized and cherished necklaces of coral and turquoise bear a coin, fetish, or a nugget of turquoise tied to one of the strands. These “Sing-Ties” are mementos of the ‘sings and dances’ the Native American women attended and attested to their popularity and status. With Navajo women, strands of coral beads are a symbol of success and social prominence. The Santo Domingo Pueblos bartered coral beads Navajo rugs, silver, and livestock.
In the early years, the supply of coral was very scarce, and was obtained by trade with coastal tribes and other traders who ventured into the Indian lands. It was not until the ‘Trading Post Era’, the late 19th to early 20th century, that a workable supply of coral and ingot silver became available, thanks to the post managers.
Red Coral from the Mediterranean has been a popular material among Native American artisans since its first modern day importation in 1936, especially to the Zuni Tribes, where red is a sacred color. The coast of Italy, lined with what was once thought to be an inexhaustible supply of coral reefs and mines, are now rapidly diminishing. “Coral Fishing” is now carried on in the Japanese Sea, the China Sea, and the South Pacific. Japan is now the major world supplier of high quality coral gem material.
Coral was once part of a reef of tentacle skeletal creatures, varying from light to deep red tones. The Spanish Conquistadors brought in the first coral used in the southwest. Coral continues to be imported as a trade item to this day. There is no “pre-historic coral” in use. The red beads found in archeological sites, mistakenly identified as coral, are actually made from stone.
Remember, “Life is Too Short Not to Sparkle” – wear a piece of jewelry everyday and add color and sparkle to your world.