The existence of red coral being used for adornment throughout the world dates back over ten thousand years. The Indians of the American Southwest have always treasured this - "red gold". Hopis were using necklaces of coral and turquoise at their snake dances in the 1870's-1880's. At Zuni Indian dances, the deep red of this bead from the sea is still a favorite complement to silver and turquoise. With Navajo women, strands of coral beads are a symbol of success and social prominence....the standard being a minimum of ten strands at the time of a woman's thirtieth birthday.
According to Basilio Liverino of Italy (who was a world-renown expert), the Indians of New Mexico and Arizona considered coral an ornament of the highest value and esteem. They believed that this beautiful "gem" had such great power that it could cure anything from blindness to a snake bite, and brought the wearer great luck, long life and virility.
In actuality, coral is made from the calcareous skeletal remains of thousands of minute sea animals. With a rock-like hardness, the tree-fan forms come in a variety of colors ranging from shades of blood-red, to orange, to pink, to white. Only about 10% of fished, or mined, coral is considered to be fine, jewelry quality. This quality has been referred to, in the trade, as "red-gold". Native American Indians obtained this beautiful gem through trade with the Spanish and other Europeans that came to the "New World" of America.
A high value is set on red coral used in old pawn jewelry, not only because of the hand drilling and meticulous hand craftsmanship used to work the material, but also today's relative rarity of the Mediterranean variety that was used. For many years the coasts of Italy were lined with what was thought to be an inexhaustible supply. The exploitation of this source over the centuries has made Mediterranean red coral a premium.
The aesthetic craftsmanship displayed by the Native Americans of the Southwest insures old pawn coral jewelry a permanent position in value and history.
We have found many useful and informative articles in old Arizona Highway magazines. The following information was obtained from March 1975.