Oct 5th, 2017

Of the Moment: Coral in the Desert

While turquoise is the material that comes to mind when many people think of Native jewelry, many first time visitors to the southwest are surprised by the amount of red in Navajo and Pueblo jewelry.

The reason for the disconnect is not hard to understand, as New Mexico is hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean, but there is a long tradition of coral and shell being used in southwestern jewelry. While different types of shell have a millennial tradition in the southwest, coral came to the region with the Spanish, and Mediterranean coral continues to be the most common type used.

Maybe because it looks so stunning combined with turquoise, or because of its various luminous shades, coral is here to stay and used by Navajo, Pueblo, Hispanic and Anglo artists alike. While some artists sculpt and grind coral into smooth beads and oval cabochons, others let the natural shape of the coral influence their designs, with irregular branches and knobs stretching out to create organic designs. Equally beautiful set in gold or silver, traditional or modern, coral has found a lasting home in the desert.