Native American jewelry has actually been around for hundreds to thousands of years, depending on the type of Native American jewelry. Jewelry incorporating just turquoise has been around for thousands of years while jewelry incorporating silver has been just slightly over 100 years.
Early Native Americans would string up turquoise stones they found in hills as early pieces of jewelry. It wasn't until the late 1800's that Native Americans started using metals in their jewelry. Using primarily copper, the Spanish taught techniques to the Native Americans, which the Native artists eventually mastered and evolved with. Silver coins were melted down and used in jewelry in the late 1800's to the early 1900's. Native Americans would be paid from their daily jobs in coins, to which they would melt down and use for jewelry in their spare time. Eventually Native Americans purchased sterling silver sheets and wires from the local trading posts to create their jewelry. This same setup is used today and sterling silver is the dominant metal incorporated into Native American jewelry.