Native American Jewelry

The essence of Native American jewelry refers to items made by indigenous peoples for personal adornment. It is also used for ceremonies, trade and show. It is a beautiful form of artistic expression.This jewelry is typically made from natural material such as animal teeth, claws and bones, different metals, hardwood, vegetal fibers and stones. Man-made beads and quillwork are also used. Beaders, carvers, lapidaries and metalsmiths turn these materials into wonderful Native American Jewelry. Such jewelry includes earrings, bracelets, neclaces, rings and pins. It also takes in items such as wampum.

The history of Native American jewelry dates back thousands of years. Bone earrings were found in Alaska that have been dated back 12,000 years. Many turquoise pieces, which are often used in Southwestern Native American jewelry, have been found in the Ancestral Pueblo sites of Chaco Canyon.

The ancient art of beadmaking saw the creation of the beads from different materials, then sewn into clothing or strung into neclaces. Bead neclaces are often called heishi from the Santo Domingo word for shell. Shells are the most common material for beads. Northeastern Indians carved shells called wampum. They also carved shells into bird, fish and other shaped pendants.

Before the coming of the Europeons the many Native American tribes had unique cultures and styles. Without banks wealth had to be carries with the people in their jewelry their neclaces and bracelets were often signs of honor.

Silversmithing is the most popular form of jewelry making in the Southwest. Early in the 1800s, Spanish and later Mexican silver work was seen among the Sothwestern Native Americans. In the 1850s Navajo artists learned how to work silver from Mexican smiths. Zuni artists admired silver jewelry made by Navajo smiths and traded some of their livestock in exchange for being taught how to work silver. Hopis learned the skill from the Zuni. The primiary tribes that utulize sterling silver into Native American jewelry are the Navajo, Zuni, and Hopi tribes.

By 1875 Navajo artists melted Mexican and American silver coins and poured the silver into molds carved from sandstone. Sterling silver jewelry was soldered and decorated by beads, scrolls etc. Lapidary skills had been passed down from generation to generation. This led to setting stone on stone in mosaics. However the popular use of setting turquoise in silver did not become common until 1880 when turquoise became more readily available. Coral and other semi-precious stones gradually also began to be used.

With the advent of the railroad and trading posts Southwestern Native American jewelry grew and developed. New techniques led to styles known today, Knowledge and appreciation by the public has also grown with time. Native American jewelry is truly a varied and beautiful form of artistic expression.