Native American jewelry styles

Native American jewelry is prized by many. It has developed into different beautiful styles by various tribes.

Though Native Americans crafted jewelry before contact with Europeons, most of the early jewelry was made from natural materials like bones, shells and wood. From the Navajo, one of the most well-known Native American jewelry makers, came a blacksmith named Atsidi Sani. When he learned how to do work with silver from the Spanish, and not just iron, he began to make bracelets, conchas and other jewelry. This was around 1850.

Another Navajo, Atsidi Chon, was the first to craft jewelry using turquoise with the silver. The Navajo developed their craft using their typical silver leaves, flowers and beads. They also used hand stamp work and sandcast jewelry. Naja pendants and their well known squash blossom neclaces (from a Spanish pomegranate design) are staples in Navajo design.

In the early 1900s, the Navajo Atsidi Chon taught the Zunis some of his methods with silver. The Zuni had made jewelry for hundreds of years, especially dealing with the carved animal shaped stone fetishes. However, the introduction of silversmithing was the start of the style they are perhaps best known for today.

The Zuni stone designs include petit point, needle point and inlay. While the Navajo tend to favor chunky stones, the Zuni always cut and finely prepare stones.

Around the beginning of the 20th century the Zuni taught silversmithing to some in the Hopi tribe. For a while their silverwork was pretty much the same as that of the Navajo and Zuni. Then in the 1930s the Hopi started the unique inlay style where an oxidized blackened bottom piece of silver is soldered to a top piece of silver. The top piece has a traditional design carved into it. The result is durable and very pleasing to the eye. Most of the Hopi jewelry is strictly silver, although on some special pieces turquoise may be used.

The Santo Domingo tribe must also be mentioned among the most well-known styles of Native American jewelry. They are best known for their "heishe" beads. The tube or disc shaped beads are made of shell, turquoise or polished stone. The beads are ground,drilled and strung(still by hand in some cases). The tribe make their special thunderbird neclaces, and mosaic inlay on shell or bone as well.

Native American jewelry has grown to varied beautiful styles. Learning more about it is a rewarding experience. It can also lead to better appreciation of the artists and the cultures that give us this art.