These very talented people are true artisans who take a hunk of metal, a shell, and an uncut gemstone and craft that into a truly unique piece of wearable art. Now, that’s jewelry making artistry! And it's not only religious symbols and blanket designs. Some Native American jewelry is cutting-edge in the materials used and quite contemporary in design.
The categories and traditions are ABSOLUTELY something to daydream about.
Look down the page for links to Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Santo Domingo and other Native American jewelry traditions. I also have links to stones used and what to look for when buying.
What I don’t cover in this section are some of the designs/symbols you'll find in your quest for gorgeous and personal jewelry pieces. Visit the links below to find out more about the symbols...
Turquoise Jewelry by Durango Silver Company
Categories of Native American Jewelry: Metalwork and Beadwork/Shells
Native American jewelry designs varied from tribe to tribe. But these differences weren't glaring because the materials used to make jewelry were trade items between groups, well before the first European stepped foot in America. Trade materials included beads, shells, copper, silvery, ivory, amber, turquoise and other stones. After colonization, the Native American jewelry traditions were introduced to new materials such as glass beads and the superb mastering of working with metals, such as silver.
Metalwork: Before Europeans, the metalwork tradition of Native American jewelry was fairly straightforward ... primarily hammering and etching copper into pendants or earrings, and fashioning copper and silver into beads. After learning silversmithing from the Spanish in the 1800's, Native American jewelry (Navajo, Hopi and Pueblo), especially the metal jewelry arts, blossomed in the Southwest. The distinctively unique Navajo squash blossom necklace, beautiful Hopi silver overlay bracelets, and striking Zuni turquoise inlay rings developed from the fusion of the new techniques with traditional designs.
The artistry of American Indian beadwork was advanced well before the Europeans came to this continent. Beadwork came primarily from the Plains Indians and the jewelry items included necklaces and earings. It was used primarily on bags, horse gear, moccasins and clothing. Finely ground turquoise, coral and shell beads were smoothed and used to make heishi necklaces.
The Most Popular Native American Jewelry Traditions...
The Navajo, Hopi, Zuni and other Pueblo artisans are working silver and semiprecious stones into distinctive stamped, inlay and overlay designs. Southwestern Native American jewelry art is a strong and vibrant tradition and their artwork is gaining in value and prestige both tribally, nationally and internationally. Now, many of these tribal artisans are able to continue traditional and contemporary workmanship.
Navajo Jewelry - Gorgeous Stamp Work, Beautiful Squshblossom Necklace
Cast Jewelry - liquid silver is poured into a mold, cooled, polished and finished.
Cut Out Jewelry - pictures or patterns are cut out of the silver.
Cluster Jewelry - when a number of stones are set in bezels close together. Necklaces, pendants and bracelets are very popular today.
Santo Domingo Pueblo and Heishi Tradition
If Native American jewelry pieces are are of interest for either buying or collecting, become familiar with them. Visit museums to study the various forms, materials, tribal affiliations and designs. Go to art shows that showcase American Indian jewelry and artisans. Antique shows are also a good venue - go through the booths of vendors selling these items. If they are passionate about what they have, they will answer your questions. And, of course, inter-tribal powwows are excellent venues to look and ask.
You can also go the The Indian Arts and Crafts Association for a listing of registered and certified Native American Artisans.
Above all, any art form being marketed as a genuine Native American handcrafted item must legally be just that. The spirit of the law is that any artwork or craft fashioned by a Native American, the artisan must be a member of an Indian Tribe, and their membership has been verified and certified.
These Native American jewelry artisans and all Indian artisans are practicing their art perhaps as a livelihood. And, through their art, they are keeping their culture, history and spirituality alive.