Native American Jewelry History

Native American Jewelry is made by many tribes in North America. Although the materials used by all of them are similar, there are some distinct design features that differentiate them from each other. The Navajo tribe creates the most often known. However, the Hopi and Zuni tribes also create popular jewelry.



Hopi Jewelry:

Sterling silver is their favorite metal. The Hopi Tribe makes beautiful rings for all needs. The intricate designs they use are made by soldering silver designs and overlay them over a silver background. The work is then processed according to ancient traditions to create a contrast between layers.

Zuni Jewelry:

Their designs involve inlay techniques over silver. The Zuni Tribe also makes beautiful rings of all kinds. They work with turquoise, coral and seashell. Meticulous in their designs, Zuni jewelry is fine workmanship.

Navajo Jewelry:

Stamping over silver is their best-known work. The Navajo Tribe makes the most popular Native American Jewelry. They make rings set with Turquoise, Coral, Lapis and other gemstones. The Navajos have been the masters at jewelry making and reflect their expertise among the other tribes.

The Navajos acquired their jewelry making abilities from the Spanish conquistadors back in the 16th century. Navajos learned to make rings, necklaces, and earrings. Eventually, the Navajo extended their expertise in design jewelry to belt buckles, bracelets and even key chains, a growing popularity. The old design ways can still be found in traditional pieces. The influence of the Spaniards can sometimes be reflected in the Navajo design with images of pomegranates, handed down to the Spanish by their own experience with the Arab moors.

The relationship the Navajos and the Spaniards had together became complex and intertwining. Trading became a big factor. The Spanish valued Navajo jewelry and traded for it with supplies and other goods, such as pots and silverware. Examples of cross-cultural inflections that the Navajos used from the Spanish incorporate the Christian cross and Islam’s crescent. 

Around the 1800s, when modern silver smelting methods were found, the Navajos increased their silver jewelry manufacturing. Silver came from many sources, but the most common was from Spanish and Mexican silver coins. Anything with silver would do. Indians began to make silver jewelry out of nacre shells. They made rings, bracelets, necklaces and other miscellaneous pieces. Other Indian tribes learned the Navajo way.

As trade increased, so did the relationship between Navajos and the Mexicans. Called Plateros, Spanish for silversmith, the Mexicans had additional influence on Navajo jewelry designs. This influence is reflected in today’s Indian creations.

As modern times approached, the customer market and competition among tribes for Jewelry sales increased. Many tribes began to offer jewelry made out of copper, brass and iron. Each tribe developed its own style.

With the advent of technology and modern jewelry making methods, Native American Indians have become models of industry growth, sharing their living tradition and contributing their ancient inheritance with a grateful world. The years do not tarnish their history, and the brilliance of their handiwork lives on.

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