History of Native American Jewelry

History of Native American Jewelry

A history of Native American jewelry is an article that, I thought,  might prove to be quite an interesting change.

We all know that beautifying oneself and the use of jewelry has been around since the prehistoric times. Bead making and bead necklaces called heishe, which have been derived from the Santo Domingo word for shell, have been used for ages. Shells like the spiny oyster shell, mother of pearl, abalone, conch and clam have been used in bead making and have been considered important trade items of the southwest for more than thousand years.

The use of silver in Native American jewelry is not an old concept. It has been used since the early 1850s, when the Mexican silversmiths had to trade their silver trinkets for the cattle from the Navajo. The Navajo blacksmiths then in turn exchanged their skill of silver making with the Zuni Indians for livestock. The Hopi tribe then picked up the art of silver making from the Zuni in the 1890s. It is important to note that the Native Americans in no way were linked with mining of the silver.

The styles of jewelry used by the Native American Indians:

Each Native American Indian tribe has its own distinct style. Do not be confused by jewelry that is claimed to be Native American Indian but does not have the Navajo, Zuni, Hopi or Santo Domingo styles. The Zuni Indian jewelry includes styles and techniques such as mosaic, channel inlay, cluster, needlepoint and petit point. These techniques involve the use of a variety of stones and shells.

The Navajo Indian jewelers are well known for their popular squash blossom necklaces. These jewelry artists are known to use pieces of turquoise, coral and other semi-precious stones and then these are surrounded by scrolls, beads and leaf patterns set in sterling silver. Did you know that most of the Native American jewelry produced is made by the Navajos? Their jewelry is the most popular because of the use of sterling silver and stones like coral and turquoise.

The overlay technique is the distinct style of the Hopi Indian Silversmiths. This is the technique that is used involving the setting stones in jewelry making. One sheet of silver has the design etched out and then it is soldered or overlaid onto the second sheet. The background is given a darker touch via oxidizing and the top layer is polished.

Bead jewelry is popular among the Santo Domingo Indians and they have been making this kind of jewelry for centuries. They use seashells, turquoise, jet and coral stones in their jewelry. As mentioned before, the jewelry is all made with sterling silver, which is normally a mix of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. And the reason copper is added to the mix is because silver is very soft and the copper gives it more strength to develop different shapes and textures.

Southwest America is a great place to find great Native American Indian jewelry. The Navajo tribe is in Arizona and New Mexico and can be easily called the largest Native American Indian reservation. The Hopi tribe is also in Arizona, whereas the Santo Domingo and Zuni Pueblo are in New Mexico.

The skills and art of Native American Indian jewelry making is passed down generations and is quite coveted. Now there are schools that teach these skills to people who want to learn. Native American Indian Jewelry is a great way to make a bold style statement.

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