Southwestern Native American jewelry refers to Native jewelry from the American Southwest, which encompasses the following states:
- New Mexico
Southwestern jewelry can be classified based on Native American tribes, with the most well-known jewelry originating from the following tribes:
- Santo Domingo Pueblo (Kewa)
Authentic Hopi Jewelry
Traditional Hopi jewelry typically features sterling silver with minimal use of gemstones. The artists often utilize the overlay technique, where they cut intricate designs into a flat sheet of silver and then solder it onto a textured and darkened bottom layer. This allows them to create stunning depictions of landscapes and spiritual motifs.
Hopi jewelry frequently features depictions of animals, crops, and the spirit realm.
Authentic Navajo Jewelry
Authentic traditional Navajo jewelry often incorporates coral, which symbolizes female energy in contrast to turquoise’s representation of male energy.
The Navajo tribe was the first to learn the art of silversmithing, resulting in a wide variety of authentic Navajo jewelry that remains popular today. Some popular types of Navajo jewelry include:
- Constructed pieces involve the cutting and shaping of flat silver, followed by stamping or engraving, to create a backdrop for turquoise stones.
- Sandcasting is a silversmithing technique in which silver is poured into a design and then hand-carved.
- In the process of tufa casting, silver is poured into a mold made from volcanic stone known as tufa that has been carved into the desired design.
- Silver beads, also known as Navajo pearls, are created by reshaping two flat silver discs into domes and then joining them together to form a single bead.
- A concho belt is a silver belt decoration that is typically worn loosely on the hips over clothing layers.
- A squash blossom necklace typically features a Naja ornament, a design influenced by Spanish conquistadores. Handmade silver beads as well as flared silver designs resembling squash blossoms surround the central piece.
Kewa (Santo Domingo Pueblo Jewelry
Kewa (Santo Domingo) Jewelry is known for its mosaic designs and handmade stone and shell beads.
Native American artists from the Kewa Pueblo use traditional techniques to create jewelry, such as cutting beads from stones and shells, then drilling them to be strung on single or multi-strand necklaces. Small beads are often called heishi.
Traditional heishi beads are typically smooth flat discs, but nowadays the term is often used to describe rounded beadwork as well. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find true handmade heishi beads due to the extensive labor required, which can take up to two weeks to create a single strand.
To create genuine Native American heishi beads for a necklace, the artist must:
- Cut the shell or gemstone into strips.
- Cut the strips into small squares.
- Drill the squares.
- Thread the unshaped beads onto the wire.
- The beads are then ground and shaped using a stone wheel.
- To polish the necklace, friction from a leather belt is used. Traditional jewelry of this type typically consists of beads that are no more than an eighth of an inch long and are polished on a wheel to achieve a uniform size and appearance. It is a challenging task.
- Traditional jewelry of this type typically utilizes beads that are less than one eighth of an inch in length, which are then meticulously polished on a wheel to achieve a uniform size and appearance. This process results in attractive designs that reflect the maker’s peronal style and many hours of their time.
Contemporary heishi jewelry incorporates various materials in addition to shell and coral.
- Lapis lazuli
Authentic heishi necklaces are known for their smooth texture, which indicates higher quality and value. Kewa artists also pioneered a form of inlay. In this technique, cut-down gemstones and shells are attached to a base made of gemstone, shell, or wood to create a mosaic.
Artists in Santo Domingo create necklaces, that feature Thunderbird designs, which originated in the early 20th century. Thunderbird necklaces made from found materials combined with turquoise and gypsum are one of Kewa’s best known creations from the Great Depression era.
Authentic Zuni Jewelry
In contrast to the Hopi, Zuni jewelry focuses primarily on lapidary work. This involves cutting the stone into small and precise shapes to be placed in intricate designs.
Zuni artists showcase their jewelry with different techniques, demonstrating their talent in lapidary work.
- In a cluster, there is a large central stone that is surrounded by smaller gemstones.
- Petit point refers to small stones that can be round, oval, rectangular, or square.
- Needlepoint jewelry consists of extremely thin stones that have been cut to the size of rice granules.
- In stone-to-stone inlay, stones are placed directly adjacent to each other.
- In channel inlay, the stones are separated by metal materials.
Traditional Zuni jewelry incorporates the use of various materials.
- Red coral
- Black jet
- Mother of pearl
Animal fetishes are commonly made into necklaces by Zuni artists. Genuine Zuni work has been copied by overseas manufacturers, making it especially important to purchase work either directly from Zuni artists or from trusted dealers.
Southwestern Turquoise Jewelry
Turquoise in Southwestern Native American jewelry has a long history, dating back thousands of years. The highest quality Southwestern turquoise jewelry is made from all-natural turquoise stones.
- Bisbee turquoise, sourced from a mine that has been closed for over three decades, is known for its blue color with a brownish-red spiderweb matrix, making it a rare gem.
- The color is a combination of blue with a brownish-red spiderweb matrix.
- Kingman Turquoise is a prehistoric turquoise mine that is believed to have supplied much of the turquoise used in Native American jewelry over the years. It is known for its bright blue and green colors, as well as its silver and black matrixes.
- Morenci is a type of turquoise with a swirling quartz and pyrite matrix that resembles silver when polished. It is no longer being mined and comes in a range of light to dark blue shades. Like many of the historic turquoise mines, the Morenci mine is no longer in operation.
- Sleeping Beauty is a turquoise mined from Globe, Arizona. The mountain has a shape resembling a woman lying down with her arms crossed, which gave it the name. It is known for its bright blue color and minimal matrix, and is often used in Zuni jewelry.
During the 1800s, Native American artists were introduced to silversmithing by Mexican silversmiths and started creating silver and turquoise jewelry, which remains popular to this day.
Southwestern Coral Jewelry
Sterling silver and turquoise are commonly used materials in Southwestern Native American jewelry. However, this was not always the case. Spanish travelers introduced coral to Native American jewelry-makers, who previously used spiny oyster shells and other materials brought by coastal tribes. Coral quickly became popular and was set in silver.
The evolution of contemporary Native American jewelry is a positive reflection of the changing world. As artists are increasingly influenced by outside sources, Native American jewelry absorbs these influences while maintaining its indigenous American roots.
Despite the challenges faced during the Great Depression, new and beautiful forms of expressive jewelry emerged. Change is essential for growth, and the ability to combine new ideas with traditional elements has helped Southwestern Native American jewelry thrive and maintain a connection to ancestral roots.
Native American jewelry remains a vibrant field, with artists combining ancient traditions with contemporary techniques and designs. Purchasing authentic Native American jewelry helps to keep traditions alive and provides many Native American people with a stable livelihood.