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The Most Celebrated Jewelry-Making Tribes

Though it could be viewed as a competitive race for ideas, traditional Native American jewelry making was always considered a sacred artform first and never a contest. The following Native American tribes will forever be noted for their significant contributions.

Navajo Jewelry Makers

Navajo jewelry makers were among the first to fashion turquoise with silver. Navajo silversmith Atsidi Sani is credited as the first Native American jewelry maker to learn how to smith silver, and he shared his knowledge with his four sons, who in turn passed the tradition onto other tribes. Authentic Navajo silver jewelry is plain, clean, and marked by a special stamped or punched decoration.

Popular Navajo jewelry includes squash blossom petal beads, sandcast jewelry, and naja pendants.

Zuni Jewelry Makers

Zuni jewelry makers are well-known for their silversmithing and lapidary expertise. Keneshde is believed to be the first Zuni tribesman to set turquoise on silver around 1890, though the Navajo are thought to have done this long before. In fact, Navajos and Zunis were often known to work together, Navajos doing the silversmithing, and Zunis setting the turquoise stones in place – a fine example of cultural teamwork.   

Traditionally, Zuni jewelers were particularly known for intricate inlay, often featuring birds, animals, or mythical figures.

Hopi Jewelry Makers

Early Hopi jewelry makers created jewelry from bone, seeds, shells, and turquoise. They were among the last of the Southwestern tribes to learn of silversmithing some twenty years after the others due to their remote location. They primarily used copper until this time.

Starting in the 1930s, Hopi jewelry makers became masters of the overlay technique, which oxidizes the bottom silver layer to turn it black, in contrast with a polished top silver layer with intricately carved designs.

Alaskan Native Jewelry Makers

Alaskan Native jewelry uses beads, shells, copper, silver, amber, ivory, turquoise, and other stones (all major trade items at the time). When Europeans began to arrive, Alaskan Native jewelry added glass beads and advanced metalworking methods to their multi-talented jewelry-making arsenal.

Home & Away Gallery primarily focus on Alaskan Native jewelry made of walrus tusk, which is known to sometimes slightly darken over time, though pieces can also involve mammoth and mastodon ivory. Native Alaskan ivory jewelry can usually be traced back to its respective species using advanced natural ivory identification techniques.

Contact Us with Your Questions About Native American Jewelry

If you have any questions about Native American jewelry and its history, we would love to hear from you. Consulting in-person and over the phone is one of the many services we offer to our customers. If you are considering a piece or two of Native American jewelry and would like to discuss any aspect, please call us at (207) 967-2122, or stop in at Home & Away Gallery located in Kennebunkport, Maine.