|Native American Jewelry Making
Photos Courtesy of Denver Museum Digital Archive & Library
American Indian jewelry is known throughout the
world for its use of sterling silver and turquoise,
a combination appreciated, worn and collected
for more than one hundred years. Turquoise holds
a special allure in the Southwest where it was
also linked to maize and status. Below A Navajo
Native American warrior proudlywears a silver
and turquoise Indian necklace, 1890.
|American Indian Jewelry has been found in excavations of prehistoric ruins. Bead making is an
ancient craft. Bead necklaces are often called heishe, (see heishe necklace above right), from the
Santo Domingo word for shell. Seashells are commonly used to make beads. Oyster Shell, Mother of
Pearl, Abalone, Conch and Clam have been important trade items in the Southwest for over 1,000
American Indians are known worldwide for their beautiful turquoise jewelry, which usually includes
silver, especially the Navajo. See 1900
"squash blossom" Indian necklace below left,
and a Navajo Indian silversmith at work
in 1900 below right.
Squash Blossom Necklace 1900.
Buy Squash Blossom Necklaces
Native beadwork was already extremely
advanced in pre-Columbian times, including
the fine grinding of turquoise, coral, and
shell beads into smooth heishi necklaces,
the delicate carving of individual wood and
bone beads, the soaking and piecing of Navajo Indian Silversmith in 1900.
porcupine quills, and the intricate stitching
of thousands of beads together.
However, the use of tiny glass seed beads that are popularly associated with American Indians, was
not introduced into jewelry making until the 19th century. Seagoing fur traders appeared on the
Oregon and Washington coasts and began trading glass seed beads to various tribes, who
incorporated them into their jewelry and clothing designs.
Imported Czech seed beads have been the favored medium among many Indian artists for centuries
now, as shown in the jewelry pendant above.
Most Native American Indian tribes use Sterling Silver in their jewelry making, but it was not
introduced until the 1800s. Hopi and Pueblo artists learned silver-making from the Spanish making
silver Indian jewelry blossoms in the Southwest.
Sterling Silver is 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent copper. Silver is very soft so copper is added
which makes it malleable.
Many southwest Indian tribes have been making bead jewelry since ancient times, using the natural
elements around them, such as seashells, turquoise, jet and coral.
Native American Indian jewelry making skills are taught from one generation to the next and
families take pride in continuing the traditions of excellence and a sense of pride in themselves,
their Indian culture, and fostering American Indian tribal identity.
Interested in Sacagawea? She was the American Indian Interpreter for the Lewis and Clark
Expedition into the Northwest. This is a great site which uses original diaries and journals
written during their trip: http://bonniebutterfield.com/NativeAmericans.html