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December 24, 2006

Native American Jewelry

Posted in: Jewelry

If you’re shopping for some original gift, why not look at some native american jewelry: success guaranteed! Most people don’t know anything about the rich symbolic value of this ancient jewelry, but nevertheless they enjoy the beauty and originality of the artwork… Native American jewelry occupies a distinct place in the world of jewelry. We’re all familiar with the beautiful silver and turquoise rings and necklaces, with their often ornate and intricate designs. Perhaps not so many of us are aware of the rich history, symbolism and traditions inherent in Native American jewelry, practiced to this day by Native artisans.

Most of the Native American jewelry we find on the market today comes from the American southwest, the predominant source of turquoise in what is now the United States.

Archaeologists have unearthed turquoise used in necklaces and earrings dating back to about 200 B.C.  Although other tribes, such as the Apache and Pueblo were indigenous prior to the Navajo, it was mainly the Navajo who developed the art of Native American jewelry.

The Spanish and the Pueblo tribe were influential in Navajo designs. The ornate and intricate Moorish patterns and designs were incorporated into elaborate Navajo interpretations. Spanish designs of the pomegranate blossom were eagerly interpreted by the Navajo, eventually resulting in the squash blossom necklace.

The Navajo valued shapes and designs of the Spanish-Moorish influence, but only for the visual aspect. The original meanings of the Moorish crescent and pomegranate blossom had no significance in the resulting Navajo jewelry.

It was not until around 1850 that silver smithing entered the venue of Native American jewelry. Mexican silversmiths traded silver and techniques with the Navajo and Pueblo. Mexican silver coins became the favored source of silver in the making of jewelry items. New types and styles of jewelry were devised, including rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets and hair ornaments. The famous concho belts were another result of the exchange between cultures.

Soon, the crafting of Native American jewelry spread across the southwest. The Zuni and Hopi tribes developed distinctive slants on their new knowledge. The Zuni were particularly skilled in working gems and stones, using silver in their designs in ways the Navajo and Pueblo did not.

The Hopi also used their symbols and designs to produce a genre that was distinctive to their culture, incorporating pottery designs of birds, animals and tribal symbols dating to the 15th century.

For some time, turquoise was the most widely-used stone in all Native American jewelry, probably due to the fact that it was plentiful in the southwest and the symbolism of the stone to each tribe. All the tribes attributed different meanings and powers to turquoise, but was revered by all.

Eventually, gold work was integrated into the store of materials used in the making of Native American jewelry.  Other non-traditional materials, especially stones such as coral and gaspeite and mother-of-pearl soon became popular additions to the lapidaries work box.

Today, Native American jewelry as an art transcends individual tribes, making identification of a piece as Navajo or Hopi difficult. Tribal artists integrate symbols, designs and techniques into a synthesis of many tribes, becoming individual and masterful works of art, commonly known as Native American jewelry.

 


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