Native American Jewelry

Native American Jewelry
When discussing Native American Jewelry what typically jumps to mind is lovely blue green turquoise and silver! Did you know many other natural stones were employed by these artists of the Midwest? Coral, Sugilite, Charoite and Gaspeite are beautiful alternative stones. Although one thinks mostly of silver when conjuring images of this jewelry the truth is that most pieces were made from German silver (alloy containing copper, zinc and nickel), brass and copper much more frequently than silver. It was only in the mid 1800’s that silver became the element of choice.


Many Indian tribes have had part in forming the Native American Jewelry genre to which we are most familiar. Hopi, Pueblo, Navajo and Apache tribes all factor predominantly. Beaded necklaces were a symbol of honor; embellished “ketoh” were worn for functionality as well as for personal adornment. A ketoh (pronounced "gato") is a bow guard. The Navajo made and used the ketoh (sometimes called a wrist guard) as a form of protection for the wrist used when the men were hunting game. The ketoh kept a bow string from hitting against the wrist when an arrow was shot from the bow.

The Navajo, after being captured and brought to Fort Sumner in New Mexico did not take to becoming farmers as the US Government had hoped. They were released to their “Dinetah” or Four Corners area in 1868. It is at this time that Atsidi Sani is credited with becoming the first Navajo silversmith. Sani was a leader, spokesman and medicine man of his tribe.

It is believed that around 1880 that the Navajo combined silver and turquoise by using glue or other means. Many Navajo silversmiths would receive items such as tea pots, coins and candlesticks to melt down and use for jewelry designs. It was shortly after that soldering skills were learned and developed. Later smiths also made earrings, buckles, bolos, hair ornaments and pins. Turquoise has been used with jewelry by the Navajo for hundreds of years, but they did not use turquoise inlay, in silver, until the past century


These new skills were taught to other tribes such as the Zuni who were expert lapidaries hence the birth of channel inlay jewelry. Even today, this history meshes with the artist dawning wonderful pieces that transcend any one tribal style. Still affordable, made by hand and loaded with history this jewelry has a worldwide style and appeal.

To those new to collecting this jewelry, there is a non-profit organization called Indian Arts and Crafts Association (IACA) that work to promote authentic North American arts and crafts through public education and through common standards for the industry.

For more info contact:
Indian Arts and Crafts Association
4010 Carlisle NE, Suite C
Albuquerque NM 87107


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