Native American Jewellery

The American-Indians have long been famous for their jewellery and the Native American jewellery dates back to as early as the prehistoric age. Turquoise is the most widely used stone in American-Indian jewellery designs and is often combined with silver and other stones to give magnificent effects.

American Indian jewellery has not only occupied a position of pride in the American history but it is inseparably linked with your latest fashion trends. Better to categorize them under vintage jewellery.

Native Americans have been making jewellery for a long time now and historical excavations have revealed some pieces that were manufactured around 900 B.C. According to the archaeologists, the American Indians did not only use jewellery for wearing but it also served as an important item for trade and commerce. As a result of the trade, the styles and designs of Native American jewellery started spreading far and wide and hence the different tribes started adopting each-others’ skills and techniques.

Among the tribes, the Navajos had a very early start in silversmithing. In the 15th century they took up the initiative of spreading jewellery-making styles in other southwestern Native American tribes. They were also in constant touch with the Spanish people who taught the Pueblos the art of silversmithing. The Native American jewellery soon picked up the designs of the Moorish Najas of Spain and the Christian crosses.

In 1872, the Navajos taught the craft of silver jewellery to the Zuni who in turn taught the Hopi. In 1880, the Navajos first started combining Turquoise with silver and after this, metal jewellery art flourished in south like never before. Distinctive jewellery like squash blossom necklace, Hopi silver overlay bracelets and Navajo turquoise inlay rings emerged from the fusion of the modern techniques with traditional designs. Soldering was first used in native jewellery, only in the 19th century.

jewellery styles vary from one American Indian tribe to another, have several commonalities too owing to the ubiquitous materials (beads, shells, copper, silver, turquoise, etc) and inter-tribal exchanges of techniques. Colonization did not thwart the art of jewellery making. Instead, it became more improved by imbibing new materials (like glass beads) and new techniques (advanced metalwork). Out of metal work and beadwork, metalwork developed more in the post colonization period.

Beadwork was already in an advanced stage from pre-colonization era and involved works of precision like grinding of turquoise, coral and shell beads into Heishi necklaces, artistic carvings of wood and boneheads, soaking and cutting of porcupine quills, intricate stitching of several beads, etc. Nowadays, Czech seed beads are also widely used.

Among the stones, turquoise was widely used in Native American jewellery and was believed to bring good luck to the wearer. It is being used in Indian jewellery for more than 2000 years and the Zuni tribe believed that the blue turquoise representing the sky was male and the green representing the earth was female. Other stones used in Native American jewellery included Coral, sugilite, gaspeite, charoite and garnet.

Native American jewellery also include – turquoise chandelier earrings, concho belts, sterling silver jewellery, money clips, turquoise necklaces, lighters made of silver and turquoise. You can shop for these items (with a little prior knowledge) from websites or from established dealers. For the latter, it’s advisable to obtain a receipt containing all the details.

So what are you waiting for? Buy your own choice of Native American jewellery and make yourself look “distinct”.

Joseph Paige 2006

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