The History of Native American Jewelry


If you’re a fan of my blog and like Native American jewelry, you’ve probably noticed some drastic differences in style, material, and technique that go into many of the pieces that you see. Each tribe has their own philosophy on how they should approach art and, to a further extent, jewelry. The techniques used for their beliefs and values within the community. Some may use symbolism in their jewelry to honor nature, while others incorporate silver working techniques simply because their family has passed down the tradition since they were first taught by Spanish smiths who taught Natives those techniques hundreds of years prior.The History of Native American Jewelry

Native American jewelry is the product of thousands of years of a rich and vibrant culture. Sometimes the styles used are as old as the tribe itself and sometimes they incorporate new techniques from other cultures that have made the journey over, leaving a new method for stonecutting or silverwork behind them. Regardless of the history, the result is always beautiful. To truly admire the work that goes into modern Native American jewelry, it’s important to understand their past and why their art is an important part of their cultural identity.

Ancient Native American Jewelry- Some of the earliest examples of Native American jewelry has been found in Pueblo, Zuni, and Hopi culture. The techniques used by these tribes, prior to Europeans arriving, was typically the use of overlay and inlay metalwork that was done through simple hammering and pounding. There are examples of rudimentary beaded necklaces that go back thousands of years but strictly talking about modern jewelry techniques, these were the methods used hundreds of years before the settlers came to this land.

Beaded Jewelry– This is the oldest example of Native American jewelry and stretches back thousands of years. Tribes have used many different stones, gems, and even bone to create intricate necklaces and bracelets, often sticking to using only materials from nature to create these pieces.

SilverSmithing– Silver work is actually a relatively new practice within Native American culture, however, it quickly gained popularity and is recognized as one of the primary examples of Native American jewelry. Silversmithing is largely contributed to the Spanish when they came to America and traded with the Native tribes, in turn, teaching them this beautiful craft. Native American artisans incorporate the various overlay and inlay techniques to produce pieces that pay tribute to Native culture and belief.

Turquoise Jewelry– Many people find themselves asking why turquoise is so prevalent in Native American jewelry. The answer is pretty simple. It was just a beautiful stone that could be found in abundance in the southwest region of the country. Since many tribes adhered to the idea that their art should reflect nature and only use natural elements, turquoise was the perfect choice for their pieces and remains so even today.

There is also a lot of mysticism surrounding the stone because of its unique blue hue. Although the beliefs vary from tribe to tribe, many thought that the stone represented life with its blue glow of water. Some even believed that tossing these stones in the river would bring the rain. The Navajo consider the stone to be a general charm of good luck as well.

Native American art and jewelry continues to evolve. Knowing the history and context of their jewelry and beliefs make the pieces even more vibrant and important, they carry meaning beyond just their price tag and continue to become a driving force in the fashion industry as well.

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