Native American Jewelry
"Indian Jewelry" is a term that brings to mind the silver and turquoise jewelry of the Navajo and Pueblo Indians of the American Southwest. Crafts people from the Navajo, Zuni, Hopi and Santo Domingo tribes have gained a worldwide reputation for the unique jewelry.In addition to the pieces fashioned by these people, many fine examples of jewelry are also created by members of other Indian tribes. Southwestern Indians have worn jewelry made from pieces of shell, turquoise and other materials for centuries.
Navajo Indian Jewelry
The jewelry we think of as "Indian" began to evolve about 100 years ago.The Navajo were the first to produce jewelry that required the working of metal.Their love of metal working can be traced to the Spanish arrival in the Southwest. The major characteristic of Navajo jewelry today is the emphasis on metal work. The Navajo jewelry is designed to fit the stones. Stamp work, leaves and feathers fashioned of sterling silver are used to accent turquoise and other stones.
Zuni Indian Jewelry
The Zuni Indians learned to silversmith from the Navajo in the early 1870's.The Zuni Indians, because they had permanent homes unlike the nomadic Navajo Indians, were able to use many tools that the Navajo could not easily carry with them. Using the lapidary wheels they began cutting stones and using the silver to hold their stones in patterns. Today, Zuni silversmiths are known for their lapidary skills. Channel inlay (using precisely cut stones set on silver to form figures and designs), cluster and needlepoint (setting small, similarly cut stones in geometric patterns) are traditional Zuni jewelry styles. Their beautiful jewelry is known worldwide by these traditional Native American Styles.
Hopi Indian Jewelry
The first Hopi Indian silversmiths apparently learned the craft from a Zuni Indian silversmith. A regular trade route existed between the two Pueblos. Hopi Indian jewelry is most often made without stones.They use a technique known as overlay. A design is cut out of one sheet of silver and then soldered to another sheet as backing. The depressions create designs which are darkened. The silver is then bent into the form of the piece of jewelry desired, a bracelet for example. The outer layer of the piece is then polished, leaving the design dark. Animals play a large part in the Hopi religion and animal-like designs and ancient pottery designs are typical themes in Hopi Indian Jewelry.
Santo Domingo Indian Jewelry
The Santo Domingo people do little metalworking. For centuries, they have fashioned necklaces of stone, shell and wood. Today, modern equipment has made the working of these same materials a fine art form. Their jewelry is characterized by the making of round beads from turquoise, coral, shell and other materials which are strung together into strands for necklaces and earrings. The most common beads are called heishi (he-she). These are disks or tubes with a hole in the center. They are strung together to form a flexible strand and are often of graduated size. It is not uncommon to fid pieces of coral or turquoise nuggets strung with the heishi, or simply a strand of polished turquoise nuggets.
Native American Indians from the Navajo Indian, Zuni Indian and Santo Domingo Tribes make beautiful Jewelry using Turquoise Stones that come from various mines in the American Southwest. Southwest turquoise mines are located in Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. The mines have names and the turquoise is referred to by the name of the mine. An example would be Sleeping Beauty Turquoise. Some mines are still active. Other mines have been closed due to the supply of turquoise being depleted. Some mines were closed due to the discovery of gold.
The Sleeping Beauty Turquoise mine is located in Gila County, Arizona. Sleeping Beauty Turquoise has recently closed. It is now obtained from private stashes. The turquoise mine produces uniform blue turquoise that is easily matched and used in many styles of Native American Jewelry including Zuni needlepoint and inlay pieces.
The Number 8 Turquoise mine is located in Eureka County, Nevada. It was discovered in 1925 and first mined in 1929. The mine was closed due to the discovery of gold in 1976 when the Newton Gold Company claimed the area. It has a personality of its own with golden brown to black distinctive spider web matrix and unique bright powder blue and green background. It is used by Navajo Indians in making a variety of Native American Jewelry.
The Boulder Turquoise mine is located in northeast Nevada. Nevada has been an important source of turquoise since prehistoric time. The majority of known deposits lay in a belt that trends north-northeasterly across the central part of Nevada from Mineral and Esmeralda Counties on the south to Elko County on the north. This belt coincides with a zone of strong tectonic activity that occurred in late Debonian and Mississippian times. Host rocks for the deposits are lime stone, shale, chert, intrusive bodies or metamorphosed volcanic and sedimentary rocks. Turquoise normally forms narrow veinlets or small nodules along altered zones in host rock, but on rare occasions large slabs and nodules have been recovered. You can easily identify these narrow veinlets in the Boulder Turquoise surrounded by the host rock. Production from the property has been small due to the limited amount of time allowed to mine due to the remote location and winter weather conditions.
The Sunnyside Turquoise mine is located near the town of Tuscaroa in the Tuscaroa mountain range in the northeast part of Nevada. The mine is no longer in operation as it has become part of a gold mining operation and a privately owned ranch. A considerable quantity of Sunnyside Turquoise was shipped from the property for several years in the 70's to Arizona and New Mexico, where it has become part of the well known turquoise and silver jewelry collection sold by the Native American Indian Tribes in these areas. A spider web matrix of colors ranging from golden brown to black set off the unique color of the stone. Part of the turquoise is fairly dark blue and very hard. A little greenish blue color is also found in a dark jasperiod. Beautiful green and green/blue colors are also found. Turquoise from this mine is rarely seen today.
The Dry Creek Turquoise mine is located near Battle Mountain, Nevada. Dry Creek Turquoise is a natural stone and has not been treated with any process to change the color and/or the hardness of the natural material of the stone. To date, no other vein of the Turquoise has been discovered anywhere else other than at Dry Creek and when this vein runs out, that will be the last of it. Because this turquoise is as rare as the sacred buffalo, the Indians call it "Sacred Buffalo Turquoise".
So many geological chains of events must synchronize to create just one thin vein of turquoise that the mineral can rightly be envisioned as a fluke of nature. Turquoise is the rare and improbable product of an incalculable number of chemical and physical processes that must take place in the right combination and proper environment over a time span of hundreds of thousands - if not millions - of years.
We have listed just a few of the types of Turquoise that are used by the Native Americans in making their beautiful jewelry. We find the information on Turquoise mines fascinating and hope you enjoy it too. By Donna Bunnell