Distinctive, Unique, One of a Kind
Distinctive, Unique, One of a Kind
The Navajo, or Diné, began working silver in the 19th century. The Navajo make buckles, bridles, buttons, rings, canteens, hollow beads, earrings, crescent-shaped pendants (called "najas"), bracelets, crosses, powder chargers, tobacco canteens, and disks, known as "conchas" used to decorate belts, from copper, steel, iron and, most commonly, silver.
Early Navajo smiths engraved, stamped, and filed designs into plain silver melted from coins, flatware, and ingots. Later, sheet silver and wire acquired from European-American traders were also made into jewelry. The punches and stamps used by Mexican leather workers became the first tools used to create these decorations. Still later, railroad spurs, broken files, iron scraps and, later, piston rods became hand-made stamps in the hands of these skilled artisans. As commercially made stamps became available through contact with the larger American economy, they were used. Several other tools are employed and are simple to construct.
Turquoise is closely associated with Navajo jewelry, but it was not until 1880 that the first turquoise was known to be set in silver. Turquoise became much more readily available in ensuing decades. Coral and other semi-precious stones became common in 1900.
One of the most important forms of Navajo, and Native American, jewelry is the Squash Blossom Necklace. Most are made of a string of plain round silver beads, interspersed with more stylized "squash blossoms", and feature a pendant, or "naja", hung from the center of the strand. The squash blossom beads are copied from the buttons which held together the pants worn by Spanish and, later, Mexican cowboys. These buttons represent and are modeled after pomegranates. Their identification as "squash blossoms", which they closely resemble, is an understandable, and oft repeated, mistake. The naja, which resembles an upside down horse shoe, completes the design. Their origin can be found a continent, and several millennia away, as part of Spanish horse halters.
Silversmiths dominate the production of jewelry centered in the Four Corners region of the American Southwest. Early in the 1800's, Spanish and, later, Mexican, silver buttons, bridles, etc. became available in what is now Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and, Utah through acquisition and trade. Navajo (Diné) artists began working silver in the 1850s after learning the art from Mexican smiths. The Zuni, who admired the silver jewelry made by Navajo smiths, traded livestock for instruction in working silver. By 1890, Zuni smiths had instructed the Hopi as well.
Most Navajo silversmiths come from a long line of silversmiths in their family, for this is a time honored trade that is past down from generation to generation. Many of the artists today, both men and woman, produce jewelry which is better classified as art that is worthy of display in museums.
The centuries old art of lapidary, preserved by clan and family tradition, remains an important element of design. Stone on stone mosaic inlay, channel inlay, cluster work, petite point, needle point, and natural cut or smoothed and polished cabochons fashioned from shells, coral, semi-precious and precious gems commonly decorate these works of art with blue or green turquoise being the most common and recognizable material used.
Today, Navajo Jewelry is still in vogue and in high demand as well. People throughout the world appreciate Navajo Jewelry and come to the Southwest to buy Silver and Turquoise Jewelry.