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5 Elements of Native American Jewelry

Published by Caracol By Elizabeth Paul on 23rd Oct 2020

There is a magnificent – some would say enchanting – history surrounding Native American Indian jewelry.

Tribal jewelry making dates back to 8000 B.C. and has been passed down from generation to generation among Native American tribes located across the entire country.

The term Native American jewelry refers to any accessory created for adornment, whether for ceremonies, personal use, to sell, for trade, or to display as art. Each piece must be crafted authentically by the Indigenous peoples of the United States. The jewelry reflects cultural diversity and history, but tribal groups have often borrowed designs and methods from neighboring nations. Examples of Native American jewelry include necklaces, earrings, bracelets, rings, and pins, ketohs (large forearm cuffs), wampum (shell beads), and labrets (ornamental lip plugs).

Native American jewelry can be made from naturally occurring materials or man-made materials like beadwork and quillwork. Contemporary Native American jewelry ranges from hand-quarried and processed stones and shells to computer-fabricated steel and titanium jewelry. There are certain characteristics that provide the details, design, and aesthetics for Native American jewelry. Below are just five of the many stunning elements that define the jewelry and make it immediately recognizable.

Turquoise

Besides its lovely appearance, it is also one of the oldest stones used in jewelry. Native American jewelry makers prize this stone above all others. It is often called the “fallen sky stone” and is thought to be a source of protection. Turquoise is the most frequently used stone in Native American jewelry.

Sterling Silver

Sterling silver is a hallmark of Native American jewelry. The Navajo were the first tribe to incorporate silver into their jewelry, but it quickly spread to other tribes. Native Americans did not have their own source of silver. Instead, they melted down things like coins and teapots. As the use of silver spread, artists began to develop and refine their unique techniques to create the various styles of Native American sterling silver jewelry. Today, silver is one of the most recognizable aspects of Native American jewelry.

Cuffs

The cuff bracelet is a way to adorn the wrist with detailed designs and gemstones. Some standout as bold wrist pieces, while others feature more subtle and delicate designs. It is a wonderful platform for craftsmen to display intricate designs and incorporating a variety of material into a meaningful piece.

Stones

From agate to zebra stone, you can see the creative use of colorful gemstones in Native American jewelry. The stones often carry meaning for the cultural history of the tribal artisan, as well as carry meaning for the wearer.

We have an entire collection of Native American jewelry, crafted from artisans with their own special cultural histories, which they share through their own designs. While most current jewelry pieces are of southwestern origin, there is no doubt that Native American jewelry will always be appealing to lovers of accessories everywhere.