Southwest Native American Jewelry

Silverwork is a relatively new trade among Southwest Native Americans, adopted from the Spaniards and Mexicans in the 19th century. Southwest American Indians have never mined their own silver, melting down U.S. coins until 1890 when such use was prohibited, and Mexican Pesos until 1930 when Mexico passed a similar law. Since that time Native American silversmiths have relied on white traders as their sole source of silver.

The Navajo were the first to learn silversmithing and subsequently developed the first recognizable style of the Southwest Indians. Since then, distinctive styles of jewelry have emerged from the Zuni, Santo Domingo and Hopi tribes as well, offering natives and non-natives alike an expansive array of beautiful and masterfully executed jewelry.


Jewelry Care

In general keep your jewelry free of oils, hair products, perspiration, perfume, and other chemicals such as cleaning products. Remove jewelry before swimming because chlorine can change the color of silver. Protect your jewelry from scratches by removing them when doing rough tasks and store each piece separately from one another. Wipe with a soft cloth or specially designed polishing cloth before storing. We recommend simple zip lock plastic bags when storing for any amount of time, this will reduce the need for polishing. It is recommended that bead strand necklaces are stored lying flat to protect the silk cord from stretching over time. When necessary clean your jewelry with a mild detergent and warm water using a soft brush. We do not recommend toothpaste as a silver cleaner because it is abrasive and could dull the finish. Take special care with jewelry containing stones, they should not be submersed in liquid. Simply wipe stones with a slightly damp cloth. It is also best to protect stones from intense heat and direct exposure to sun. Commercial jewelry cleaners can be helpful when cleaning silver, but use caution when the piece has been antiqued. Silver dips may remove special finishes. Use care when subjecting jewelry with stones to chemical cleaning solutions. Read the precautions on the label and never soak stones for any prolonged period of time.



Sand-cast is a technique in jewelry-making where metal, in this case sterling silver, is heated into a liquid form and then poured into a mold carved out of hard sandstone. The mold is bound with wet buckskin, which shrinks upon drying, forming a tight binding around the mold. Once poured and cooled, the piece is sanded down to remove burrs and irregularities, eventually being polished to a marketable luster.


This style consists of many separate pieces which are soldered together. In many instances the piece is set with numerous stones. One of the most common examples of this style without the stones is the squash blossom necklace. This type of jewelry is somewhat difficult to create properly and for this reason, is highly sought after.

Stamped or Punched

This jewelry is stamped on one side, causing the other side to be raised. Most of the artists who do this use their own specific stamp, making the work of each artist unique. This technique is used by Navajo, Hopi and Zuni equally.


This style consists of numerous stones normally inlaid in a particular pattern or design. These stones may also be lined up or in a bowlike design commonly known as “channel inlay.” Most commonly, inlaid designs are associated with the Zuni.


A term used by many people to describe the process used by the Hopi jewelry makers in much of their jewelry. This process consists of two or three separate sheets of silver soldered together and finished to create what is normally a very apparent black inset image into a polished silver surrounding. The images are normally of clan symbols represented by various animals, katsinas, or other symbols important to the traditions of the Hopi Indians. Like the stamped jewelry, the Hopi jewelry makers use their own specialized tools which give each jeweler’s piece a unique look.

Fetish Necklaces

Authentic Zuni Fetish Necklaces are very intricate and are comprised of numerous hand-carved fetishes of various animals. Sometimes one may find fetish bracelets, but most prevalent and popular are necklaces.


Heishe is a type of jewelry which is unique to the Santo Domingo Pueblo Indians of New Mexico. Usually earrings and necklaces, the pieces are comprised primarily of stone and/or shell with very little silver and are bound by a sinew. This jewelry is reminiscent of the jewelry made by the Anasazi.


From the late 1890’s until 1938 Hopi silversmiths followed the traditions of Navajo and Zuni work. In the 1938 a program instituted by the Museum of Northern Arizona encouraged Hopi smiths to develop style of silverwork based on their distinctive pottery designs and executed in the overlay technique. The experiment was so successful that most Hopi silver workers continue to follow this new trend, producing the majority of high quality overlay.


Typical Navajo work is noted for its massive quality and simplicity of design. Although Navajos fashion exceptional silverwork, their silver is designed around and to compliment the stones used. Sand casting, begun in 1875, continues to be popular, as well as hammered, filed, and stamped work. Recently, Navajos have adopted new techniques: overlay, usually thought of as Hopi; channel, generally associated with the Zuni; and chip mosaic.


The Zuni did not begin cutting and inlaying stones (for which they are now renowned) until 1890, eighteen years after they learned to work in silver. Until that time their work closely resembled the Navajo styles.

Zuni silversmiths eventually began using multiple rows of turquoise in bracelets and cluster sets in pins and rings. Multicolored inlay of jet, shell and turquoise was started in 1935 and channel work in the early1940’s. The outstanding trait of Zuni work is an emphasis on deft manipulation of stones: cutting, shaping and inlaying.

Stone Identifier


Color Source
Lapis Deep Blue, gold flakes Afghanistan
Denim Lapis Lime Marble Blue Afghanistan
Gaspeite (Aussie Lime) Light green, clear Australia
Serpentine Green marble Mexico
Charolite Purple, marbles Siberia
Violite Purple USA
Opal Milky, green, red, blue fire Australia
Malachite Green striated w/ dark green Africa, USA
Spiney Oyster Orange , red, brown, purple striped Baja California
Pink Mussel Light pink Louisiana
Mother of Pearl White, grayish China
Mabe Shell Pearl white Japan
Coral Pink (Pacific) to Red (Mediterranean ) Philippines
Azurite Blue and green chunks Chile
Sugulite Purple, marbled Africa
Onyx Black, glossy (really dyed agate) Mexico
Jet Black, soft USA
Hematite Gun-metal grey Africa
Garnet Deep Red, transparent India
Amber Red-orange w/inclusions Baltic
Citrine (Topaz) Yellow, transparent Brazil
Amethyst Purple, violet, transparent Brazil , Africa
Peridot, Chrysolite Greenish yellow, transparent Egypt
Carnelian Brownish red, clear, translucent China
Rose Quartz Pink, opaque S. America
Rhodochrosite Pink, striated, opaque S. America
Blue Lace Agate Pale  blue, striated, opaque China
Brown Obsidian Chocolate brown, black spots
Turquoise Blue to green USA , China , Tibet

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