Native American Indians have been creating jewelry for personal adornment and ceremonial celebrations for generations. Some anthropologists trace the use of turquoise and tooled metal ornaments to pre-history in North America. As we are concerned primarily with the exquisite high fashion jewelry that is created by today's top Native American silversmiths, goldsmiths and lapidarists, we will concentrate on those aspects of this traditional art.
Silversmithing is generally believed to have emerged in Native American populations in the 1800s as Navajo Indian artists in particular began to practice it under the influence and tutelage of Spanish settlers. This activity, however, was preceded for centuries by the mining and shaping of gemstones such as turquoise and the harvesting of spiny oyster shell.
As a result, the Native American Indian turquoise and silver bracelet one buys today has a deep tradition of jewelry making behind it. Added in recent years have been raw materials such as coral, sugilite, lapis, opal, jet, malachite, mother of pearl, charoite and gaspeite. Sterling silver has largely replaced German silver, a nickel alloy. Gold has become more popular, although its increasing expense has limited the number of artists who willing to work with it. Today, even silver has increased in price.
"Stabilized" turquoise is turquoise that is too soft and porous to be worked as a jewelry element. It is submerged in a stabilizing compound, such as epoxy resin, which permeates the natural turquoise and hardens it so that it can be shaped for jewelry use. "Treated" turquoise, on the other hand, is usually submerged in vegetable or animal oil for the specific purpose of giving it luster. Unfortunately, these oils can dissipate quickly, returning the stone to its original dull appearance and often staining skin and clothing.
Turquoise clearly is the stone most directly identified with Native American Indian jewelry. Turquoise comes in several grades and types. The finest is rare, gem grade turquoise, which is the first choice for the finest Native American Indian turquoise jewelry. Below that are levels of high quality leading to "good" quality (often "stabilized"), good-to-average, mine run and stock (usually "stabilized") and low quality (almost always "stabilized").
Then there is fake or synthetic turquoise.This last level is used in cheap, costume jewelry that emulates the real thing, even if created by Native American Indian artisans. The two should not be confused.
The latter is associated with the most common coloration of the material. But the real turquoise used in Native American Indian jewelry comes in many color variationsfrom soft pastel blue to deep green, and often with extensive matrix (the spider web patterns that suffuse the finest stones).
Other materials include coral, of which deep red is the rarest and most coveted - although delicate pink coral has grown in popularity, lapis lazuli from Asia, sugilite from southern Africa, charoite from Siberia and Gaspeite, originally from the Gaspe' Peninsula in Canada but also found Australia.
Various Native American Indian tribes and pueblos are known for particular variations on jewelry design, although there is enough cross-pollination to eliminate hard and fast rules. Zuni Indians are known for very fine inlay and channel work. Navajo Indians are unsurpassed as silver workers. Hopi Indians have a unique variation called overlay, in which a layer of silver is cut to express a pattern and soldered over a base sheet of silver. Santa Domingo Indian jewelry makers are particularly adept at Heishi and shell overlay.
Of course, bead work plays a major role in Indian jewelry from the Plains and Woodlands. While quite extraordinary at its best, it seldom appears in the high end work of the Southwest.
And let us not forget the incredible craftsmanship of our local Native American Artisans, who create the most extrodinary and contemporary jewelry using the same materials as the Native American Indian tribes. They possess the same spirit of creating from their minds' eye, an object of extrodinary beauty to hold and cherish.
Most artists are never truly "found" & become "famous". Many toil at their craft in some of the most uncomfortable environments. And, you might find our prices a bit higher than QVC, HSN, and other discount houses - But, these artists are right here in America - Trying very hard to make a living. We will not degrade these fine people by "discounting" their art. They have paid their dues to make these objects of beauty and we also work very hard to bring them to you. Please remember that when shopping not only here, but wherever you purchase.
We are so fortunate to be in this great country of ours and experience all that is devine and good. We are humbled to be associated with such fine people.