Native American Jewelry

American Indian tribes had varied styles of jewelry. However, because the materials used to fashion the jewelry were major trade items even before the arrival of the Europeans, the distinction between each tribes’ style of jewelry was less defined. Shells, copper, beads, silver, amber, ivory and turquoise were some of the items used to make jewelry.

With the entrance of the Europeans, Native American jewelry continued to be a strong tradition, and integrated new materials and methods of jewelry making rather than a simple replacement of the old with the new. Glass beads were one of the most commonly integrated items into Native American jewelry with the advent of colonialism, as was advanced metal working methods.
Thus, Native American jewelry can be categorized as metalwork and beadwork. Initially, metalwork incorporated in jewelry making was very simple – with jewelry makers mainly hammering and engraving copper into pieces of jewelry as well as making beads out of silver and copper.

Silver-smithing was quickly taken up by Navajo, Hopi and Pueblo artists who learnt all they needed to know, thanks to the Spanish in the 17th century. This new learning and embracing of new techniques led to a flourish in metal jewelry arts in the Southwest and even well known native jewelry such as the squash blossom necklace, Hopi silver overlay bracelets and Navajo turquoise inlay rings – all made with a fabulous fusion of traditional designs fused in with newly learned jewelry making techniques.

Native beadwork by this time, had reached fairly advanced levels. These skills included fine grinding of coral, turquoise and shell beads, heishi necklaces, dainty, intricate carvings of individual bone and wooden beads, soaking and piercing of porcupine quills and the elaborate sewing of thousands, and perhaps, innumerous beads together.