History of Native American Cluster Jewelry

Native American jewelry has a long history of creativity and unique design. This history is part of what has kept its appeal over the years. Native American artists blend their traditional culture with their individual artistic vision to create the one of a kind pieces desired by those who purchase them. The wide variety of styles used to create these pieces adds to the bounty purchasers have to choose from. One such style is called a “cluster”.

The term “cluster” refers to the stones in the piece being arranged in a close pattern. Stones which share a similar size and shape are used to create the design of these pieces. The pattern of the design may be an organized or an unorganized one, as determined by the choice of the artist.

According to one source, the cluster style was developed by Zuni artists in the 1920s and 1930s when they began to cluster groups of hand-cut gemstones in intricate designs. The designs they created resembled items such as snowflakes and flowers. Traditionally, Zuni artists used turquoise, coral and jet, although today’s artists use a wide variety of gemstones. The type of cluster is determined by both the size and the shape of the stones used. Zuni artists have designated two types of clusters: petit point and needlepoint. Needlepoint clusters have stones cut thin to resemble a needle. Petit point contains stones in square, rectangular, round or oval shapes.

There are also two more general types of cluster jewelry: arranged and random. With an arranged cluster, the pattern consists of a center stone, which is usually the largest stone in the piece, surrounded by smaller stones placed in an even design. One of the most popular patterns used for arranged clusters is the sunburst.

A random cluster has less organization to the pattern of the stones, although they are still placed evenly on the piece. The stones are also not as similar. Due to the need for careful measurement and placement, however, even a random cluster is an intricate piece. At every step of the creation of this jewelry, the artist must use great skill and patience. The process of hand-cutting the stones takes time and care and arranging them in an attractive pattern requires artistic vision. When you purchase a cluster style piece of jewelry, you have truly gained a unique, handcrafted piece which will be a pleasure for a lifetime.