Native American Inlay Jewelry

Native American Inlay Jewelry

Native American inlay jewelry is one of the most sought after styles. The popularity of Native American jewelry has allowed tribal artists to explore and expand the boundaries and concepts of their art. Infusing their work with a blend of their own traditions and culture and art concepts from around the world has opened the doors of their creativity in a way that makes the market for their jewelry an exciting one. Whether you’re looking for vintage jewelry or modern adaptations of ancient traditions, today’s world of Native American jewelry has what you seek.

Native American jewelry comes in a wide variety of styles. One of the most popular is what is known as inlay jewelry. This style was first mastered by the Zuni and has become a favorite type of jewelry in the modern market. For the artist, inlay provides freedom to craft their own designs using traditional symbols and motifs. Inlay also requires a great deal of skill on the part of its creator, which is what makes the finished piece a true work of art.

Inlay jewelry uses stones which are cut and shaped to fit the form of the artist’s design. The stones create a mosaic that reveals the artist’s attention to detail. Intricate patterns and varied sizes and colors of the pieces add to the resulting beauty of the item. Some artists use silver interlaced with the stones to create geometric designs in their pieces. Once finished, the stones are sanded to be even with the metal. Epoxy is used to create a smooth surface.

Types of Native American Inlay Jewelry

There are different styles of inlay jewelry, each depending on the manner in which the stones in the piece are held in place:

  • Channel Inlay
  • Stone to Stone Inlay
  • Mosaic Inlay
  • Chip Inlay

To create a piece of channel inlay jewelry, the artist creates a series of channels in the metal which will hold the stones in place. Stones are carefully measured and cut before being placed in the channels according to the design. The finished piece will be a fusion of the stones and the metal. Channel inlay is considered a more traditional approach to inlay jewelry. It allows for a wide variety of color combinations and complex patterns.

This is channel inlay jewelry you can seen the silver channels that separate the stones and hold them in place.

Stone to stone inlay requires a great deal of skill and is considered a more modern take on the traditional type of jewelry. Pieces are shaped and placed next to surrounding stones without the channels, creating a unique design that still relies on metal housing as a base.  The design uses sidewalls to surround the stone clusters. A strong epoxy is used to secure the stones.

This is stone to stone inlay jewelry as you can see there are not metal channels between the stones

Mosaic inlay is basically a type of stone to stone inlay as the same methods are used. With mosaic inlay however there is usually one silver housing to secure the piece rather the stones hold themselves in a particular shape.  Artists use this method to create beautiful stone fetishes and abstract tribal designs.

Here are a couple examples of mosaic Inlay jewelry, similar to stone to stone inlay but without the aid of precious metal housing.

Chip inlay is a technique of combining crushed stone with epoxy resin and placing the mixture into a cavity in the metal. The artist credited with first using this technique in his work was Tommy Singer, who began using it in 1970.

Turquoise and coral chip inlay jewelry

Whether traditional in design or more modern in tone, whether channel, stone to stone or chip, inlay jewelry remains one of the most popular styles of Native American jewelry in today’s market. With its creative designs and blend of expressions, it is likely to remain a popular choice with Native American artists as well.