Navajo jewelry has become one of the most sacred parts of the modern Navajo Nation‘s Native culture. The Navajo are believed to have first learned jewelry making and metal working from the Spanish. Today the Navajo artists use traditional as well as modern tools, to create some distinctive and highly desired jewelry. Traditionally Navajo families of jewelry artists and silversmiths teach these techniques and methods to their children, allowing the craft to be passed down from generation to generation. Many talented artists have emerged who continue to evolve the Navajo style and unique tribal methods have developed over the last few centuries.
Navajo Jewelry History
The History of Navajo jewelry has been molded by the influential events over the last few centuries. In ancient times it was very rare to see more than basic woven plant fibers and stone or wood beads. With mild exposure to the Spanish in the 15 ~ 1600s some Navajo learned novice metal working techniques. Some of the earliest forms of Navajo jewelry was made with more common, cheaper metals such as brass and copper. The Navajo were defeated by the U.S. government in the late 1860s and forced into confinement. During this time the metal smiths had more exposure to silver and metal working techniques. After their release, these new skills were taken home developed.
In the late 1800s, silver jewelry became an important status symbol in the southwest. The production of silver jewelry increased dramatically and talented jewelry makers began to arise. Many new techniques were developed over time and the Navajo mastered this new found art and created their own unique style.
The next phase of Navajo jewelry came with it’s entrance in the tourist market in the early to mid 1900s. Its no surprise that this beautiful jewelry sparked the attention of wondering travelers. The styles have slightly changed over time as the market demanded to become what it is today. The Navajo particularly enjoyed working with their precious turquoise stones and the market has appreciated this. Much of the recent Navajo jewelry feature amazing displays of this mystical stone.
Navajo Jewelry Designs
Various original designs in Navajo Art have been displayed by talented artists over the years. Some of the earliest Navajo jewelry was made of metals, mainly silver, without stones of any sort. Concho style belts, flasks, necklaces and bracelets were some of the tribe’s main focus. Designs were done by filing and hammering notches in particular patterns into the metal. Slowly these Navajo designs began incorporating different types of gemstones and shells into the silver. One of the details enthusiasts pay attention to when it comes to Navajo jewelry is the breath taking turquoise displays. Turquoise quickly became a favored centerpiece by the Navajo silversmiths and many different jewelry designs using this stone evolved. Today Artists use a variety of modern tools to create their customs styles from silver etched patterns and stone mounting designs to tufa casting and shadowbox work.