Though he admits he finds it a “little bit nerve-wracking”, Eric Joe loves creating pieces of handcrafted jewelry in the cluster style. He says “it’s just so pretty”. And it is indeed that. This style has a longstanding role in the world of Native American jewelry and rightly so.
What is it?
The name refers to the design and arrangement of the stones in a piece of handmade jewelry. Those stones placed in a grouping which appears as a random collection of smaller stones around a larger center stone, which is called a random cluster. Or the arrangement of the smaller stones can be done in a more definite pattern, a style known as an arranged cluster.
The History of Cluster Jewelry
The style itself was developed in the 1920s and 1930s by artists at Zuni Pueblo. Turquoise, coral and jet were the stones most used by the Zuni artists, who created cluster designs resembling snowflakes and flowers. The stones were either cut thin, in a design known as needlepoint, or in larger, geometric shapes known as petit point.
Cluster Jewelry Today
Whether random or arranged, cluster style pieces require a great deal of detail because stones are shaped individually. Joe says he lays out a rough sketch of the design first to ensure that all the stones fit the way he wants them to. One of the difficulties in creating a cluster piece is ensuring that the stones all stay in place until they are soldered. Joe says creating the casing that holds each stone is the hardest part for him. Once all the pieces are put into place, the design comes to life.
All the intricate detail which goes into creating in this style makes it a truly beautiful piece of handcrafted work. That is likely the reason for the style’s enduring popularity.