Zuni jewelry is one of a kind. This New Mexico Pueblo Indian tribe is very traditional and religious, which is reflected in their art. The Zuni people have been skilled lapidary artisans since ancient times. These stone lapidary skills, which has developed over the years, were easily applied to the creation of ornamental jewelry. With the incorporation of an expertise in silversmithing, the Zuni have taken the art of stone decorative jewelry to another level. Talented Zuni jewelry makers are most well known for their complex channel inlay designs, fine turquoise petit point, and hand carved fetish jewelry. They have developed a unique look which can be easily spotted by collectors and jewelry connoisseurs alike.
Zuni Jewelry History
For centuries the Zuni Indians have worn jewelry made with simple designs of turquoise and other gemstones. The History of Zuni jewelry began long before the time of complex inlay stone and silver jewelry as seen today, the Zuni people were great lapidaries in ancient times. They made carvings of fetish ornaments and Kachina dolls, many fine skills were developed when working with small pieces of stone.
Metal working also introduces very early on. It is believed that a western traveler taught the people to build one of the first Native American forges in exchange for a good horse. Though this acquired craft did not serve artistic purposes, it allowed the Zuni tribe to become familiar with metal working. It was not until the 1870’s that the idea of silver jewelry making first appeared in the Zuni tribe. A Navajo silversmith taught a Zuni friend the ways of jewelry making and that Zuni artist brought the idea back home and taught others.
The Zuni were easily able to apply their stone lapidary skills to this new found jewelry art and slowly they developed their own unique techniques and styles. As the demand for fine silver jewelry grew in the southwest, the Zuni jewelry makers quickly became well known for their extraordinary work as they combine the ancient lapidary work within their jewelry designs.
Intricate Zuni Stonework Jewelry
The most famous Zuni style jewelry is made with the channel inlay technique. This technique is done by accurately forming channels in the silver base, then carefully inserting stones into the channels in particular patterns of shapes and colors. These techniques require great precision when cutting stones. Ideally these stones fit so perfectly together that it would be hard to believe the finished result was not one single stone painted in an array of colors. Though turquoise seems to be most adored natural specimen in Native American jewelry making, the Zuni use a wide assortment of stones and shells to give a variety of colors in their designs. The designs are usually of a recognizable Zuni mosaic or fetish
Being masters of working with small stones and skilled silversmiths, it was only natural that the Zuni jewelry makers became proficient with the petit point technique, also known as the needlepoint technique. This technique ,also seen in some Navajo pieces, is done but setting very small tear shaped stones close together side by side to create a pattern. Though there are many other styles of Zuni jewelry these noteworthy techniques have made the tribe stand out as some of the most skilled in their profession.