Posted on April 07, 2016 by Mary Hood | 1 Comment
The Navajo (Diné) have rich history of jewelry making and silversmithing. Over the decades, the tribe’s exquisite traditional jewelry designs have attracted tourists and jewelry-lovers alike. Styles that held (and continue to hold) religious significance for the Navajo have become cross-cultural fashion statements. The most prominent features of Navajo jewelry include turquoise, semi-precious stone, and sterling silver, a precious metal.
One of the most recognizable elements of Navajo and southwest tribal jewelry is turquoise. With its beautiful blend of blue, green, white, and the occasional rivulet of brown, turquoise reflects the colors of the natural world. For the Navajo, turquoise represents happiness, luck, and health. Before the Navajo practiced silversmithing, turquoise was probably most often featured in Heishi necklaces, smooth necklaces made with tight stacks of “washer” beads.
A modern version of a turquoise and shell Heishi necklace, made by native jewelry company Turquoise Skies.
In the mid- to late-nineteenth century, the Navajo learned silversmithing from the Spanish currently occupying the southwest region. Atsidi Sani (“Old Smith”) c. 1828 - 1918 is credited as the first Navajo silversmith (although the first Navajo silversmith cannot be determined with certainty). Aside from jewelry, the Navajo crafted buckles, bridles, crosses, powder chargers, tobacco canteens, and other quotidian items from silver. Initially, the silversmiths melted their silver from coins, flatware, and coins obtained from European-American traders. Later, the silversmiths were able to acquire sheet silver and silver wire. By the 1880s, Navajo jewelers were setting turquoise in silver; by the twentieth century, they were incorporating coral and other semi-precious stones in their silver jewelry.
Vintage Navajo Turquoise and Coral Inlaid Long-Face Ring
Some of the most popular Navajo jewelry pieces include “squash blossom” necklaces and turquoise inlay rings. Squash blossom necklaces are composed of a string of plain silver beads interspersed with more stylized beads often called “squash blossoms.” These were modeled from the buttons that held Spanish-style pants together, and these buttons were actually designed to resemble pomegranates! In the center of the necklace is a horseshoe-shaped “haja” symbol. This symbol, which represents good fortune, originally came from Mexican culture and resembles the Spanish-style horse halters of the time.
Traditional Navajo Silver “Squash Blossom” Necklace
Navajo silver and turquoise jewelry were not mere adornments. Many pieces were used in ceremonies and religious rituals and continue to hold special significance for the Navajo people. Today, Navajo jewelry is such a popular and revered art that some Navajo make their living by creating and selling traditional and authentic pieces in marketplaces across the country.
Old and New Navajo Turquoise and Silver Bracelets