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Navajo

Navajo Indian Jewelry | What Makes it Unique?

Today, the Navajo tribe creates the most well-known and sought-after Indian jewelry on the market. Their tradition of jewelry making dates back to the 19th century when the Navajos began to work with silver acquired from Spaniards. The earliest works were concho belts, bracelets, and necklaces, but eventually expanded to a full range of jewelry. Today, some of the most popular features of Navajo Indian jewelry include silver, naja pendants, squash blossom necklaces, and concho belts. At Southwest Silver Jewelry, we strive to showcase the highest-quality pieces from Navajo artists working today. To show you what makes these pieces so unique, here are some of the hallmarks of Navajo Indian jewelry.

Silversmithing

Atsidi Sadi is widely believed to be the first Navajo to learn silversmithing, working with the metal as early as 1860. It was he who taught the trade to other Indian tribes living in the Southwest, including the Zuni and Hopi. With the knowledge of silversmithing, the Navajo began working with melted down coins and other silver wares to make their own jewelry. As the knowledge was passed on to Sadi’s sons and others, artists were able to refine their techniques, adding gems or casting with sandstone.

Most of our Navajo Indian jewelry features .925 sterling silver. Some pieces may also feature older silver from coins, invoking the historical tradition of the original Navajo silversmiths.

Turquoise

Turquoise began to appear in Navajo Indian jewelry in around 1880. The Navajo actually sourced their turquoise from the Santo Domingo tribe, and by 1885, turquoise was in high demand for Navajo jewelry.

When tourists started to frequent the area in the 1920s, Navajo Indian jewelry became a popular souvenir. Especially popular were turquoise and squash blossom jewelry. With these styles in demand, many Navajo Indians started making jewelry in their home to keep up with demand. The popularity of turquoise has endured, and it is one of the most sought-after types of Navajo Indian jewelry.

Turquoise stones have been in high demand for centuries due to its unique patterning and beauty. Today, many places will try to sell fake or low-quality turquoise. At Southwest Silver Gallery, our artists use only the highest-quality materials to make their jewelry. You can even shop turquoise jewelry by the mine it was sourced from, so you know exactly what you’re getting every time.

Sandcast Jewelry

The sand casting jewelry technique existed among the Pueblo people as far back as the mid-17th century. With this technique, a mold for jewelry is created out of sand. The Navajo were the first to adapt this technique for silversmithing. Sand casting creates a matte finish with an antique feel as opposed to a more high-shine finish. Every piece of Navajo Indian jewelry created by sand casting is truly a one-of-a-kind piece — the mold is destroyed by the molten silver. Sand casting is considered one of the most difficult silversmithing techniques to master, but the Navajo artists keep this rich tradition alive.

Naja Pendants

A naja is a crescent-shaped pendant that appears either alone or as the centerpiece of a squash blossom necklace in Navajo Indian Jewelry. Naja is the Navajo word for crescent. It is believed that the symbol originated from the Moors and was then adopted by the Spanish as an ornamental design on horse bridles and men’s belt buckles. When the Spanish came to the American Southwest, the Navajo borrowed this symbol for their own jewelry.

The earliest naja pendants were simply decorated and made of silver. They would have a hook allowing it to be attached to a necklace. Today, naja pendants can feature a variety of stones in addition to silver, and they also appear in bracelets and earrings.

Squash Blossom Necklaces

Squash blossom necklaces are some of the most popular Navajo Indian jewelry being made today. Their hallmark is the squash blossom bead, a tri-petal silver bead. Supposedly, the shape of these beads was inspired by the Spanish design of a pomegranate. Typically, the necklaces have six squash blossom beads on either side for a total of 12. The centerpiece of the squash blossom necklace is the naja pendant.

At first, squash blossom necklaces were made entirely out of silver. It wasn’t until the 1900s that artists began to incorporate turquoise, coral, and other materials into their designs. Since squash blossom necklaces are so sought-after, there are many inauthentic and low-quality pieces available for sale. At Southwest Silver Gallery, all of our squash blossom necklaces are crafted by Navajo artists and are of the highest quality.

Concho Belts

Although concho belts have been a hallmark of Navajo Indian culture for many years, it is believed that they borrowed the design from Mexican horse bridles. In the earliest days, Navajo concho belts were made from hammered Mexican or U.S. silver coins. The flattened coins were then stamped by hand and strung on leather to form the concho belt.

During the 1900s, the basic concho belt design got several new features. Buckles and butterfly-shaped spacers were added to the belts, and artists adorned their pieces with turquoise. Generally, there are two main types of concho belts: leather and link. Leather concho belts feature conchos strung along leather, whereas link concho belts connects the conchos with silver chain links.

The beauty and uniqueness of Navajo Indian jewelry has drawn people to it for decades. The blend of traditional techniques, materials, and designs imbues each piece with a rich history. When you purchase Navajo Indian jewelry from Southwest Silver Gallery, we guarantee that our products are authentic, with most pieces coming with a certificate of authenticity from the artist. All of our pieces are sourced from local Indian tribes, including work by award-winning artists. Browse our entire line, and find your perfect piece today.