A Venerable Tradition
Our Native American beaded necklaces are the result of a time-worn craft directly contributed to by well-regarded Native American artists hailing from the American Southwest, where the most advanced development of silver bead-making was first realized. The Navajo in particular made significant contributions to the craft in the late 19th century, after experimenting with a wide array of shapes, sizes, weights, and decorative flourishes. The first Southwest handmade beads tended to be large and spherical, and would be cut or stamped with additional decoration when applicable. Over time, the native silversmiths acquired more advanced tools and techniques, and they were able to create new jewelry forms and styles. During the 1920s and after, barrel and bi-conical bead shapes were devised. Over the years, more and more of the silver beads were made partially or completely by machines.
Today silversmiths still craft strands of handmade sterling silver bead necklaces, to be worn by themselves or as part of a pendant, squash blossom, or cross necklace. A sterling silver beaded necklace strand is often still stamped with additional decorative elements for contrasting effect, and silver beads are known informally in the jewelry industry as "Navajo pearls."
Bench and Spuns
With Native American beaded necklaces, there is a difference between "bench" beads and "spun" beads. Bench beads are silver beads that are crafted with handmade methods, or they can be shaped by a machine and then finished by hand. The shaping of handmade silver beads tends to be very labor-intensive, and since the mid 20th century, the beads have been typically created using a hydraulic press for the punching and doming of silver bead halves to save time. These beads tend to be cut from sheet metal, and can accept additional decorative markings like fluting or stampwork before they undergo doming. The halves are then soldered together by hand.
Spun beads are completely machine-made, and therefore do not have any seam like bench beads do. These types of beads became available as various machine processes and tools were developed over time, and Native American silversmiths were able to advance their craft.
Browse Our Gallery
Southwest Silver Gallery works with the Zuni, Hopi, Navajo, and Santo Domingo Indian tribes to bring you high quality, authentic Native American beaded necklaces and other types of jewelry. Our pieces are never imported and are legitimately sourced from local tribes. Take a look at our galleries today and see our high-quality work for yourself.