The History of Turquoise Necklaces

Simple designs of necklaces made from bone, shell and stone have been found in early archaeological excavations in North America. The early Native Americans mined turquoise and made turquoise beads and turquoise beaded necklaces. Turquoise bead jewelry has been a long tradition in our Native American cultural. With the introduction of silver smithing by the Spanish, our Native Americans combined their skill of stone cutting with their new craft of silver work. Some of the new forms of jewelry were turquoise cross necklaces, turquoise and coral necklaces, beaded silver turquoise necklaces and the squash blossom necklace.

The Zuni Indians took up the craft of silver smithing in approximately 1872 and combined this with their skill in fine stone cutting. By the late 20th century, Zuni jewelry had become one of the most recognizable forms of Native American art. They have a distinct style and are well known for their inlay, petite point and needlepoint designs in their turquoise jewelry necklaces. The Zuni created jewelry designed around themes in nature, animals and katsina dancers. The Zuni have also gained international recognition for the fetish carvings and make fetish pendants and fetish necklaces. The silver and turquoise necklaces they create have small hand cut stones and can vary from delicate little necklaces to large turquoise necklaces.

The Navajo Indians create beautiful silver and turquoise necklaces set with turquoise from different mines from the southwest and around the world. The turquoise will vary in color depending on the mine it is from. Some of the popular blue turquoise necklaces you often see are from the Sleeping Beauty turquoise mine in Arizona and King Manassa turquoise and Royston turquoise mines can sometimes produce beautiful greens found in some of the unique, green turquoise necklaces you might see.

Navajo artists do hand stamped silver work and elaborate designs with silver flowers, leaves and beads surrounding the stones set in their jewelry. Using turquoise beads and nuggets, they also create styles of beaded turquoise necklaces, chunky turquoise necklaces and turquoise bib necklaces. Some of today's most popular designs are the multi strand turquoise necklace and the lariat, rope or long turquoise necklace designs.

The most well known Native American necklace is the squash blossom necklace. The earliest squash blossom necklaces were created in the 1870's and worn by Navajo and Pueblo men and women. The first necklaces were made in plain silver. Scholars believe the "squash blossom" originated from the Spanish-Mexican jacket ornament or buttons that resembled the pomegranate. Navajo silversmiths attached the blossom or trefoil silver beads to the beads on a silver bead necklace. They added the center piece to the bottom which is called the naja or najahe pendant. Later, single bar crosses and double bar silver crosses were added in place of the squash blossom beads as decorative motif. Starting in the 20th century, turquoise stones were added and new styles of cluster work, needle point and inlay turquoise squash blossom necklaces were created. Contemporary designs by Navajo silversmiths are being created blending the old with the new. You may see artists using silver crosses or animal designs in their squash blossom necklaces today. Navajo turquoise necklaces are truly wearable pieces of art!

The Santo Domingo Indians have an ancient tradition of jewelry making that can be seen in their turquoise necklaces. The turquoise necklace is the prevailing form of jewelry for the Santo Domingo. The Santo Domingo artists are best known for their skill grinding, drilling and stringing heishi beads of shell and turquoise. Their skill in hand rolled beads or rubbed beads in the making of turquoise heishi necklaces is an art for contemporary artists in which has carried over to silver in the making of liquid silver necklaces, also.

The word heishi originally meant "shell". Today heishi is now used to describe or mean fine, hand rolled beads. The heishi beads are small, flat pieces of stone that are ground, hand drilled and strung into necklaces. Turquoise heishi necklaces are traditionally made by Santo Domingo Indians, a Rio Grande Pueblo.

Heishi is possibly the oldest, ancient form of bead making in North America. Making heishi beads is a labor intensive process and the price of heishi is determined not only by the types of materials used but by the symmetry, smoothness and thinness of the beads. Other forms of the word heishi are hesche, hieschi, heishe and hishi. The Santo Domingo are also known for their pueblos famous thunderbird necklaces and turquoise tab necklaces.

Our southwestern and Native American artists create many different styles and designs of silver and turquoise necklaces. Enjoy choosing from an ancient form of turquoise necklace to a traditional design or contemporary turquoise heart necklace. Each necklace is a form of art with history and culture!

Southwest Silver Gallery offers a wide variety of the finest in turquoise jewelry. You will be so pleased to wear the beautiful turquoise jewelry!