Zuni Indian Jewelry: What Makes it Unique?

The Zuni Indians have lived in the American Southwest for thousands of years. Throughout their history, they have established a rich tradition of creating beautiful, hand-carved jewelry. Zuni Indian jewelry is most well-known for various stone cutting techniques, the use of turquoise, silversmithing, and fetish carvings. To learn what makes this jewelry so special, and why Zuni jewelry has become one of Southwest Silver Gallery’s most cherished collections, read more about the techniques and traditions of this tribe.


Zuni Indian jewelry is well known for its intricate stone cutting. With the needlepoint technique, artists carefully cut turquoise stones into thin strips that resemble needles. Since the 1930s, Zuni artists have been arranging these stones into beautiful, delicate patterns that have now become a hallmark of their jewelry. A popular pattern for needlepoint jewelry is the squash blossom necklace, which is noteworthy for its crescent-shaped pendant.

Petit Point

Another type of Zuni Indian jewelry technique is petit point, which also originated in the 1930s. Similar to needlepoint, artists using the petit point technique cut stones into delicate shapes. Petit point jewelry uses egg-spage, oval, or pear-shaped stones that are set into clusters or rows.


The inlay technique has been a tradition in the Zuni tribe for a long time, predates European arrival. Inlay jewelry features small stones or shells in a mosaic patterns. Some inlay patterns feature silver channels that separate each stone. Zuni artists use a variety of materials to make these patterns, including turquoise, jet, abalone, coral, and mother of pearl. Due to the variety of materials used in inlay, these pieces are popular for their bold colors.


Zuni Indians started working with silver in 1872 and were the second Native American tribe to learn the art. The Navajos taught the art to a Zuni Indian named Lanyade. Because Zuni Indian jewelry features such intricate stonework, artists mainly use silversmithing as a way to accent the stones. The silver settings for the jewelry is relatively simply to allow the gemstones to stand out.

Fetish Carvings

Perhaps the most popular type of Zuni Indian jewelry is the iconic fetish carving. Native American fetish carvings are a sort of “charm stone” that a person carries to bring luck, power, or protection. The Zuni Native Americans believe that animals and plants have spirits, and fetish items are thought to be items in which an animal spirit resides.

Archaeologists have discovered carvings dated back to 650 A.D. from the ancestors of the Zuni Native Americans. Fetish objects can occur naturally or be manmade. Naturally-occurring fetish objects are called “concretion” fetishes and are thought to be more powerful than manmade fetish carvings.

Fetish carvings are still very important in Zuni culture today. In order to harness the power of the spirit, fetish carvings must be nurtured. Some fetish carvings are inlaid with features that are seen as an offering to the spirit. These features include an inlaid or carved “heartline” or a bundle of various stones, shells, or arrowheads. At Southwest Silver Gallery, we carry both fetish carvings and fetish jewelry. Fetish jewelry allows fetish carvings to be worn in the form of earrings, necklaces, or pendants.

The Directional Fetishes

In Zuni culture, the world is divided into six regions. Each region is associated with both a color and animal that guards that area. The Guardian of the North is the mountain lion, and its color is yellow. The Guardian of the West is the bear, and its color is blue. The Guardian of South is the badger, and its color is red. The Guardian of East is the wolf, and its color is white. The Guardian of the Upper Region is the eagle, and its color is multi-color. The Guardian of the Lower Region is the mole, and its color is black.

The Meaning of Fetish Animals

Zuni fetish carvings are made to look like various animals to invoke their spirit. Each animal represents different characteristics. If you’re looking for the most appropriate Zuni fetish carving for your personal needs, here is a list of some of the most common fetish carvings and their meanings:

  • Armadillo: Gentle, quiet reserve, ability to live in a niche of its own, solitude
  • Badger: Aggressiveness, control, passion, persistence
  • Bear: Healing, strength in the face of adversity
  • Beaver: Industrious, diligent, skillful
  • Buffalo: Prophecy, fulfillment of prayers
  • Butterfly: Beauty, transformation, rebirth
  • Coyote: Trickster, the ability to laugh at one's own mistakes
  • Deer: Grace, gratitude, ability to sacrifice for the higher good
  • Eagle: Vision, higher truths
  • Falcon: Power, harmony, intuition, ability to see the "big picture"
  • Fox: Cleverness, ability to blend in, observant, loyalty to loved ones
  • Frog: Rain, fertility
  • Horse: Power, expanding one's abilities, prosperous and safe journey
  • Hummingbird: Energy, joy
  • Lizard: Patience, wisdom
  • Mole: Ability to look inward, awareness, grounding
  • Mountain Lion: Leadership, personal power, agility
  • Owl: Protector of the home, wisdom and the ability to see what others cannot, link between the spiritual and physical world
  • Rabbit: Gentleness, charm, playful trickster, awareness of others, wit
  • Raven: Adept, clever, magic, transformation
  • Snake: Lightning, the ability to transmute, important in Zuni ceremonials
  • Squirrel: Foresight, the ability to plan ahead, industrious
  • Turtle: Symbol of Mother Earth, self-reliance, tenacity, centered, longevity
  • Wolf: Teaches truths, inner guidance, clarity, loyalty, sociability

You will find Zuni fetish carvings of other animals, including animals like parrots, dinosaurs, and bats. Another common figure in fetish carvings is the Corn Maiden, who is a symbol of fertility and life. Often, the Corn Maiden’s body is carved in the shape and texture of an ear of corn.

Zuni Indian jewelry draws upon a rich culture of artistry and spirituality. At Southwest Silver Galleries, we endeavor to support local Zuni artists by selling only authentic work. Our Zuni fetish carvings come with a certificate of authenticity so you can shop with confidence. Browse our entire collection of Zuni Indian jewelry today.