Navajo Native American Jewelry

Navajo Native American silver and turquoise jewelry.
Navajo Native American silver and turquoise jewelry. | Source
Turquoise and silver inlay cuff bracelet made by Navajo Native American Stanley Manygoats of New Mexico.
Turquoise and silver inlay cuff bracelet made by Navajo Native American Stanley Manygoats of New Mexico. | Source

For jewelry lovers everywhere living in the Southwest of the U.S, especially in New Mexico, it is Native American jewelry paradise. For many years I have loved and collected Native American jewelry and living here now I am surrounded by silver and turquoise jewelry. And, my favorite kind is that made by the Navajo Native Americans.

The Navajo tribes are located in western New Mexico and northern Arizona. They are the Native Americans that began silversmithing and turquoise jewelry making in the southwestern U.S. From there, they traded with and instructed the Zuni, Hopi and Pueblo tribes in making this beautiful jewelry.

Today, all throughout New Mexico you will find these tribes of Native Americans presently making silver and turquoise jewelry because there is still quite a demand and market for it.

The turquoise they use is mined right here in the southwest and you will find turquoise mines in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and southern California. So this is truly a regional art of jewelry making that has become a world-wide jewelry admired and worn by people all over the world.

Today, the contemporary jewelry the Navajos are making are beautifully colored inlay designs as the cuff bracelet pictured to the top right. The Navajos keep taking turquoise jewelry making to new heights as well as continuing to make their classic designs also.

Atsidi Sani, the first Navajo to learn the art of silversmithing.
Atsidi Sani, the first Navajo to learn the art of silversmithing. | Source
Original Navajo jewelry work and silversmithing without turquoise.  Notice the stamping on the jewelry which is Navajo art.
Original Navajo jewelry work and silversmithing without turquoise. Notice the stamping on the jewelry which is Navajo art. | Source
Navajo silver cuff bracelet with Navajo stamping and carving before the use of turquoise.
Navajo silver cuff bracelet with Navajo stamping and carving before the use of turquoise. | Source

How it all began

The Navajos have the largest southwestern Native American reservation and our nation's largest tribe with more than 160,000 inhabitants. They call themselves the Dine' which means "the people." Their reservation is located in northern Arizona, western New Mexico and southwest Utah.

The Navajo's ancestors were hunters and gatherers from the north who migrated into the southwest of the U.S. around five hundred to eight hundred years ago.

Today, they are a peaceful tribe of Native Americans widely known world-wide for their silver and turquoise jewelry making. Surprisingly though, they did not start making silver and turquoise jewelry until the middle 19th century around the 1865.

Atsidi Sani ("old smith"), a Navajo blacksmith was the first to begin making silver jewelry. He admired the Spanish and Mexican silver buttons and bridle bits their horses were adorned with when they conquered this area of the country.

The Navajos traded with other Native tribes and Atsidi Sani began to see beautiful silver jewelry he and other Navajos traded for and he wanted to learn how to make the jewelry himself. Around 1850, Sani traveled south to Mexico in hopes of learning the art of jewelry making. It is believed he first learned the art from a Mexican silversmith by the name of Cassillio.

The first jewelry Sani made was of just plain silver with no stones. He learned many different ways of forming and stamping his jewelry. This Navajo silver jewelry was the original Native American jewelry from the American western frontier.

The earliest Navajo jewelry was made using American or Mexican silver coins which they melted into ingots. Then, they hammered them into sheets of silver and cut out their designs and welded the silver pieces together. Silver solder laminated their silver jewelry designs together. Navajo silver jewelry now became a status symbol among the Navajos and was the mark of wealth and prestige.

Adding turquoise to the silver work was not common until sometime between 1880 and 1900, but again, the Navajos were the first to add it to their silver jewelry. It is believed Atsis Chon (active 1870's - 1900) was the first Navajo to set turquoise into a silver piece.

The Navajos had previously traded for turquoise and turquoise beads from the Santo Domingo Pueblo people (known as the Kewa) of the Rio Grande area in New Mexico a bit south of Santa Fe.The addition of turquoise into the silver jewelry caused it be in high demand. More trading posts sprung up in the southwest and Navajo jewelry was big trade for the Native American traders who traded for it first.

The Native American traders then took it out to southern California where their silver and turquoise jewelry was in big demand. After the turn of the 20th century, tourism in the southwest picked up because the railroad now came out this far west and there was increased tourism to see the Grand Canyon. The Navajos would set up shop along all the train stops along the route and sell their jewelry. Tourists loved the jewelry and a market for it sprung up. Tourists bought Navajo rings, Squash Blossom Necklaces, and bracelets.

By the 1920's Navajo silver and silver and turquoise jewelry was for sale in Native American trading posts, at the Grand Canyon, and in mercantile stores across Arizona and New Mexico. Navajo jewelry now became a major industry throughout the southwest.

And people couldn't get enough of it. Even today, Navajo jewelry is in high demand. Navajo jewelry has had an important role in the history of the American western frontier and very much part of our American heritage.

Today

Navajo jewelry sold today still follows the classic styles from the old days but also has incorporated new contemporary styles such as inlaid silver and turquoise. There are many jewelry stores and shops around Taos where so much of it is sold. I have been in and out of the stores and up to the Taos Pueblo to see the Native American jewelry. There is so much of it here that it is difficult to choose pieces because there is just so much to choose from.

I particularly like the vintage pieces of turquoise jewelry and there is plenty of it sold here. Vintage Navajo jewelry is fifty years or older. The silver used to make the jewelry is mostly from silver coins. This silver was used before WWII and after WWII Navajos began using sterling silver. The amount of silver used in sterling silver is 92.5% silver and the rest of the content is other alloys. All true Navajo silver jewelry is stamped 925 and if doesn't have that stamp then it is not good sterling silver as it has more alloys in it. Since about 1960 the Navajo jewelry makers also sign their pieces, so look for a signature along with the 925 stamped on the back.

Jewelry made before 1930 is considered antique silver jewelry and many shops sell and trade in antique jewelry as well.

Navajo silver and turquoise jewelry took a major turning point around 1955-1960. A great increase in Navajo jewelry took place at this time because of the movie and media industry that went into a boom in the 1960's. Navajo jewelry was worn by movie stars and so it became popular with the public. Navajo jewelry production was stepped up.

At this time eastern jewelry stores set up Navajo jewelry production in the southwest and the Navajos taught their craft to these easterners. The Navajos were requested to produce more jewelry and at a faster pace to meet the market demand.

There is a big difference between the Navajo jewelry made before 1960 and this is the period that is called vintage Native American jewelry. The type of turquoise and that it was made with coin silver or sterling silver tells its age. For example, Arizona turquoise is a clear sky blue color and green turquoise is usually from Nevada.

The following photographs are of vintage and contemporary Navajo jewelry pieces. Some of the pieces are of the classic style and made today because their is much demand for these classic designs.

Vintage Navajo Squash Blossom necklace made between 1940-1960.  Made with sterling silver.  This is also a classic style that is still made today and very popular.
Vintage Navajo Squash Blossom necklace made between 1940-1960. Made with sterling silver. This is also a classic style that is still made today and very popular. | Source
Vintage Navajo cluster earrings made from 1940-1960.  The sky blue turquoise is from Arizona mines.
Vintage Navajo cluster earrings made from 1940-1960. The sky blue turquoise is from Arizona mines. | Source
Vintage/antique Navajo turquoise cluster bracelet made around 1920 from silver coins.  This has been a very popular style from 1900 to present although today the bracelet would be made of sterling silver.
Vintage/antique Navajo turquoise cluster bracelet made around 1920 from silver coins. This has been a very popular style from 1900 to present although today the bracelet would be made of sterling silver. | Source
Silver, turquoise, lapis and coral inlay ring crafted by Stanley Manygoats here in New Mexico.
Silver, turquoise, lapis and coral inlay ring crafted by Stanley Manygoats here in New Mexico. | Source
Navajo Turquoise Row Bracelet.  Turquoise from Sleeping Beauty mine in Arizona. (Mine closed in 2012)  Very classic bracelet made for decades.
Navajo Turquoise Row Bracelet. Turquoise from Sleeping Beauty mine in Arizona. (Mine closed in 2012) Very classic bracelet made for decades. | Source
Bisbee Turquoise Bracelet.  Three bezel turquoise stones soldered on top of a silver stamped bracelet frame.  Named Bisbee for the Bisbee turquoise mine in Arizona.
Bisbee Turquoise Bracelet. Three bezel turquoise stones soldered on top of a silver stamped bracelet frame. Named Bisbee for the Bisbee turquoise mine in Arizona. | Source
Blue spider web turquoise surrounded by stamped sterling silver.  Spider web turquoise is very popular today.
Blue spider web turquoise surrounded by stamped sterling silver. Spider web turquoise is very popular today. | Source
Navajo Tab Necklace made with green Nevada turquoise from the Broken Arrow Mine.
Navajo Tab Necklace made with green Nevada turquoise from the Broken Arrow Mine. | Source

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Comments 22 comments

Glenis Rix profile image

Glenis Rix 2 months ago from UK

I love it! Unfortunately it mIght be difficult to buy it here in the

UK


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 months ago from Taos, NM Author

Glad you enjoyed my article. No not much Native American jewelry in the UK. You can get it on line. Just Google Navajo Jewelry and you will find sites that sell it.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 2 months ago from California Gold Country

I have a few old pieces from the 40's and 50"s-- I'll have to dig them out and take another look. Some of them once told me that some were Zuni-- with long slivers of turquoise. I like the modern inlaid pieces very much-- glad to see the tradition is evolving and continuing.


ChitrangadaSharan profile image

ChitrangadaSharan 2 months ago from New Delhi, India

Excellent hub and lovely jewellery!

I love turquoise and I posses some pendant , rings and earrings in silver frame that I had bought at Istanbul airport store. But the ones you have displayed and described look so unique and well crafted. Didn't know they are called Navajo Native American jewellery and are available online.

Thanks for sharing this interesting hub!


marcoujor profile image

marcoujor 2 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

I enjoyed learning the history of this exquisite jewelry, dear Suzette. Your photography really showcases the beauty of turquoise.

I have some sentimental turquoise pieces from Peru and Mexico and I love your collection as well.


ocfireflies profile image

ocfireflies 2 months ago from North Carolina

Suzette,

Beautiful and informative per always. I especially appreciate knowing about stamped 925 as that is especially important. The photography is gorgeous. Thank You!

Blessings Always,

Kim


billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

Neither Bev nor I are into jewelry. Having said that, I loved reading about the history of this.


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 2 months ago from South Africa

Beautiful! I love this type of jewelry! Thumbs up to the Navajo's! I'm sharing this hub straight away with my friends. Thank you, Suzette!


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 2 months ago

Suzette, this is a very interesting article. Although I lived in NM in the early 1970s, I didn't know the history behind the Navajo jewelry. I especially didn't know that it was a recent, not thousands of years old, art. My husband and I have a few authentic pieces that I cherish, especially a squash blossom necklace that it took me 20 years to find. I am a small person, and most squash blossom necklaces are too large for me. I also treasure a tiny stamped cuff bracelet with a bluish green turquoise stone that my dad bought me when he was stationed in Wyoming during WWII.

My husband bought a turquoise ring at a flea market that was purported to have been made by a Navajo from a silver dollar when the Navajo was stationed in Italy during WWII. The eagles from the dollar are cut out and wrap around his finger. I also bought a new necklace a few years ago. The piece is stamped, but I would swear that the stones are plastic. One must be very careful when buying nowadays. Very informative hub.


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 2 months ago from Nashville Tn.

This is my favorite type of jewelry and these photos are just beautiful. Makes me wish I had each piece. :) Thank you Suzette for this informative and wonderful hub. Sharing

Love,

Audrey


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 months ago from Taos, NM Author

Rochelle. Keep those pieces because they are vintage pieces. The inlaid pieces could be Zuni because they created the first inlay designs first and the Navajos learned inlay designs .from them. The Zunis are the subject of my future hubs.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 months ago from Taos, NM Author

Chitrangada, so glad you enjoyed reading this and have some turquoise pieces too. Turquoise is originally from Turkey and Persia and the name Turquoise comes from the Turks. This part of the world makes beautiful turquoise jewelry with unique designs my CJ different than out native americans. But the traders brought turquoise to Europe and the native Americans here mined in the southwest.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 months ago from Taos, NM Author

Maria, I am so glad you enjoyed it and found it informative. The photos are not mine but from a silver jewelry website. I wish all those pieces were mine but sadly not. I have some bracelets, rings and pendants but I don't show them on line because I don't want them stolen. So many thieves out there. Since being in Taos I have added a beautiful Turquoise bracelet I bought on the Taos Pueblo made by a Pueblo Native American. There is so much to choose from here!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 months ago from Taos, NM Author

Hi Kim, glad you enjoyed reading this. Yes, any sterling silver jewelry must be stamped 925 of it is not real sterling silver-has too many alloys in it. I can't tak credit for the photos as they are from a silver jewelry website. Thanks for the visit.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 months ago from Taos, NM Author

Well, thanks for reading then. Jewelry and silver and turquoise jewelry are not for everyone. So glad you stopped by to read this though.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 months ago from Taos, NM Author

Thanks so much for the share! Most appreciated! You can buy this jewelry on th Internet. Durangosilver is a reputable one.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 months ago from Taos, NM Author

Me Beejeebers

So you lived in NM! Where specifically if I may ask? You have a Squash Blossom Necklace! Those are so beautiful and expensive! I hope to buy one one day. I am glad you found one to fit your size as they are quite big. Your husband's turquoise ring sounds very interesting and is a vintage piece and especially rare made from a silver dollar. So good to find another Native American jewelry fan! Enjoy wearing it especially the squash blossom necklace!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 months ago from Taos, NM Author

Audrey, thanks for stopping by to read this and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I wish all those pieces pictured were mine too! Lol! I can only drool at some of them.


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 2 months ago

Suzette, I lived in Hobbs, which is almost in West Texas, but my first husband had relatives all over the state so I went everywhere but Santa Fe. I still regret not getting to visit Santa Fe. My niece is a physical therapist in Albuquerque, so I hope to visit her someday and maybe see Santa Fe, too.

I found the small squash blossom necklace in a Southwest Indian Foundation catalog, and they have a website. It is only 21 inches long and not as expensive as most are, although it is genuine Navajo silver and turquoise. (Somebody, probably China, is making knockoffs now as costume jewelry for less than $40.) I'd seen one even smaller on a trip to Eureka Springs, AR, 20 years ago, and drooled over it, but I was too cheap to put it on my credit card. As I said, it took me 20 years to find another small one so I grabbed it up. I don't know why they make most of the so large that they can only be worn by men and large women. BTW, my hubby and I are of Cherokee descent.


BlossomSB profile image

BlossomSB 2 months ago from Victoria, Australia

How lovely! So many creative designs and they look beautiful. We have turquoise here in Australia, too, and in our younger days spent many happy hours finding it, working on it, and then setting it in our own designs. We liked the turquoise pieces that had blemishes best, as they looked more real, otherwise sometimes it was difficult to know whether it was real or an imitation, as it could just look like a piece of china.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 months ago from Taos, NM Author

Well Mz Bejabbers, you two are native Americans! You are right! They make the squash blossom necklaces so huge. I would think they would be to heavy to wear as well as too big. I will try to find that website you mention. I haven't been to Santa Fe either, yet. I love NM with all its different cultures. Taos is nice because it is so laid back.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 months ago from Taos, NM Author

Hi Blossom. So nice t hear there is turquoise in Australia. I think it is beautiful no matter where it comes from. I always choos turquoise pieces with blemishes for the same reason and I try to find natural stones as well because synthetic ones are made here also.

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