In the Southwestern United States there is a long standing history for Southwest jewelry and its ties to the Native American culture. For tribes in the Southwest jewelry design techniques are something passed down through generations.
Many of today’s most talented artists have a long history of jewelry making. Each tribe has also contributed its own distinct characteristics to the Southwest jewelry they create. For instance, the Zuni have always embraced color.
There’s a legend that says a Zuni woman was once approached by a parrot and a crow. Both animals wanted to live among the tribe, but the woman could only choose one. The two birds presented her with an egg to help her decide.
Ultimately, the woman chose to keep the crow because she was drawn to the turquoise color of the shell. To this day, the crow still flies over Zuni lands and perches on their rooftops.
Given the tribe’s love of vibrant colors, it’s fitting that Zuni artists create some of the most dazzling and intricate Southwest jewelry featuring mosaics that represent the land they have lived in since prehistoric times.
Their Southwest rings show stunning detail, highlighting village scenes or a nighttime sky with a shooting star streaking across the horizon.
The Navajo were the first Native Americans to begin working with silver. It it believed a Spaniard blacksmith trained a Navajo man in the art of working with silver – ushering a new era for Southwest jewelry.
Southwest necklaces made in the Navajo style will often feature large gemstones set in sterling silver. This silver is often beautifully molded to reflect the imagery and beliefs of the tribe.
Some Navajo artists create pieces that tell a story. For generations, the imagery found on jewelry, clothing, rocks and weaving worked to create a present a history for the Navajo people, long before the language was put in writing or translated to English.
The Hopi tribe adopted many of the techniques and imagery and their work inspires the popular Southwest bracelets found on the market today. Common imagery includes clouds and rain – symbolizing growth, good fortune and fertility.
Other Hopi bracelets may feature a bear or a bear’s claw, symbolizing strength or a buffalo, which was performed during the winter to encourage good hunting, snow and enough wildlife to sustain life for the tribe during the cold months.
Every tribe in the region also designed Southwest earrings in many different styles that reflect the heritage and beliefs of Native Americans.
Southwest jewelry fashions and innovations continue to push the boundaries with ideas and pieces. However, many designs are still inspired by the techniques and styles that have remained popular for generations.