When thinking about Navajo jewelry, many picture chunky turquoise with heavy silver. However, much has changed since the Navajo began making jewelry.
After the Spanish taught the Navajo how to silversmith, their techniques and designs became innovative, unique, and desirable.
While still embedded with traditional symbolism, Navajo jewelry today is filled with an array of different styles, gemstones, and designs.
Navajo Jewelry History
It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that the Navajo learned to make jewelry. This occurred as the incoming Spaniards adorned with silver pieces caught the eye of a local blacksmith.
Atsidi Sani was mesmerized by what he saw. Determined to learn how the Spaniards made these sparkling pieces, he convinced a Spanish silversmith to show him how it was done. Soon, Atsidi Sani began making conchos and other pieces which were the first pieces of Navajo jewelry.
His creations became popular with both the Spaniards and the Navajo people. He quickly began teaching his sons and other artisans interested in learning this craft.
In the early 1900s, tourists arriving using the Santa Fe Railroad and Route 66 began populating the area. These outsiders became consumers of this Navajo jewelry, buying rings, necklaces, earrings, and bracelets.
By the 1920s, Navajo jewelry was sold at popular trading posts and the Grand Canyon.
Today, authentic Navajo jewelry is still highly sought after, with people around the globe visiting the Southwest seeking out these sophisticated pieces.
Navajo Jewelry Designs
There are two dominant designs found in Navajo jewelry. Single-stone jewelry uses one stone as its centerpiece, while multi-stone creations use more than one stone to create a distinctive design.
Row style is a multi-stone design. It uses stones to create a straight line. The most common alignment is horizontal, but vertical and diagonal alignments have also become popular.
The cluster style arranges the stones closely together and not in a straight line. Stones of similar size and shape are clustered together to create unique and defining designs. Some artisans may even use stones that are not similar in size and shape to create more daring designs.
Arranged Cluster Style
The arranged cluster style is the more traditional design seen in Navajo jewelry. This style originated from the ancient Navajo, and the techniques used have been passed down throughout the generations.
Random Cluster Style
The random cluster style groups the stones in a random pattern. Random clusters highlight the stones that would otherwise lose their uniqueness if cut and sanded down to match the design scheme of an arranged cluster.
Channel inlay incorporates lapidary techniques. Lapidary involves artfully cutting and polishing stones. Inlays are created with metal, which serves as the blueprint for where the stones will be placed. Then, each stone is meticulously cut and shaped to fit into the metal’s architecture. The final piece will then show each stone surrounded by the metal used, usually silver.
Navajo Jewelry Types
There are many types of Navajo necklaces. Necklaces are made with different stones, use a variety of different strands, and can be found in varying lengths. The most popular and highly regarded Navajo necklace is the squash blossom necklace.
Squash Blossom Necklace
Unsurprisingly, the Navajo took their design inspirations from the world around them. The pendant seen in squash blossom necklaces, referred to as the Naja, was adapted from a design worn by the incoming Spaniards.
The Naja (crescent) was initially developed and used in the Middle East to ward off the evil eye. This design was adopted by the Spanish and taken with them to the Americas. The Navajo then adopted this symbol and used it as the centerpiece of the squash blossom necklace.
Rising from the Naja pendant, smaller beads and design pieces representing squash flowers decorate the sides of the necklace.
This necklace is primarily made with turquoise and silver, but variations using other precious stones have been made.
The squash blossom necklace, and even the size of the overall necklace, is considered a status symbol. Even wearers of this necklace today are thought to have prestige and symbolize wealth.
During the early 1900s is when Navajo bracelet design began to emerge. Initially, these silver bracelets were heavier with wider bands.
With the opening of more turquoise mines beginning in the 1920s, Navajo bracelets now began to feature silver bracelets with a large turquoise stone on top. Others featured a hand-cut oval-shaped turquoise stone on top with smaller stones running down the sides.
The designs then developed into uses of spirals of artfully twisted wire, scalloped-shaped bezels, and silver embellishments consisting of raindrops, feathers, and leaves.
Today, Navajo bracelets still feature many of these traditional designs. Still, one can find bracelets using different colors of gold, and turquoise is now being paired with other precious gemstones such as diamonds. Bracelets also come in different bandwidths and sizes.
Meanings of Navajo Symbols in Jewelry
The symbols in Navajo jewelry represent the world around them and what the Navajo find essential to their spirituality, culture, and creativity.
Many of the symbols found in Navajo jewelry hold meaning:
- Arrow: Represents protections. A broken arrow represents peace amongst tribes.
- Bear: Represents courage and physical power.
- Butterfly: Represents transformation and peace. It brings messages from the Spirit World.
- Circle: Represents the four elements, changing seasons, death, and rebirth.
- Coyote: Represents ancestors, sneakiness, and intelligence.
- Eagle: Represents power, victory, and conquest.
- Feather: Represents trust, wisdom, strength, and honor.
- Fire: Represents purification and renewal.
- Horse: Represents strength, nobility, and freedom.
- Raven: Represents healing and medicine. It brings messages from the Spirit World.
- Snake: Represents healing, rebirth, and luck.
- Wolf: Represents loyalty, compassion, and communication.
Where to Buy Navajo Jewelry
Palms Trading Company offers a vast selection of authentic Navajo jewelry. From contemporary to vintage pieces, it’s guaranteed that you’ll find a piece that suits you best.
Can’t figure out what you like? Take advantage of our personal shoppers that can help you find what matches your personality and style.
Check out our online store today!