Native American Indian Jewelry and Traditions: Part II

Native American Jewelry use


Southwestern Native American tribal jewelry is synonymous with quality – and rightfully so.

We have several great pieces to choose from at Tribal Muse @

Navajo Jewelry – Southwestern Treasure

Perhaps the most celebrated of all Native American Jewelry is that of the Navajo tribe, with its boldly inscribed silverwork and generously-proportioned nuggets of locally-mined Turquoise. These wonderful pieces are often of impressive size, with large pendants hanging from one or more beaded strands.

The Navajo are masters of the Concha and the beautiful Squash Blossom Necklace with its inverted-crescent Naja pendant suspended from a chain rimmed with squash flower buds.                                                                       PicMonkey Collage

Precision Among the Santo Domingo Native Americans

The notable Santo Domingo (or Kewa Pueblo) Jewelry is famous for its tiny, precisely made shell-beads called heishi (today the term heishi describes similar beads of any material).

Kewa Pueblo heishi is distinguished by its smooth feel when you run it through the fingers. This is because Pueblo carvers buff the outside surfaces of each bead against a turning wheel, shaving away any barbs or irregularities until only a smooth surface remains. Some say that today’s Kewa Pueblo (Santo Domino) Indian Jewelry is the most refined of all the Native American Tribal Jewelry traditions.

The Zuni Bring Needlepoint to Jewelry

Zuni Needlepoint

Meticulously made Zuni Jewelry contains small lozenge-shaped beads arranged in delicate-looking designs, sometimes called “needlepoint.” Silver usually plays a secondary role, since the Zuni prefer working with stone or shell to create patterns that mimic those found in nature.

Zuni jewelry is relatively light-weight and painstakingly crafted. The Zuni also produce hand-carved stone animal fetishes and superb channel inlay jewelry.

Elusive Beauty – Hopi Jewelry

Although the Hopi are among the oldest makers of Native American tribal jewelry in Northern America, they are comparative newcomers to the contemporary Indian tribal jewelry market. Recognized for their precise overlay technique, Hopi jewelry is handcrafted by fusing 2 pieces of silver together so that a cut-out design appears in contrasted relief. Their jewelry is often difficult to find since fewer pieces are made.

Watch Out for Imitations

Since 1999, it is illegal in the USA to claim that a piece of jewelry is Native American Indian Southwestern JewelryJewelry when it is not. That is why all the Native American Tribal Jewelry pieces on Tribal Muse are certified. Similar-looking pieces that are not so certified are identified as “Southwestern Jewelry” in their descriptions, and not as Native American Indian Jewelry.

Thinking About Native American Jewelry?

I would love to know your experiences with Native American tribal jewelry and my blog. Share a comment or send an email anytime.


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Andrea @ Tribal Muse







Early Native American Jewelry Traditions


What Do You Think Of?

Most people probably visualize lots of ornate silver with turquoise when they think about Native American tribal jewelry. Surprisingly, North American Indian artisans did not start using this style until the 1800’s when they learned it from the Spaniards. It was not initially Native American at all, even though today many Indian tribal jewelry artisans fully embrace it.

Native Americans certainly wore jewelry before the arrival of the Europeans. In alignment with nature, they used the natural materials to make meaningful ornaments and beads.

How Did They Do That?

With their primitive tools, the process was a pain staking and time-consuming process. They meticulously handcrafted each bead from antler, shell, horn, bone, quills, feathers, claws, teeth, wood, and stone. These components provided the wearer with a spiritual connection to nature – and spirituality is a defining characteristic of all Native American cultures.

Except for the unique copper jewelry of the Great Lakes region, most of this early Native American tribal jewelry did not survive. Only a few isolated stone beads remain.

Trade Changed Everything.

Things changed when the Europeans arrived. They brought trade with them – and trade meant a steady supply of colorful, uniform, and plentiful glass beads. Native American crafts of all kinds- especially textiles and tribal jewelry suddenly acquired a new aesthetic.

Despite these changes, Native American artisans continued to integrate traditional symbols into their work. The exact symbolic meaning varied from tribe to tribe, but is enlightening nonetheless.

What Does It All Mean?

bearFor example, the bear was considered a cosmic guardian and fierce humming birdprotector by many tribes people. Birds carried prayers to heaven – especially the spirit bird depicted in flight. Kokopeli playing a flute assured the tribe of crops and babies. The three sisters – corn, beans, and squash – gave both spiritual and physical nourishment. These are just a few of the repeating symbols that continue to embellish Native American tribal jewelry even today.

NEXT: Some Native American Jewelry Traditions in North America Today

Send your comments and suggestions…I would love to hear from you!

Andrea @ Tribal Muse


Turquoise for Your Thoughts? : History of Native American Turquoise Jewelry

native_american_jewelryTurquoise is one of the most prevalent stones used in Native American jewelry. Dating back to thousands of years ago, Native American tribes mined turquoise stones as they believed that it was a sacred stone. They designed masks and other accessories to decorate themselves with this amazing stone. In the 19th century, Spaniards taught Navajo American Indians to construct the turquoise and silver jewelry that remains their trademark today.

The color of turquoise, to the Navajo tribe, symbolized luck, happiness and health. These qualities led to the use of turquoise in many different aspects of Native American life for attracting luck and good fortune. Simple beads dating from around 7,000 BCE are among the first forms of jewelry found in the archaeological record from any Native American tribe. Originally, these beads were made out of shells or rocks. Over time, colorful stones and ornate construction gained favor, especially for tribal celebrations. Even during combat, Native American warriors wore impressive jewelry to show their superiority to the other tribes.

If you are looking to purchase certified Native American Indian Jewelry in Turquoise and Silver, visit us at Our Jewelry was handcrafted by Navajo, Santo Domingo, and Zuni silversmiths. The artisan’s Hallmark (stylized signature) is on each piece. You might like our Southwestern Jewelry too.

Tribal Jewelry or Ethnic Jewelry?

There is something about Tribal Jewelry that speaks to just about all of us. Not many things are common to all cultures, but wearing jewelry seems to be one of them.  It does not matter if  you are talking  about prehistory or present times…people like to wear jewelry.

Just what is Tribal Jewelry?

Tribal Jewelry refers to handcrafted jewelry pieces that are made and worn by indigenous people, and not mass produced for sale to others.  Tribal Jewelry often holds special meaning and significance to the people making and wearing it – including unique symbolism, identification of social status, and not surprisingly as a source of wealth.

What does Tribal Jewelry look like?

There is no one-look for Tribal Jewelry, since the styles, materials, and construction vary from group to group.  Some pieces may be as simple as a garland of flowers and twigs placed on the head, while others are exquisitely detailed with extreme precision and elegant beauty.

PicMonkey Collage

Tribal Jewelry does have a few elements that distinguish it almost at once, however. The designs are frequently not symmetrical, which may be intentional or simply convenient.  Vintage and old pieces may have stones missing, broken sections, and even debris from being spread out on the ground when they were sold.

Most pieces have an age patina, which is a warm darkening of the surface that can only be achieved over time (many try to reproduce it with new jewelry, but it is not the same).  Having lived through many lives over many years, some Tribal Jewelry becomes individualized as each wearer adds their own flourish.

A delightful thing about Tribal Jewelry is that it was often worn in multiple ways.  A necklace might be worn as a headpiece or part of a belt, a large clasp becomes a pendant when placed on a ribbon, multiple rings can frame the face when threaded with locks of hair, and so forth.  Finally, Tribal Jewelry generally tends to be larger and more exuberant than contemporary jewelry, with some of the larger pieces weighing up to a pound (0.5 kg) or more.  See more on Tribal Jewelry…

Ethnic Jewelry vs. Tribal Jewelry

Ethnic Jewelry on the other hand is usually new jewelry that is made to look like Tribal Jewelry.  Its style is often streamlined by removing a little of the chunkiness and imperfections found in true Tribal Jewelry.

People who like their jewelry polished, yet still somewhat large and perhaps symbolic are particularly fond of Ethnic Jewelry. Because most ethnic jewelry is mass produced and not handmade, prices are generally lower and availability is higher.

??????????????Some Ethnic Jewelry is wonderful at capturing the tribal essence, others not so much.  Bollywood Jewelry with its lavish design is great at retaining the opulence of ancient Mogul tribal traditions.  Many jewelry artisans in Nepal are equally skilled at replicating old Tibetan and Himalayan tribal pieces for general consumption.

The quality of Ethnic Jewelry can differ significantly among manufacturers, even when using the samTurkish Jewelrye design.  For example, contemporary Ottoman Ethnic Jewelry from Turkey is far superior to copies of the same jewelry made elsewhere.  Still, Ethnic Jewelry is a great every-day alternative for Tribal Jewelry lovers.

What has been your experience with Tribal and Ethnic Jewelry? Which do you prefer? Let us know in the comments section, we’d love to hear.


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