Pieces of Native American inlay jewelry have been found all over the continent, with some pieces dating back as far as 8800 B.C. when Paleo Indians made simple works of art out of the rough elements surrounding them. They’d use colorful pebbles, shells, bits of bone and antler, and sometimes they even carved their own stone beads. This is the very beginning for Native American inlay jewelry.
The pendants, amulets and rings were used for a variety of different tasks including trade and adornment. Turquoise is an especially valuable in intricate pieces of Native American inlay jewelry. In the 19th century, the Spaniards started having continued shares of information with the Navajo tribe.
The Navajo tribe saw it as the jewelry as a symbol of the Spaniards’ position in society, so for the next 200 years, the Navajo tribe traded with the Spaniards for jewelry pieces that became the predecessor of Native American inlay jewelry and learned how to make the pieces they coveted so, especially Native American inlay jewelry.
Native American Inlay Jewelry: The Navajo Tribe
The Navajo tribe learned how to work and shape silver from the Spaniards. But they often had the problem of finding the silver to use. Often, they would melt down silver coins to use in their increasingly intricate Native American inlay jewelry.
When they traded with the Spanish, they might also melt down teapots or candlesticks for the silver. In 1890, though the law was nearly impossible to enforce, the U.S. made it illegal to deface the currency, so the Navajo turned to the Mexican coin.
Native American Inlay Jewelry: The Zuni and Hopi Tribes
The Zuni tribe was believed to have learned how to make silver and Native American inlay jewelry around 1872. They were already using many other cheaper metals, such as iron and brass, so it was only natural for them to begin using silver in their works of Native American inlay jewelry. No one really knows when a Zuni smith then taught the members of the Hopi tribe how to work silver, but eventually all three tribes learned unique and different styles even as they shared information.
Native American Inlay Jewelry Today
Today, the Zuni Native American inlay jewelry pieces are some of the most popular pieces of silver in the world. Zuni Native American inlay jewelry that has a “channel” is very valuable and highly sought after. Traditionally, the tribe highly favored colorful stones and shells in their Native American inlay jewelry, though today they use a wide variety of stones from around the world.
The process of Native American inlay jewelry is time-consuming, especially when creating the perfect “channel” for the intended stone. Many pieces of Native American inlay jewelry is displayed in museums around the world. All three Native American tribes have honed Native American inlay jewelry crafting to an art form.