Use of Metals in Native American Jewelry

Historic Development and Use of Metals in Native American Jewelry

The great majority of Native American Jewelry sold in The Museum Shop is primary sterling silver, with just a few items made with 14K gold. Metals were not traditionally used in Native American jewelry.

“Contact with Spanish and Mexican settlers provided access to metal tools and implements. By the 1830s, Navajo and Pueblo people were forming crude bracelets and ornaments from brass and copper wire. They learned the skill of working metal from Mexican blacksmiths in the mid-1800s, which would be adapted to working silver by the 1860s. Silver coins were hammered into form or melted into ingots that were then hammered to shape. The art of silversmithing spread quickly … in the 1870s, but was not introduced to the Hopis until 1898.

The introduction of silver had a significant impact on native jewelry. For the Navajo, necklaces evolved from strings of shells and beads to hollow beads of silver interspersed with squash blossom elements and najas (crescent-shaped pendants) suspended at the bottom. Waists became adorned with round and oval silver plated strung on leather belts [now called Concha Belts].”

– From “Reassessing Hallmarks of Native Southwest Jewelry” by Pat and Kim Messier.