Sterling Silver Jewelry
Learn about the traditional Sterling Silver jewelry created by Native American Indians.
Most people think of a silver chain necklace or silver chain bracelet when thinking of sterling silver jewelry. It was in the early 1800s that the Spanish settlers first taught Native American Indians silversmithing. Indians now consider silversmithing a traditional occupation and continue the art of jewelry making today. A bracelet of turquoise and silver is often made by the Navajo Indian artists. Other stones such as lapis, opal, mother of pearl, and coral were also used in jewelry art making. Later sterling silver jewelry replaced German silver which really wasn't silver at all, but a nickel alloy.
The stone most recognized as Native American Indian jewelry is the turquoise stone. Evidence of prehistoric mining is evident around abandoned Indian sites, showing that Turquoise was the favored stone of the Indian tribes. New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado are all well known for their turquoise and sterling silver jewelry made by Indians. Different Indian tribes use variations of jewelry designs. Xuni are known for their fine channel and inlay work while Navajo are best known as the greatest silversmiths. Overlay is often used by the Hopi Indians and Santa Domingo Indians use shell overlays.
Navajo's were thought to be the first of the Native American Indian's to work with sterling silver. They began by making concha belts, bracelets, and sterling silver necklaces. The earliest silver work found to date by a Navajo was a hammered piece. It wasn't until about 1880 that turquoise appeared embedded in the sterling silver jewelry. Navajo silversmiths often used US coins to create the silver in their jewelry. Often they melted candlesticks or tea pots that traders and ranchers traded. Mexican coins were the easiest for the Navajo to work with because of it's thinness. Next came sterling silver which was almost as fine and third were US coins. No matter what the Native American Indians used, they showed their true craftsmanship in the beauty of their jewelry.