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Understanding Navajo Silver Jewelry

The art of silversmithing as practiced by the Navajo, Zuni, and other Pueblo Indians is a relatively recent cultural development. It was not until sometime between 1850 and 1870 that the Navajos acquired the skill of working in silver from the Mexican plateros (silversmiths) they encountered. From the Navajos, the art spread to the Zunis, and to a lesser degree to the other smaller tribes of the Pueblo groups. Although many tribes eventually learned the craft of silversmithing, none have developed it to the level of the Navajo, Zuni and later the Hopi. Eventually, each tribe evolved designs and styles of its own.

  • Navajo Silver Box with Turquoise Setting, c. 1920s
    Navajo Silver Box with Turquoise Setting, c. 1920s (Lot 302, Estimate: $600-800)

In these early years, however, Indian jewelry designs were all heavily influenced by the fashions of the Spanish colonizers. Early examples of classic jewelry produced by the Navajo were the squash blossom necklace with its crescent-shaped pendant (naja) at the lower extremity, this was copied from the Spanish, the naja was a pendant that hung from the center of Spanish silver bridles. Another early silver adornment was the concha belt, with decoration around the outside edge and a slotted center for the leather belt, it was commonly worn throughout the late 19th century, and the design was copied from Spanish harness buckles. By the end of the 19th century, the Navajo and Zuni started to use Turquoise from local mines to adorn their silver jewelry; the use became popular especially among the Navajo and is now a ubiquitous feature of Southwest jewelry, used on belts and bracelets as well as fine silver boxes and ketoh bow guard wrist ornaments. Southwest jewelry became extremely popular in the 1960s and 70s, with large quantities being made for a more mass market; in conjunction with the establishment of artists studios producing refined and sophisticated interpretations on traditional themes.

Skinner offers Navajo silver jewelry in our American Indian & Ethnographic Art auctions. Click below to view the lots up for offer in the upcoming auction on May 18.

Consider Reading : Pablo Picasso Jewelry


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