Symbolism and Materials in Native American Jewelry

Jewelry was an inseparable part of trade between Europeans and Native Americans. Along with securing the economy growth of a tribe, for many Native Americans, jewelry was used for ceremonial purposes alongside serving its decorative purpose. [caption id="attachment_5615" align="aligncenter" width="300"]American Indian Silver Agate Brooch American Indian Silver Agate Brooch[/caption]

Turquoise symbolizes the life of American Indians

Turquoise is an opaque mineral and its color can most accurately be described as blue-to-green. The mineral is rare and valuable in finer grades and has been prized as a gemstone and ornamental stone for thousands of years thanks to its gorgeous hue. In the last two decades however, the price of turquoise has been going down along with the prices for other opaque gems, due to the introduction of imitations and synthetics to the jewelry making market. [caption id="attachment_3893" align="aligncenter" width="300"]American Indian Silver Coral Turquoise Belt Buckle American Indian Silver Coral Turquoise Belt Buckle[/caption] The gemstone has been known as "chalchihuitl" by the Aztecs and the word "turquoise" was only introduced around the 17th century. It’s derived from the French "turquois" meaning "Turkish" because the mineral was first brought to Europe through Turkey. Turquoise was once in such high demand among jewelry makers that some sellers ventured to make fake turquoise to trade. [caption id="attachment_7651" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Lena Platero Navajo Coral Turquoise Silver Cuff Lena Platero Navajo Coral Turquoise Silver Cuff[/caption] Turquoise is widely revered and treasured by many cultures around the world and it’s especially so to many Native American tribes. It symbolizes water and sky. Native American jewelry creators would use this mineral to convey the calm and life-giving nature of water in broad like the wisdom of the sky, as well as to bless the owner of the jewelry piece with freedom of thought.

Types of Native American Jewelry

The jewelry created by members of Native American tribes looks not much different from the types of jewelry worn by Americans today: complicated interwoven strands of beads on necklaces or a simple carved pendant hung on a leather string. But a variety of chokers, rings, bracelets, and earrings were worn to signify the jewelry piece owner's status. Nowadays, wearing a gold Omega watch or expensive Cartier gemstone necklace can be a way of signifying an individual’s wealth and status. Wampum beads served the exact same purpose to the Native Americans. Native American jewelry pieces had also been used as a non-verbal communication tool, being a way to send specific messages. [caption id="attachment_9330" align="aligncenter" width="300"]American Indian Coral Cuff Bracelet American Indian Coral Cuff Bracelet[/caption]

Native American artists and jewelers inspiration from culture, beliefs & natural surroundings

Artwork, including jewelry pieces, made during the Woodland period (3000–1100 A.D.) make references to what is now known as shamanism: a deep belief in spiritual bonds between the animal and human worlds. [caption id="attachment_7659" align="aligncenter" width="300"]American Indian Leather Coral Mother of Pearl Silver Bear Bracelet American Indian Leather Coral Mother of Pearl Silver Bear Bracelet[/caption] Because it was believed that animals live closer to the earth, the sky and the waters, they were seen as special intermediaries between the Native American tribes and the great powers and forces of nature such as the fertility of the earth, the life-giving rain, or the heat of the sun, upon which all renewal, growth and fruition depends. These motifs would be utilized by jewelers to not only create an elaborate work of art but also to bless the person who would be wearing the jewelry piece with health, wisdom, fertility or as protection from negative forces. [caption id="attachment_3530" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Native American Opal Sterling Silver Vintage Cuff Bracelet Native American Opal Sterling Silver Vintage Cuff Bracelet[/caption]