Native American Jewelry – Definitions

Here are a some of the most common terms that you will run into when shopping for or reading about Native American Jewelry.

Annealing: Tempering or softening metal by heating it and then rapidly cooling it. In American Indian jewelry they would use this process to soften coins enough so that they could be formed into the desired form.

Applique: A decorative item which has been soldered to the final piece of Native American jewelry.

Turquoise Bracelet

This bracelet features bossing, applique and bent wire techniques

Bent Wire: Thin silver wire which has been bent to form circles or half circles and then appliquéd or soldered to an element of jewelry.

Bezel: Thin wall of silver which surrounds a stone and anchors it in place.

Boss: A raised ornament which is either solid or possibly repoussed.

Boulder or Ribbon Turquoise: Boulder Turquoise is when turquoise is cut to include the host rock or vein rock within which it occurs naturally. The trick to this presentation is to cut in such a manner as to include just the right amount of turquoise along with the host rock. Much of Boulder turquoise comes from the Royston and Pilot Mountain mines in Northern Nevada but it can actually be found at most turquoise mines where the turquoise occurs in veins.

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Necklace featuring Boulder Turquoise.

Butterfly: In Navajo jewelry in particular this design consists of a center element flanked by two wing shaped elements. This shape is often used on Concho or Concha belts in between the large oval or circle pieces. The reference to butterflies was started by early traders and does not have carry this meaning traditionally among the Navajos.

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Picture of a typical Native American butterfly design.

Cabochon: Usually standard size cut stones which have a flat bottom and smooth rounded top. Cabochons can be cut and polished into many different shapes and are not faceted normally. Below you will see cabochons cut into non-standard sizes.

turquoise cabs

Free form turquoise cabochons, please note the lower right stone is overturned to reveal the backing.

Casting: Process by which molten silver is poured into a mold to create the shape desired. Tufa, a light porous stone was one of the first methods used to create jewelry and is referred to as Tufa Casting. Sandstone was oiled and also used which is called Sand Casting and now centrifuge casting machines can be used which is called spin casting. There is a limit to the number of times that a sand or tufa cast can yield.

Chalcedony: Quartz that is either bluish or greenish gray and is sometimes polished and used in Southwestern Indian jewelry.

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Channelwork or channel inlay: The setting of turquoise or another stone separated by thin strips of silver. This method requires precisely cut stones and very detailed oriented silversmithing.

Zuni Turquoise Channel Inlay bracelet

Zuni Turquoise Channel Inlay bracelet

Chasing: The use of a hammer and a chisel to decorate a silver surface.

Chased-Silver

This bracelet illustrates the chasing technique of adorning silver. The diagonal lines you see on each side of the bracelet were chased. The half moon shapes in between were stamped impressions.

Concha: Describes a round or oval shape of with a central design element with radiating designs extending to the edge. The concha shape is used primarily as a method to decorate
belts but can also be used in bolos, rings and bracelets.

Typical Navajo stamped concho with single turquoise setting

Typical Navajo stamped concho with single turquoise setting

 

Dapping: Creating a shape with silver by forcing it into the bottom of a mold usually with a punch and hammer. Dapping blocks are made in both wood and metal and help to shape sheet metal into a form such as a dome.

This is an example of a metal dapping set, wood is also used.

This is an example of a metal dapping set, wood is also used.

Heischi: Describes any shell or stone which has been fashioned into disc or tube shaped beads. These beads may graduate in dimension or all be the  size. These heisci beads are generally strung on a cord or wire and worn as a necklace. The Santa Domingo and San Felipe peoples were the first to master this technique in the southwest.

Turquoise Heishci Bracelet

Turquoise Heishci Bracelet

Hopi Silvercraft Guild: The guild is a cooperative established in 1949 which exists to promote and market Hopi art as well as provide support to emerging Hopi artists. Unfortunately through a series of bad investments the guild is not as vibrant as it once was.

Hubbell glass beads: These were imported glass beads from Italy, Bohemia and finally Czechoslovakia that were sold at trading posts in the Southwest. The color of the beads were turquoise and were meant to be a substitute for real thing. While they are called Hubbell beads there exists no information that would confirm that Hubbell ever actually imported these items. Today almost any glass bead that mimics turquoise is called a Hubbell bead. The bracelet below contains to light blue Hubbell beads.

Native American Jewelry - Hubbell Glass

Two triangular shaped Hubbell Glass beads are used in this early Navajo bracelet

 

Jacla: Originally made and worn by the Pueblo peoples it also became popular amongst the Navajo people through trade. Jacla is actually a Navajo word meaning ear wire. The Jacla are usually a 4”-6” loop consisting of turquoise heische with colored shells highlighting the center of the drop. The jacla were usually worn on or tied to the ear lobe but can also be found on the ends of turquoise necklaces.

Turquoise beads with jacla. Native American Jewelry

Turquoise beads with jacla.

Tufa Casting: The method of  pouring melted metal into a form or mold created out of tufa stone. Tufa stone is a soft rock formed out of volcanic ash. This technique is one of the earliest methods used by Navajo silversmiths and continues to be used today.

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Side view of a tufa-cast bracelet. Note the small imperfections you can still see on the back side of the bracelet. These imperfections mimic the surface of the original tufa mold.

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