History of Native Jewelry

Native American Indian Jewelry has been found in excavations of prehistoric ruins. Bead making is an ancient craft. Bead necklaces are often called heishe, from the Santo Domingo word for shell. Seashells are the most common material used for beads. Seashells used in Native American Jewelry are Spiny Oyster Shell, Mother of Pearl, Abalone, Conch and Clam. They have been important trade items in the Southwest for over 1,000 years.


Native American Jewelry using silver work is not an ancient art. It was learned from the Mexican Silversmiths in the 1850s. Mexican Silversmiths would trade their Silver Trinkets for cattle from the Navajo. This association would lead the Navajo Blacksmiths to learn the art of Silver making. Navajo sand casting is one of the oldest silver working techniques among the Navajo. The Navajo Indians traded their jewelry with Zuni Indians for livestock. One of the Navajo early silversmiths taught the Zuni the art of silversmithing around 1872. Later a Zuni silversmith taught the Hopi silversmithing around 1890. The Native American Artists never mined the silver used in making their jewelry.