From the early 1920’s to today Southwestern Indian silversmiths have attained a high degree of artistic excellence which has rivaled that of other distinguished silversmiths throughout the ages. Regardless of when the Navajo and the Zuni learned silversmithing, who taught them, and what they learned from each other – the past 80 plus years represent the golden age of Native American Jewelry. We believe one of the biggest factors responsible is – the influence of Anglo traders and their dedication to progress and profits, which motivated Indians and awakened a sense of pride in professionalism; Navajo competed with Navajo for the traders’ goods and patronage, Zuni competed with Zuni, and Hopi with Hopi; while traders competed with each other for the growing market to satisfy a discerning clientele. Of course other factors contributed as well, the advancement of tools and machinery and the accessibility of raw materials.
The two materials most highly prized by the early inhabitants of American’s southwest were shell and turquoise. To obtain these raw materials, far reaching trade connections were established. Historically, in the 18th and 19th centuries, inhabitants of the Rio Grande pueblos rode to the west coast to trade turquoise and other goods for shells and parrot feathers. Cerillos turquoise has been found around Mexican sites and was probably traded through Zuni pueblos to more southern tribes. Today most of the turquoise is mined in Colorado and Nevada and shipped to the silversmith’s workshops or bought through trade shows by Navajo, Hopi or Zuni jewelers.
Today, times have changed, although the materials have not. Native American Jewelry designs are more fascinating than ever, have become more intricate and people all around the globe recognizes Southwestern Jewelry and the value of its heritage and soul.