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Native American Jewelry at Nepenthes New York

Nepenthes New York introduces a collection of Native American jewelry handcrafted in New Mexico. Available in various styles and materials, these pieces blend the history, artistry, and culture of Native American craftsmanship.


Jewelry-making in the Southwest dates back to prehistoric times, with early Native American makers creating intricate pieces from turquoise, shell, bone, and stone. The Ancestral Puebloans, often called the Anasazi, were central to the turquoise trade routes stretching from the Pacific Northwest to Central America.

The introduction of metalworking to the Native Americans of the Southwest came via the Spanish. By the mid-19th century, Navajo and Zuni artisans had mastered the art of silversmithing. Some early silver jewelry took inspiration from the horse tack that adorned the Spanish's horses - simple yet elegant, decorated with hand-engraved designs and occasionally set with turquoise, which began appearing in silverwork around 1880. By the early 20th century, silversmithing had evolved with more sophisticated designs, such as concho belts and squash blossom necklaces.

The squash blossom necklace, with its central naja crescent and fluted blossoms, incorporates Native American, Spanish, and Mexican influences. The concho motif, which appears on belt buckles and rings, sources inspiration from the silver hair plates worn by the Great Lakes and Plains tribes.

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Navajo, Zuni, and Hopi jewelry each have unique characteristics reflecting their cultural heritage and artistic traditions. Navajo jewelry is known for its bold, silver-heavy designs, often featuring large turquoise stones and intricate hand-stamped patterns. Zuni jewelry, in contrast, emphasizes stonework with finely cut turquoise, coral, and other gemstones set in intricate cluster designs or mosaic inlays. Hopi jewelry uses an overlay technique, cutting designs out of silver sheets and soldering them onto a darker, oxidized background, creating striking, symbolic patterns. Each style showcases the diverse artistry and rich cultural narratives of its respective tribe.

Much of the jewelry uses two traditional methods: sand casting and tufa casting. Sand casting involves carving designs into sandstone, creating molds that yield bold and substantial silver pieces. Using porous volcanic stone, Tufa casting leaves a distinctive texture on the metal, making each piece unique.

Another notable technique is the creation of hand-rolled silver beads, often called "Navajo Pearls." This painstaking process starts with flat discs of silver that are shaped, soldered, and polished to perfection. The result is a necklace style that is recognized and revered worldwide.

Non-silver jewelry also makes an appearance. Heishi beads, a hallmark of Santo Domingo Pueblo artistry, represent one of the oldest forms of jewelry in New Mexico. Traditionally made from shell or gemstone, artisans craft each bead by hand. The process begins with slicing the material into strips, then clipping, drilling, and stringing the beads before they are shaped and polished. This labor-intensive technique results in smooth, flat disc beads that can take up to two weeks to create a single strand.

The collection available at Nepenthes New York features works from renowned silversmiths such as Gary and Sunshine Reeves. Gary Reeves, known for his complex engraved designs and use of high-quality turquoise, began his craft in 1974 and left a lasting legacy. His brother, Sunshine Reeves, continues this tradition with intricate hand-stamped patterns.

The artistry behind this jewelry signifies the enduring legacy of Native American jewelry-making. Each piece tells a story, connecting the past with the present while translating the beauty and culture of the Southwest.

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*This exclusive collection is available in-store only.