Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni: Tracing the Origins of your Native American Jewelry

Jewelry items made by Native Americans are as diverse as their cultures and histories. This has been exemplified by the Navajos’ squash blossom necklaces and the Zunis’ fetish necklaces. Many tribes were able to produce personal adornment items that are way ahead of their time. No wonder, jewelry items made by Native American artists continue to hold a special place in society up to this date.

If you’re thinking of getting a piece or are already a long-time collector of Native American jewelry, you might want to trace which tribe is responsible for your most adored personal adornment items. Knowing this will help you appreciate the accessory better and realize the proper ways of wearing them. 

While there are hundreds of Native American tribes out there, we’ve narrowed the list to only three: the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni (since they produce the most popular jewelry items in today’s market). Find out whether your item is made by a Navajo, Hopi, or Zuni artist through this brief guide below.

Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni Tribes

Vintage 1970’s Old Pawn Zuni Sterling Silver Inlay MOP & Onyx Thunderbird Bolo

The Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni are all Native American peoples. They live in different parts of the Southwestern United States and practice different cultures and beliefs. Consequently, each tribe also has its own way of creating personal adornments that are distinct from each other. 

You can easily get an idea of which among these three tribes created a jewelry piece by looking at the different features present in the jewelry item. These include:

  1. The characteristics of their silver items differ.

All the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni peoples learned the art of silversmithing and incorporated this knowledge in creating their jewelry items. However, how they use silver in their craft differs accordingly.

The Navajo tribe, in particular, are the leading silversmiths of their time. They have mastered the art of cutting and shaping silver to fit any stone. Hence, you can easily spot Navajo jewelry items by checking out whether the silver is expertly shaped to accommodate any bulky gem. Navajo silver accessories are also typically thick and heavy. 

The Zuni tribe, on the other hand, is more popular for their inlay style jewelry. In the said procedure, it is the stone and not the silver that is cut and shaped into a particular design. Later on, the precious stones that were so artistically cut will be inserted in pre-made channels that were carved into the silver metal to create a complex and colorful pattern.

Finally, the Hopi tribe also came up with their own way of using silver through the technique called the overlay method. This technique requires the use of two silver sheets. The artist shall first draw his desired pattern on the first silver sheet and cut it out later on. Once done, this first sheet of silver shall be soldered to another sheet. Typical Hopi-made jewelry items demonstrate etched oxidized backgrounds.

  1.     The size and features of their stones/gems vary.

Aside from their use of silver metals, Native American tribes also differ in terms of how they design their stones.

Since the Navajos are master silversmiths, they focus more on customizing and designing silver when creating jewelry. They often leave the gemstones in their raw and natural form. In other words, their intricate silverworks are the focus of their art, not the precious stones attached to the silver metal. Consequently, it is typical for their jewelry items to have chunky stones that are not cut or shaped.

On the other hand, the Zuni people are gifted with spectacular stone-cutting skills. This is very apparent in their jewelry items, which exhibit finely-cut stones that are shaped into intricate shapes and designs. This is the exact opposite of the Navajos’ silver-focused creations.

Meanwhile, the Hopi tribe came up with their mosaic inlay style, which involves splitting stones into pieces, putting them back together, and then inserting other types of stones around the pattern.

  1.   The symbols they use are often not similar

    Vintage Zuni Hand Carved Fossil Buffalo & Sterling Silver Fetish Necklace

Since the Navajos, Zunis, and Hopis have different cultures and beliefs, the signs and symbols present in their jewelry items also vary.

The sun, for example, is depicted in different ways by each tribe. A circular sun with horns is typical of Navajo art rooted in their mythology. Meanwhile, the Zunis are well-known for their Sunface design, which depicts the sun with rectangular eyes and a circular mouth.

The Hopi tribe’s sun symbol also has a face, but what makes it distinct from the Sunface of the Zunis is that the rays of their (Hopi tribe) sun are grouped into three, representing the Kachina spirits.

Additional Tip: Check for Hallmarks!

Most Native American jewelry items come with hallmarks to help you identify their makers. You can easily search for the background of the artist to know which tribe they came from.

For your guide, Navajo artists typically provide simple letters of their initials to serve as hallmarks. The hallmarks of the Zunis, on the other hand, often resemble signatures. Lastly, Hopi artists tend to use symbols to represent their clans.

Planning to Sell Your Native American Jewelry?

Got some Native American jewelry items on your hand? We can help evaluate your item. Simply visit our site and complete our appraisal form. You may also call or text us at 480-991-5626 if you’re from Scottsdale or 480-705-5626 if you’re from Chandler.