When Native American jewelry is discussed, the handcrafted Native American jewelry of the Southwest is the form of jewelry that comes to mind most often. The silver turquoise necklace and other silver jewelry of the Southwest seem much more visible to the general public, although other areas have their own traditional forms of jewelry, like porcupine quills of the Great Plains and the wampum of the Northeast. The turquoise necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings made in the Southwest are more familiar to the average non-First Peoples North American.
Silver-smithing became part of Native American jewelry history only relatively recently. The First People have been using silver to add value to their turquoise bead necklaces only since the 1850s. The First People used US and Mexican coins as their source of silver until those governments made defacing their coins illegal. Much of the antique Native American jewelry can be identified by the shadow of the original coin design in the silver of the piece. The First Americans have turned to jeweler’s sterling silver sheet and wire for their silver materials since using coins has become illegal.
The discovery and mining of native American turquoise deposits in five Southwestern states have given the production the native American turquoise necklace, bracelet, earrings, rings and other jewelry forms a real boost, although Persian turquoise was imported briefly from 1895 to 1900. Now or in the recent past, there are over thirty major turquoise mines that have produced turquoise in the area of the Southwest. With the addition of imported red coral, the most loved turquoise and coral necklace and other jewelry have become a tourist and First People’s favorite.
Caring for turquoise and silver jewelry is relatively easy. Because turquoise can be soft and brittle, it must be treated with respect and kept away from detergents, waxes and other chemicals that might change its color or damage it. If absolutely necessary, the silver can be touched up with a jeweler’s rouge cloth, but should never be dipped in a cleaning solution. Most Native American silver jewelry is intended to be dark in places, so time and wearing it gives it a nice patina to be preserved. Wrap each piece separately in non-acid tissue paper or a soft cloth.
Handcrafted Native American Jewelry of the Southwest is a great form of souvenir, and some impressive sets are true art, to be treasured long after the purchase on a trip through the area. A turquoise bead necklace can worn everyday with nearly any outfit.