Zuni Indian Jewelry

The Zunis have adapted as the economics of the world around them forced changes. When the making of silver ornaments was introduced in the middle of the Nineteenth Century, they were among the first to pick up the art. For a long time they turned out attractive belts, necklaces, buttons and armbands of silver. Until the turn of the century it was hard to tell Zuni Indian Jewelry from Navajo, and many “experts” feel that Zuni silver was traded from the Navajo. Zunis maintain, with some photographic evidence, that it was the other way around.

Zuni Indian Jewelry - Eldridge Martinez Zuni Indian Jewelry - Eldridge Martinez

Turquoise, a sacred stone, was rare and hard to get historically, though the Zunis had been middle-men in the turquoise trade dating back a thousand years. Most of the mines were further north, the buyers way to the south, so a trade route was established with Zuni somewhat in the middle.

The Kewas, (the Spanish named them Santo Domingos), worked several mines in the Santa Fe area and others the San Luis Valley and into Colorado. These rather extensive mines (with deep tunnels in the rock) were being worked long before the Spanish arrived. This stone was made into beads and small chips were worked into mosaics glued with pine pitch to small boards and used for pendants, earrings, and combs. Some of those combs were sent to the King of Spain by Coronado.

In the nineteen twenties a new style emerged in Zuni—actually two new styles. The ability to solder and the availability of turquoise allowed the Zunis to indulge their personal taste by setting many small stones where one or a few were used before. This work is known as cluster. Cluster is a term that includes many types of stonework, often placed together. Row work, mainly bracelets, is the only place we see square and rectangular cut stones because they don’t “cluster” very attractively. Small diamonds are almost unheard of, though pieces I have seen are quite pretty. The terms for cluster style stones are very confusing. Petit point is an oval stone with one end coming to a point. These are not tear-shaped, a form that has a twist to the tail. They are not pear shaped, because one end comes to a point which is not attractive in a pear.

Zuni Indian Jewelry - Jonathan Beyuka Zuni Indian Jewelry - Jonathan Beyuka

Oval stones which are included in cluster don’t have a special name and they are mostly seen in older work, often combined with round or petit point stones. Round stones of small size are called snake-eye and are used in row work also. Snake-eye is usually combined with other shapes otherwise.

The most “Zuni” type stone-work is called needlepoint. Many people have used this style, but the master was Bryant Waatsa who invented a stone that was unusually long and thin, best approximating the name. Needlepoint is often compared to a canoe. An oval shape pointed on both ends. Waatsa’s distinctive style was much more logically called needlepoint. It is a shape that is difficult to grind because it is very prone to breakage, being long and thin and pointed. But most true needlepoint is striking and attractive, probably suggesting in its delicacy andits difficulty to make.

The other emerging style in the twenties featured various forms of mosaic. Purists insist that the word mosaic can only be applied to a number of stones that fit tightly together and create a design or picture. Most people find it convenient to apply the word to any work that approximates that—thus channel work, overlay inlay, true mosaic and the rest (see glossary) can be classified as a single innovation in style. It actually dates back to prehistoric time when early Pueblos were inlaying shell and gluing stones to small pieces of wood. After nearly a century new innovations are still emerging in this style.