Difference Between Navajo and Hopi Sterling Silver Overlay Jewelry

silver overlay jewelry

Hopi or Navajo?

Silver overlay wearable art can be confusing

The thought is the Navajo silversmith first learned his craft from a Mexican platero. Then the Navajo taught both the Zuni and Hopi to make jewelry. So, in the beginning the jewelry being made was heavily influenced by Navajo design. Eventually this would change and the Zuni and Hopi silversmiths would develop a different look from the Navajo. For the Hopi the style would become silver overlay that incorporated traditional motifs into the jewelry.

Of course the Hopi style became very popular with collectors, and it didn’t take long before some Navajo artists began incorporating the overlay technique into their work. This gave birth to the Navahopi style and buyers confusion immediately followed.

When something is Native American handmade it is important to the collector to know at minimum which tribe the art is affiliated with. This email takes some samples of Hopi and Navajo silver overlay jewelry and explains who to identify them.

  • Symbolism, the Hopi are an agrarian society and the sun is at the center of Hopi life.
  • The background, you will find small etching in the oxidized silver creating a texture.
  • Also, the Hopi have lots of gods, like the Kokopelli, which is not in Navajo culture.

  • The hogan is a traditional Navajo home that is unique to them and different from Hopi homes that are usually rock.
  • You will find that the oxidized background does not have an etching like the Hopi.
  • The objects on Navajo overlay pieces are usually realistic representations where you will find lots of symbolism in Hopi design.

  • This one becomes a little tricky because it has that Hopi feel with the Native American inspired border design.
  • First, look at the oxidized background, no etching.
  • The bear, this is a realistic representation of the animal, unlike (look above at the bear buckle) the header where the animal is filled with symbolism.
  • This is Navajo made.

  • This bracelet is full of symbolism, but what does it mean?
  • You could succesfully argue that was a Native American Church fan symbol, especially since Steven J Begay made the piece.
  • Hopi, symbolism is usually found in something that we can all identify, like the sunface bracelet above.
  • Also, if you held all these cuffs this one would definitley be the heaviest, another indication that helps you identify it as Navajo.

  • It should be getting easier, we have a realistic animal, the wolf filled with symbolism?
  • Yes, Hopi. It is not always easy, but remember to use all of your knowledge.
  • The oxidized background is filled with that small etching, another Hopi attribute.
Of course, it doesn't always work so easily. Some artist want to deceive you, so you are going to learn some other techniques to tell the difference. We will talk about hallmarks in another newsletter. Now, visit the site and see if you can tell the difference.

1 comment

  • Your article was very informative. I was interested in a piece that had the kokopelli symbol but was described as being from a BK and being Navajo! The kokopelli is a Hopi god, no? It had etching, not sure if it was overlay. Anyway to know about overlay? Thanks again, John

    John Pochas

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