Single stone pieces -whether it be earrings, rings, bracelets or necklaces- are some of the most common designs in Native American jewelry. The single stone jewelry style features one beautiful stone as a stand-alone centerpiece.
The multi stone design is another popular Native American jewelry design. The term “multi stone” is a broader term describing more than one stone that is incorporated into unique styles such as row, cluster or inlay.
Jewelry designed in a row has a multi stone pattern. Rows are laid out in a straight line either horizontally, vertically or diagonally. The horizontal row is the most common orientation of stones in Native American jewelry.
A cluster is a close arrangement of stones. Native American artists freely place similarly sized and shaped stones in a linear or non-linear fashion to form eye-catching pieces. In unorganized arrangements these stones don’t necessarily match one another exactly.
There are two different types of cluster designs, the second being the arranged cluster. The arranged cluster is the classical or traditional cluster design and has been used for many generations by Navajo.
Random cluster designs are when the grouping of stones is placed in a seemingly random fashion. Random clusters highlight stones that would arguably lose some of their brilliance if shaped down into a stone that would likely be found in an arranged cluster.
Rainbow designs are reminiscent of a rainbow’s color pattern. This type of row or cluster has a multi stone style using more than two colors of stones. For this jewelry pattern a minimum of three color variations are used.
The inlay jewelry style gives designers complete freedom to create designs of their choice. This lapidary style incorporates flattened stones that are measured, cut, shaped, and carefully laid in place to create a design.
Channel inlay is exactly like the inlay designs described above, made of flattened stones that are measured, cut, shaped, and carefully laid in place to create a design. Yet, channel inlay is its own unique rendition of the art and is a significantly more rare and traditional style.
Only the most skilled Native American jewelry artists can conquer the intricate process of stone to stone inlay. This is a jewelry design that is considered to be modern, as it is a newer take on traditional Native American jewelry.
The overlay style is made of two or more metals that are overlaid, one on top of another. The depth of each layer creates dimension in the design. For instance, a gold belt buckle with gilded silver overlay adding a three-dimensional contrast of metals.
The storyteller overlay jewelry is a a type of design that illustrates the timeline of a story within the design. This is commonly seen across the cuff or a bracelet or shorter stories can be found on jewelry pendants.
Polishing is done once a piece is completely finished. Native American jewelry artists use a simple and straight forward polishing process. Base metals used in a given style are smoothed and polished to be mirror like- reflective and shiny.
Hammer work is done by hand using special hammers and a metal base that metal sits against while it is being worked. The term “hammer work” is a generalized term used for the process of stamping, filing and prepossessing.
Stamp work is done using metal stamps, each with a unique tip. Imagine a smaller version of a flat-head screwdriver that has a unique point.
Repousse is also known as forge work. It is a technique done using a hammer to shape metal into jewelry pieces.
File work is very similar to stamp work and also quite simple. Jewelry artists use files to hammer line markings into metals in patterns on a given piece of jewelry.
Casting is a process of heating and melting metal until it is able to be poured. It is then slowly poured into a mold where it then cools. Once cooled, the mold can be removed, leaving behind the newly formed desired shape.
Sandcasting an art that uses worked blocks of sandstone as metal molds. Depending on the complexity of the piece, this process can take anywhere from a few hours to a couple of months.
Tufa casting is similar to sandcasting, but in this process a stone called tufa is used to do the cast work. Tufa is very fragile and has a tendency to crack so molds made from this stone are unable to be used multiple times.
Shank work in an intricate design process that is virtually limitless as to how many different designs can be made from the silver wire shanks. Wires that are at least ¼” in diameter can be called shanks.
A bangle, also known as a single shank style, is an early style bracelet that is a large heavy wire or shank that is decorated with stamp or file work.
Jewelry that does not fit into one or more of the above categories falls into our contemporary or “new style” category. Once a style becomes more common and well-known it will form its own category, but this takes some time.