Common Types of Native American Silver Jewelry

overlay style

Traditional Overlay

This style of jewelry is most often made by the Hopi, though many Navajo also use this technique. Often thought to be carved into the silver, this look is actually created by cutting a design out of one sheet of silver and soldering it to another.

First, the design is drawn and then transferred to a sheet of silver. A hole is then drilled in the part to be cut out and a tiny saw blade is inserted. Next, the design is painstakingly sawed out. The lines must be steady, since no correction can be made later. After it is cut out, it is soldered to another piece of silver as a backing. Later the background or recessed part of the design is stamped with a straight line stamp and a rawhide hammer, making repeated little marks that follow the shape of the design. The piece is trimmed, hammered into shape and the stamped background is oxidized black. It is then polished, creating a silver and contrasting black design. TIP: When purchasing overlay, look for any wavering lines or lopsided designs, as well as poorly soldered seams.

sand cast

Navajo Sandcast

This style of jewelry was associated with the Navajo, but is not commonly done anymore. Sandcast jewelry is made by carving a design into a relatively soft, heat resistant stone such as volcanic sand stone. Molten silver is poured into the cast and the cooled piece is hammered into shape

TIP: When purchasing sandcast jewelry, look for any deep cracks in the piece.

inlay style

Traditional Inlay

This style is primarily associated with the Zuni. Various stones are cut and fitted either into channels created for them in the silver piece of jewelry, or next to each other in a mosaic pattern.

TIP: When purchasing inlay jewelry, look for how well the stones are cut and fitted together and pay attention to the overall finish.

navajo stampwork

Navajo Stampwork

This style is mostly associated with the Navajo, and can be used to create the design on a piece of jewelry, or added in conjunction with other silverwork. If done correctly, stampwork can create a beautiful piece of jewelry or greatly enhance another style with a finishing touch of added detail.

Stampwork requires considerable skill. If one edge is not placed flat on the silver it may not leave a satisfactory image, or bite too deep on one side but not the other. If held too loosely or not struck properly, it may leave a double image. If struck in the wrong place nothing can really erase it.

cast reproduction

Cast Reproduction

This style of jewelry basically involves making a wax mold, which is then cast in metal. By making a rubber mold of an original piece of jewelry, countless wax models can be made and then cast in silver. TIP: When purchasing cast jewelry, keep in mind that it is less valuable than handmade, as it requires much less work to produce than the original piece.

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