A Brief History of Native American Jewellery

Here at Apache Rose, we’re passionate about jewellery. And this means that we find ourselves drawn to other cultures who share our passions. Jewellery has played a significant role in Native American culture for centuries, with the selected adornments not only being used for aesthetic purposes, but also for spiritual and ethereal wellbeing.

The Importance of Jewellery

In many Native American cultures, words hold little power. It’s often said that silence is the cornerstone of character in Native American tribes, but, contrary to popular belief, the silent aren’t actually without communication. Instead, they use physical expressions of thoughts and feelings, and that’s where jewellery comes into play; it’s a way of communicating without using words, and a way of conveying messages through non-verbal means.

The huge variety of materials used enabled the early tribes to really get their messages across. Natural materials were, of course, the preferred options as they were so readily available. This included hardwoods, plant fibres, animal teeth, bone, hide and both precious and semi-precious stones. Archaeological evidence suggests that this form of jewellery has been around since 8800 BC, with the Paleo-Indians using small, handmade tools to make necklaces, rings, earrings, and bracelets from coastal stones and shells.

Rituals and Ceremonies

Gemstones and ornamental shells have long played a role in Native American rituals and ceremonies, with one of the most prominent being the Apache Sunrise Ceremony.

Traditionally a 4-day event (although modern ceremonies are a bit shorter), the ceremony transfers the spiritual and physical power of the first woman to young girls, signifying their transition to womanhood. The abalone features heavily in the ceremony, incorporating the legend of the White Painted Woman who survived a flood by hiding inside a shell, and was later reborn. The shell has become a symbol of change and power within the Apache nation, making abalone a very popular jewellery choice.

And many other materials have legends of their own. Turquoise, for example, is often referred to as a ‘SkyStone’. That’s because, according to legend, Native American tribes danced with joy when rain fell after a long and devastating drought. They cried tears of happiness which, when mixed with the rain from the sky, created turquoise.

Other materials that are commonly used are labradorite, hematite, pearl, and coral, with each having its own unique meaning within the different Native American tribes.

Native American Jewellery Today

Native American jewellery has definitely changed over time. The good news is that animal teeth, bone, and hide aren’t really used any more, with Europeans introducing new materials and new techniques which changed native jewellery trends for good.

The arrival of the Europeans in the 16th century introduced glass to the tribes, while in the 19th century the first Native American silversmiths began practicing this new art form that had been borrowed from the Spanish. The meaning of jewellery changed at this time, too. While still used for communication and aesthetics, it also became an important commodity in trade, and, subsequently, important for survival of the cultures.

At Apache Rose, we are so in awe of the beautiful workmanship that goes into such Native American pieces, that it 100% inspires our curation when sourcing jewellery from international designers for the boutique. We believe that each piece tells it's own unique story, just at jewellery in Native American culture was used for storytelling. For example, selecting jewellery which incorporates semi-precious stones, such as pearl with its stabilising properties or hematite with its protective properties, keeps important legends in circulation and communicates the true power of nature without you even having to say a word.

In future posts, we’ll be delving into the traditions of specific tribes, so come back soon for more on this fascinating topic.

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LORE noun [U]
Time-honoured knowledge, wisdom and stories passed down through the ages; transcending space and time to connect hearts, minds and generations.