Inlay refers to the process of cutting and polishing turquoise, shell, and other traditional stones before combining them into patterns and embedding them with metal. Southwestern Native American artists are especially recognized for their skills in inlay jewelry. There are several different techniques used in inlay design:
A "mosaic" inlay is when the stones are laid in the metal touching one another and are flush with the surface of the jewelry.
"Cobblestone" refers to the stones being uneven in height and size with beveled edges - closely resembling a cobblestone street.
Commonly seen, "channel" inlay indicates the use of metal spacers between the stone.
"Corn Row" inlay closely mimics the appearance of this harvested crop - neatly arranged parallel rows of stone with slightly rounded edges.
Southwestern Native American jewelry artists are especially recognized for their lapidary skills used to create inlay jewelry. Turquoise, shell, sugilite, gaspeite and other traditional stones are cut and polished and then combined in patterns and designs, embedded in the metal. The Native American Inlay Collection, features a selection of inlay jewelry created by some of the Southwest’s finest artisans.
Mosaic inlay is where each stone is laid in touching the stone next to it, and the stones are generally flush with the surface. Sunwest Silver jewelry artists who work in mosaic inlay style include famous names like: Na Na Ping, Calvin Desson, Tommy Jackson, Chris Tom, Quintin Quam, and Alvin Yellowhorse.
Cobblestone inlay stones will be uneven in height and size, and may have beveled edges, giving the appearance of a cobble stone street. The stones are set touching each other, so it is considered a form a mosaic inlay. You can look at the work of Carlos Eagle, and Chris Tom for examples of this style, and Alvin Yellowhorse does both cobblestone and mosaic style work.
Channel inlay is different in that the stones will have metal ‘spacers’ between them. Tommy Jackson, Calvin Begay, and J. Nelson are all familiar Sunwest artists who use this technique.
Overlay inlay uses a cut-out design that attached to the backing and filled with stone work.