Located between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, NM, near the ancient Cerrillos Turquoise mine, the Kewa Pueblo (formerly known as Santo Domingo), is one of the Northern Pueblos best known for heishe bead necklaces from shell and turquoise. The Pueblo artists are also celebrated for their complex and beautiful pottery and of course their silversmithing traditions.
Onyx has long been used for carving and jewelry, and is a favored stone often seen in Native American inlay work, or as cabochons or beads.
The iridescent nacre coating found inside shells like abalone, spiney oyster and others is what we call Mother of Pearl. Mother of Pearl has historically been used in mosaic and jewelry inlay work and set in jewelry as cabochons. Mother of Pearl is a soft, feminine complement to the bold colors of Southwest fashion.
Southwest jewelry styles are often popping with color. Spiney Oyster shell is often inlaid or used as cabochons and the color combination of Spiney Oyster and turquoise is as old as the human love for adornment. Coming all the way from the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, Spiney Oyster shell is most commonly seen in orange, red and purple. The more strident the color, the more expensive the shell is. Red and purple shells are found a much greater depth than the brilliant oranges, and are rare and more expensive. Spiney Oyster beads of good color are much coveted and can be worn with all of your turquoise and silver pieces.
Authentic Native American Jewelry
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.