Turquoise Talk - Glossary



Acoma Pueblo
Sky City

The world “Acoma” and related words which are equally correct and historically applicable- Akome, Acu, Acuo and Ako- denote “a place always prepared.” Pueblo of Acoma, Haaku

Perched atop a sheer sandstone cliff, famous for intricate, thin-walled delicate pottery painted with complicated geometric designs, the Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico is a living history of the Southwest, located just west of Albuquerque. Archaeologists say that this area has been occupied since at least 1150 AD, making the Acoma Pueblo one of the oldest living communities in the USA.

Acoma pottery is collected and sought after world-wide. Originally, the pottery was functional, used for water, cooking, seeds and storage. Today, the pottery artists of Acoma continue to work in traditional styles and to create amazing contemporary works. 

To learn more, visit Acoma Sky City and be sure to visit the Pueblo while you are in New Mexico!

Ancient Ones

The Anasazi, or Ancient Ones, are considered the prehistoric ancestors of the Southwest’s Pueblo Indians. They inhabited northwestern New Mexico, southwestern Colorado, southern Utah and northern Arizona between approximately 200AD – 1300AD.

In New Mexico, the zenith of the Anasazi culture was reached in Chaco Canyon during the years 900-1100 C.E. The gigantic pueblos of Chaco rival the other great works of the ancient world, such as those of the Mayas and Incas. By the year 1300, the Anasazi had abandoned the entire region, generally moving into the Rio Grande Valley of northern New Mexico. This departure has long been one of the Southwest's great mysteries and has been the subject of intense research and speculation for generations. Anasazi Guide

Historical Anasazi sites in New Mexico include: Chaco Canyon, El Morro National Monument, Acoma Pueblo, and Aztec Ruins National Monument.

If you are interested in visiting the Anasazi ruins in New Mexico, here’s a great article from the NY Times:  New Mexico's Mysterious Anasazi Ruins By DAVID LASKIN; Published: September 22, 1991Dine People

Navajo Nation
Dineh, Diné

The Navajo people live on approximately 27,000 square miles of reservation in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, and refer to themselves as Dineh, or Diné, which means The People in their native language.

The land of the Navajo Nation has an array of ancient ruins, including the world-renowned Navajo National Monument and the tranquil Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Here, you can step back in time and see how the ancient ones - the Anasazi people (Navajo Ancestors), lived thousands of years ago. Discover Navajo

The Navajo people are prolific producers of fine jewelry, art, weaving, sandpaintings and pottery. Their artisans continue to make the world a more beautiful place with their unique traditional and modern works.


The ancestral home of the Hopi people is in northeastern Arizona.  The Hopi are a sovereign nation, and their remote homelands have been their home for over a thousand years. The reservation occupies part of Coconino and Navajo counties, encompasses more than 1.5 million acres, and is made up of 12 villages on three mesas. Old Oraibi is noted to be the oldest inhabited community in the USA.

The word Hopi means peaceful, or civilized person, in the Hopi language.

These skilled artisans are the oldest living inhabitants of Arizona, and the people have maintained their way of life for all this time. The jewelry, pottery, rugs, Kachina’s and art created by the Hopi people often represent their traditional beliefs and practices, fusing modern methods and contemporary life with ancient and beautiful traditions.

Hopi jewelry is often visibly distinguishable from other styles.  Intricate overlay techniques are frequently used, made famous by the Hopi in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The themes and designs used, are often part of traditional belief systems for the Hopi people. Kachinas represent the beings and elements which are Nature for the Hopi, and are often depicted in jewelry, as well as sculptures.

More about the Hopi People

Kewa Pueblo/
Santo Domingo

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. 

The Kewa Pueblo has a cultural center and small museum, and check out the annual Arts & Crafts Market!


The largest of the New Mexico Pueblos, located in western New Mexico on the Zuni River, a tributary of the Little Colorado River, the Zuni Pueblo is also one of the most traditional of the Pueblos in New Mexico.  The Zuni people are known for their artistry, including astonishing skill with lapidary work, evident in fetishes, channel and mosaic inlay jewelry, and row or cluster work known as petit point or needlepoint stone setting, where multiple small stones are set very close together. The majority of the Pueblo’s inhabitants are artisans, and the jewelry, pottery, and carvings this community produces are beyond compare.


Bola, bolo tie

A contemporary, Southwest version of a string tie, created for men, but worn in modern times by men and women.  Traditionally made of braided leather with a distinctive centerpiece and metal tips.        


Historically worn by Native men on their wrists to protect from the recoil of a bowstring. Navajo (Diné) bowguards are called Ketohs, and were made from leather and other stiff materials.  The ketoh is worn both for utilitarian and adornment.       


The Plains people wore metal concha on belts, and this unique Southwest style spread across the Four Corners. The Spanish word for ‘shell’, concho or concha, may be round, oval, scalloped, decorated, stamped, set with stone and may be used on belts, bolos, buckles, rings, pendants, necklaces and other accessories. 

Concha belts can be a row of conchas or have spacers between. The spacers are designed in a variety of shapes, but often you will see the ‘butterfly’ spacer.

Worn by both men and women in many forms, concha are a unique collectible. 

Liquid Silver

Originally created by Native American silversmiths, silver heshi or Liquid Silver jewelry is often combined with colorful seed beads, Turquoise or facetted gemstones and pearls.

Made from tiny, fine sterling heshi beads, Liquid Silver strands are strung on durable beading cable or cord, creating the illusion of shimmering strands of spun silver

Ranger Set

Ornamental buckle sets, with matching decorative loops (‘keepers”) and a belt tip. Worn by both men and women, ranger sets designed by Native artisans are a contemporary item, and all forms of metalsmithing techniques are used to create signature personal sets.

Pawn Jewelry/
Old Pawn

Pawn Indian Jewelry has been a collectible favorite for generations. Old Pawn Turquoise is now considered Vintage Native American Jewelry.

Squash Blossom

The elements of the squash blossom necklace originated in ancient cultures, but come together as a uniquely Navajo tradition. In the American Southwest, Spanish and Moorish influences introduced the Naja shape, which can be traced back through multiple cultures to paleolithic times. The word Naja in the native language of the Navajo People, means ‘crescent shape’ or ‘curve’. The naja shape was used to decorate the horse bridles of the Spanish, and over time was adopted as the centerpiece for the squash blossom necklace. Squash blossom beads are named (“the beads that spread out”) for their likeness to an actual squash or pomegranate blossoms, although sometimes the design does not actually incorporate the ‘beads that spread out’. 

The Navajo silversmiths would often incorporate round beads, coins and crosses in squash blossom necklaces, and these elements can still be found in variations of this iconic Navajo necklace.



An alloy is two or more metals or metallic elements combined.

Sterling Silver is the most common of the metal alloys. Soft, like gold, silver is easily damaged. Sterling Silver is an alloy of 92.5% silver, and 7.5% of another metal, usually copper. Sunwest Silver’s sterling silver jewelry is stamped with 925, which is used to designate authentic Sterling Silver.

Coin Silver,
which you may find in vintage Native American sterling jewelry, is usually 80% silver, and 20% copper.

Other typical (and approximate) alloy combinations include:

Brass 60% copper and 40% zinc.

Bronze at least 60% copper and tin or other metals.

Pewter includes tin, lead, antimony, bismuth and sometimes a bit of silver or copper.

Nickel silver (also called German silver) actually contains no silver. It is 70% copper, 20% zinc and 10% nickel. 


Cabochons set in handmade jewelry will often have a form of ‘backing’. Some stones will have hard epoxy on the bottom, which helps to prevent the stone from cracking under the pressure of setting. You might also encounter backing material that is placed behind the stone, acting as a cushion between the stone and the metal and allowing for a tight, comfortable fit between the stone and the metal.


A Bezel is the band of metal that surrounds stones in the jewelry. 

Brushed Finish

A textured finish applied by hand in Native American jewelry, giving jewelry a velvety glow. Brushed finish is sometimes also called ‘satin finish.


Lapidary artists cut rough stone into sizes and shapes suitable for setting in jewelry. Turquoise is cut into ‘cabochons’, without facets.  Cabochons (generally referred to as ‘cabs’) can be free form or calibrated shapes, and are often backed with a sturdy epoxy to protect the stone from the pressures of setting.


A carat (ct) is the standard measure of weight used for gemstones. One carat weighs 0.2 gram (1/5 of a gram or 0.0007 ounce). A hundredth of a carat is called a point.  Fine turquoise and facetted stones are measured to the nearest hundredth of a carat.

Cast Jewelry

Cast jewelry is made by pouring molten metal into a mold. 

See Tufa Cast  

Chip Inlay

Crushed stone, often left over from lapidary work, but beautiful, hard and colorful, is combined with resin and used to fill the metal pattern in the jewelry.  Tommy Singer is a Native American artist who popularized this technique in the early 70’s.   


Jewelry is embossed by hand in Native American traditions, by striking the metal from the back with various shaped implements to create the designs.


Hand-engraving involves scratching designs into the metal to create unique designs and patterns. 


Lightly carved surface decoration, not as deep as engraved designs.  


Gemstones like diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires and other semi-precious stones are often facetted. Facets are multiple, flat, polished surfaces cut on a gemstone.


A fetish is a small carving of an animal or figure. Carved by hand from materials like stone, wood, shell or antler, the carving represents a force of nature, or the spirit of the animal.   


Fine metal wire, shaped and soldered onto jewelry as part of the design.


Turquoise cabochons that are particularly lovely are often left to follow their natural shapes, saving as much of the stone as possible during the lapidary process. These are referred to as ‘freeform cabs’.


Usually stamped on the back or inside of a piece of jewelry, the hallmark is the official stamp indicating the maker of the piece and the metal. 

See Makers Mark


The Kewa Pueblo people (formerly known as Santa Domingo Pueblo) are known for their very fine heishi, tiny disc or tube shaped beads, made of shell or stone. The word heishi means ‘shell’, and the Kewa people used them to create beautiful jewelry long before they began to use metals.

Host Rock

The host rock is a body of rock that ‘hosts’ the growth of other gem and minerals. Turquoise host rock is generally referred to as the ‘matrix’, which is visible host stone in a cab or specimen. The matrix color and patterns are used to visually recognize various turquoises, and are inclusive in increasing the value of highly collectible stones. 


Inclusions are bits of plant material, mineral material, liquid or gas that becomes enclosed inside a mineral as it forms, giving each stone with inclusions uniquely beautiful qualities.  


 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. 

There are different inlay techniques.

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.           

Maker's Mark

see Hallmark

Matte Finish

Matte is the opposite of highly polished jewelry. The metal will have a lustrous look to it, but will not have high shine. 

Mohs Scale

The Mohs Scale of Hardness, created by German mineralogist, Friedrich Mohs, measures how hard a rock is. The highest quality turquoise is very hard, making it easier to work in its natural state, and therefore also more valuable.


The Zuni lapidary artists are masters of intricate needlepoint work. Tiny stones are cut with points on each end, resembling slender needles. The stones are clustered closely together in exacting patterns and carefully set.  

See Pettipoint  or Petit Point


Overlay jewelry is made by cutting a design and soldering it onto another piece of metal that is the same size. The recessed areas are then oxidized, contrasting strongly with the high polish on the top layer of the design. Joseph Coriz is an artist who does amazing overlay work. 


Oxidizing sterling silver to create the blackened metal as a contrast, is a technique where the oxidized areas of the metal are treated to produce the oxidation. Oxidized metals are particularly popular in Southwest jewelry, and you will often see this treatment used on all forms of jewelry, from oxidized sterling silver beads (sometimes called Navajo Pearls), to bracelets, earrings, rings and cuffs.

Pettipoint/Petit Point

Pettipoint refers to working tiny stones that are round or oval in cluster style, as opposed to the elongated, pointed stones of neddleoint. Pettipoint stones can be used in rows or clusters, and is a Zuni lapidary art.

See Needlepoint

Tufa Cast

Casting jewelry is done by pouring molten metal into a mold. In tufa casting, that mold is made of the compressed volcanic ash found on Navajo lands. The Pueblo tribes all create cast jewelry, but the Navajo were the first to do so in the 1800’s, and tufa cast jewelry has legendary appeal. Tufa molds will lend a unique texture and sheen to the finished piece, making it uniquely identifiable.  It is a complex and difficult process, resulting in a collectible, one-of-a-kind piece of art.


Stamping or ‘stamped’ designs are literally made by striking the metal with small metal punches. Native American jewelry makers often create designs that are unique to them.