One of the most sought after semi-precious stones in the Southwest. Turquoise is prized for its unique variations. It is found all over the world, and a single mine can produce up to five different colors, ranging from bright blues, to greenish blues. It is brittle and chalk-like in its raw form, with deposits of calcium, iron and zinc, which determines the overall color. New Mexico has one of the oldest Turquoise mines in the Southwest known as Cerrillos Turquoise, which was discovered by early Pueblo Natives in 900 A.D. The southwest is known for its many Turquoise mines that are found in Arizona, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico.
Unique in color, it ranges from a bright yellowish green to an apple green, with brown blemishes throughout. Named after where it was originally found, the name is derived from the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec, Canada. Gaspeite is one of the rarer minerals used in Native American jewelry and being that it is one of the newest stones to be incorporated, it has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. Although it is popular now, that was not always the case. It is a mineral that is comprised of nickel carbonate belonging to the calcite group of minerals, which at first was considered to be a worthless byproduct of nickel sulfide mining. Now considered a rare semi-precious stone, with only two places in the world that Gaspeite is currently found. Canada being one of them, as well as Western Australia, where the most resent mines have been discovered. Now it is most commonly seen incorporated into Native American jewelry, commonly used in combination with Spiny Oyster shell and Turquoise.
The formal name is Lapis-Lazuli which is a combination of Latin and Arabic. “Lapis” which is Latin for stone and the Arabic word for blue “lazuli”. Royal blue and gold in color due the mineral called pyrite which is either flecks or streaks throughout the stone. Lapis is prized for its antiquity and intense color. Denim Lapis being of a lower quality, denim blue in color, with streaks of white and flecks of pyrite. This metamorphic rock is considered a semi-precious stone mined in Afghanistan. It has been mined as early as the 7th millennium B.C.,being used in ancient civilizations across the middle-east of Asia and even as far as Africa. Lapis has long been considered sacred as well as highly sought after, and even more so when it began to be exported to Europe at the end of middle ages. Lapis was not seen in Native American jewelry until the mid-1900’s. It is used by many of the Northern New Mexico pueblo artists for its vibrant and intense color. Many artists will set the stone in a silver setting by itself, making it the statement piece, while others will do various types of inlay or make beads to use in combination with other stones and shells.
Coral is unique from other semi-precious stones and shells because it is formed by marine animals in the sea called coral polyps. They cluster together and once they begin to decompose, their hard skeletons form reefs, colonies and islands. Coral has been used in prehistoric European burials as well as Egyptian jewelry as old as 3000 B.C. Today it is used in Native American Jewelry, and as well as being one of the more traditional stones. One of the most famous combinations with Coral, is Coral and Turquoise which is especially popular in New Mexico.
White Buffalo (Magnesite)
One of the rarer minerals belonging to the carbonate group, it is composed of magnesium, iron, and carbon, as well as small amounts of manganese, nickel and cobalt. Brittle, and lacking color because it does not hold pigment, it is white with speaks of black and gray, to a yellowish brown. When it was first discovered it was thought to be Turquoise and to this day is still marketed as white turquoise. Although it is a common misconception that White Buffalo is a type of Turquoise, it is actually a mineral called Magnesite. It is mined in Australia, India, Austria, South Africa, Russia, China and North Korea. It first began to appear in Native jewelry in late-1970’s. Unique due to the color and formation of the stone, it has gained popularity within the last 10-15 years.
Amber is fossilized tree resin which has developed its color since the Neolithic times.Amber nuggets can also be uncovered from the ocean through the processes of dredging. diving and even collecting it by hand. Ranging from a banana yellow, dark yellow, to an orange and even green color, it has been used in jewelry for thousands of years. Amber has been used to decorate Palaces and rooms such as the famous Amber Room first built in Berlin, Germany in 1707. Amber is found all over the world, and it has been forming for over 100 million years. The older the Amber the more expensive it is.
Opal is one of the most valuable gemstones, due to its unique sparkle and combinations of colors ranging from reds, and oranges, to whites and blues. Some of the most famous types of opal is called fire opal. 95% of the worlds opals are found in Australia, but they can also be found in Brazil, Mexico, Honduras, and the Western US. Because opals are hard to care for and can scratch and crack easily, as well as being very costly, many opals used in Native American jewelry are lab-created opals. Lab created opals are beautiful nonetheless, due the intense and mesmerizing colors that they can form, being anywhere from a dazzling white, to blues, purples, and even reds and oranges. Not only does that make them more affordable, but they are also long lasting and more durable. Opal and other gemstones were not commonly used in Native jewelry until recently in the last 20 years or so.
Black onyx has long been used in Native American jewelry as well as worldwide. It is found in Yemen, Uruguay, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Germany, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Madagascar, Latin America, the UK, and various states in the US. Black onyx is an oxide mineral which in fact is not completely black in color. There are black and white parallel bands on top of brown and white layers called Sardonyx. Onyx is heat -treated to gives its intense black color, and even though it is heat-treated, that does not lower its value. Since it is brittle and chalk-like composure, it is not malleable enough to be inlaid into jewelry. If it is cut too thin, it will simply crumble and fall apart. The stone that is used for inlay is known as Jet.
Jet is a type of Ignite which is a precursor to coal, meaning that Jet is not a mineral. Jet is what is called a mineraloid which means that it was created from organic matter such as decaying wood from trees under extreme pressure millions of years ago. Jet is found in two forms, being both hard and soft. The harder form is Jet is a product of carbon compression and salt water (the wood under pressure) and the soft form is a product of carbon compression and fresh water. Since it is malleable, it is used for inlay because it can be cut without falling apart, making it popular in Native jewelry.
Malachite, meaning “mallow-green stone” is a copper, carbonate, hydroxide mineral that belongs to the carbonate group. It is known for its dark and light green bands that become more visible and pronounced when polished. Malachite is a stone that has become well-known for its antiquity, especially in Mexico for the famous Malachite room that was made in Castillo de Chapultepec, Mexico. It contains one of the largest pieces of Malachite known as the “Tazza” which is a large vase that is in the Malachite room. Its unique color and characteristics of the stones, it has been popular around the world used for many pieces of art such as carvings, sculptures and jewelry. Malachite is also popular in many 1970’s Native vintage pieces. Still used today in Native jewelry, it is not commonly seen in inlaid pieces but more of the traditional cabochon style.
Tiger’s Eye is a metamorphic rock that is part of the chatoyant group also known as the quartz group. Tiger’s eye gets its smooth, silky color from parallel inter growth of quartz crystals and altered fibers. Because of its parallel bands it exhibits, it has coined its name as Tiger’s Eye but is also known as Cat’s Eye. It has long been used for jewelry making and ornamentation. In Native Jewelry, it is not seen by itself as much as it is in combination with other stones like Jet and Picture Jasper, with the occasional Turquoise. Usually done in a raised inlay or flat, silver channel inlay, it has become more popular with the elaborate and contemporary inlay styles done by Native American artists.
Picture Jasper gets its name because the formations in the stone create a literal picture, usually of a desert and hill landscape. Being beige, brown and black in color, it is one of the most unique forms of Jasper. It is found in all over the world, where some variations of it can be more noticeable than others. In the U.S. a large portion of Picture Jasper is found in Idaho, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. It is mainly used in combination with Jet, Tiger’s Eye, and Turquoise inlay for Native American jewelry. Many of the modern pieces that have this combination are Navajo.
Spiny Oyster Shell
Spiny Oyster shell comes from the Pacific ocean, mainly off the coast of Baja California and the Sea of Cortez. It’s vibrant colors are used in Jewelry in Hawaii, as well as in Native Jewelry in the U.S., down to Mexico and even South America. It comes in three main colors, being orange, red and purple. It is distinguishable in appearance because it has stripes that can be darker and lighter in color. Spiny oyster has been used in vintage Zuni fetishes, while it is still being used today in Navajo fetish necklaces, as well as with the brightly colored inlay of Navajo artists, and in Shell Mosaics made by Santo Domingo artists. It is believed to mimic the power of the sea, and it especially prized for its naturally intense and vibrant colors that remain unaltered.
Mother of Pearl
Mother of Pearl is a type of oyster shell, that has a white, iridescent appearance. It is related to Pink Muscle shell which looks the same but is pink in color, as well as abalone. The inner lining of the shell is called Nacre, which provides protection from bacteria and parasites, making the shell appear iridescent. It is found all over the world and is more common than Pearl. It has been used for thousands of years by ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians and the Sumerians, as well as in Native jewelry around the world. It is especially popular in Native American jewelry, mainly being used in silver channel inlays as well as mosaic inlays. It is one of the traditional stones used to craft Zuni jewelry.
Melon shell in named because of its color, which appears to be a yellowish beige. It is found all over the world and has been used in cultures all over the world for ornamentation as well as jewelry. It is most commonly used to make Heishi jewelry in Native American jewelry, as well as fetish necklaces. It can be seen with a combination of other stones and shells, such as Turquoise, Coral, and Spiny Oyster shell.
Derived from a predatory sea snail, which is found worldwide in both tropical and subtropical seas and oceans. Because it has a unique dark brown and tan color, it is used to create some of the thinnest and smallest Heishi in Native jewelry and has been used by other Native cultures around the world. It is one of the more acquired shells and has now become rare to find, therefore making it more expensive.
White Clam shell is found all over the world, and has been used for thousands of years, and was even seen as currency in some Native cultures. They have been used for jewelry, as well as for ornamentation purposes, specifically for Island Natives. They became popular in Native American jewelry due to the use of clam shells to create shell mosaic pendants, fetish necklaces and Heishi. Santo Domingo pueblo is well known for the clam shell pendant necklaces, that are also done with a traditional squaw wrap.