I have an utter love and fascination for Native American turquoise jewelry, particularly for cluster-work pieces, a style that originated with the Zuni tribe but later perpetuated elsewhere as all tribes gained influence from one another during the mid 20th century. Therein, many cluster-work pieces are of Navajo origin. Here is a Navajo piece that I picked up on my trip out west a few weeks ago and my newest obsession— I’d been looking for my perfect cluster-work bracelet going on four years now!
Cluster-work bracelet, also referred to as petite point, for its small, carefully cut pieces of turquoise delicately arranged. Sterling silver.
This piece likely dates from the early 60’s, and while it is unsigned by the artist, is thought to be of the Wilson family, giants of the Navajo silversmith trade. The Wilson family motif is featured on this piece in silver half-moons (seen surrounding the centered turquoise flower); signage that I believe appears in all Wilson pieces. Justin Wilson, nicknamed “ The Old Man”, was a master Navajo silversmith who began work in the 1950’s, and has since been recognized in a retrospective at the Smithsonian.
The turquoise in this bracelet, I’m told, probably came from the Cerrillos mine in New Mexico—turquoise can often be attributed to particular mines as defined by its composition, color, and matrix (the non-turquoise parts of the turquoise). Cerrillos turq is very collectible because of the high grade of the stone and interesting history: In the late 1800’s, the mine was acquired by Tiffany’s of New York during the height of the Turquoise trade and mined exclusively by Tiffany’s for a couple of decades until the demand collapsed, after which the natives began mining it again. Every piece of turquoise has a home and a story, and I think my pretty bracelet has a good one!
Cerrillos Mine, or “Turquoise Hill”, late 1800’s. (www.cerrilloshills.org)
So much of Native American culture is totally pure and uninfluenced by that of dominating people, and one reason why I think these quintessential turquoise pieces are so special and awe-inspiring.
Here are a couple of Navajo beauties wearing beads, cuffs, and squashblossoms. While some cultures may practice questionable and ritualistic religious acts to initiate their young into the world, the Navajos drape their children in beautiful stones straight from our favorite lady, Earth. I like it.
Turquoise is believed by the Navajo to protect the body and spirit, and possess virtues of health and happiness— a beautiful and less vain way to think about the items that we choose to adorn ourselves with.