Jewelry Collector's Guide: Zuni Cluster Work, Petit Point & Needle Point

Jewelry has been made and worn in the Southwest since prehistoric times. For thousands of years, Native Americans of the Southwest region crafted mosaic inlay and beads of turquoise, shell, bone, or stone. 

Zuni Jewelry

Metal arrived with the Spanish. Native Americans acquired metal ornaments through trade, but it was not until the middle of the 19th century that Navajo and Zuni artisans learned the craft from Mexican blacksmiths and silversmiths. Their early silver Zuni jewelry was often made using coin silver as a primary source. Creations were plain, with simple engraved, stamped, or punched designs. 

By the turn of the 20th century, silversmithing was widespread across the Southwest, and Native artists were making more sophisticated pieces such as concho belts, and squash blossom and naja necklaces. The Navajo soon became known for their use of silver, emphasizing silver-heavy designs with only a few gemstones, while the Zuni focused on stone work, featuring finely cut clusters of gems in complex patterns. The Hopi and Pueblo tribes also developed distinctive jewelry styles in the early 1900s. Today, silver jewelry is an iconic image of the Southwest. Native American artists draw upon both traditional and contemporary influences, and their shell, gemstone, and silver jewelry is prized and collected by people around the world. 

At Indian Pueblo Store, we pride ourselves in our connection to the artist, authentic artwork, and knowledgeable staff. We'd like to share this Zuni jewelry collector's guide focused on Zuni Cluster work in the hope that you'll find new meaning behind your cherished pieces that showcase the artistry and excellence of Zuni Pueblo artists. 

Zuni Pueblo Clusterwork 

Clusterwork is a jewelry style that is unique to the Zuni people, and not found anywhere else in the world. Early Zuni jewelry resembled Navajo silverwork, but in the 1920's and 1930's, Zuni artisans developed a signature style that involved setting large groups of hand-cut gemstones into extremely intricate settings. The finely cut gems were often arranged in beautiful patterns that resembled flowers, snowflakes, or wagon wheels. Though Zuni clusterwork is most closely associated with turquoise, jet, coral, or any gemstone may be used.

Jennifer Booqua Petit Point Bracelet

Petit point and needlepoint are two types of Zuni clusterwork and can be distinguished by the shape and size of the gemstones. Petit point refers to gems cut into round, oval, rectangle, pear, or square shapes, while needlepoint refers to gems that have been cut into a thin sliver or needle shape. Clusterwork is an extremely time-consuming process, and fewer and fewer artists are taking the time to hand-cut their gemstones. A piece of Zuni cluster jewelry is an exquisite work of wearable art that showcases the unmatched lapidary skills of Zuni artists, and will be an heirloom for generations to come.  

Zuni Pueblo Channel Inlay 

Channel inlay is a distinctive jewelry technique closely associated with Native American people of the Southwest—particularly Zuni jewelers. When creating channel inlay jewelry, artists set precisely-cut gemstones into pre-formed silver channels. The technique allows artists to use colorful combinations of gemstones in complex and creative patterns. Channel inlay requires masterful silversmithing and lapidary skills, and is utilized by Native American jewelers to create magnificent jewelry pieces recognized for their craftsmanship and beauty as art.

Double Row Channel Zuni Inlay Bracelet

 

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