The Jewelry of the Zuni
Between 1830 and 1840, the Zunis made crude jewelry from copper and brass. They pounded them into rather primitive rings, bracelets, and buttons. In 1872 Atsidi Chon, a Navajo silversmith, visited the Zuni Pueblo. He taught silversmithing to a Zuni named Lanyade, who was the only Zuni in the Pueblo who was able to speak and understand Navajo. By the 1890's the Zunis were ready to try the difficult feat of stone setting. Their success in doing this was an accomplishment of far-reaching artistic and economic significance. From 1900 on, the turquoise and silver combination became a major element of the jewelry market with the Zunis achieving renown for several different styles. They do cluster work, (as seen in concho belts, pins, rings, squash blossom necklaces, and bracelets) combining a large group of pear-shaped stones, usually turquoise, which symbolizes life-giving power. Petit point (as seen in pins, pendants, bracelets, and earrings) also evolved as a type of cluster work. In this style, the stones are rounded at one end and pointed at the other. The stones are sent into a silver bezel in various designs and geometric patterns. Needlepoint also evolved as a style in which coral or turquoise stones that are pointed at each end are set in place with sealing wax. The artist then meticulously shapes, grinds, and polishes them into perfection. No other pueblo or tribe has equaled the skill of the best Zuni cutters of the delicate, slender needlepoint turquoise. With time the Zuni were also instrumental in developing inlay or channel work in which stones are cut to fit into channels or groves in the silver, and more recently, gold jewelry base. The Zunis have shown an exuberant, artistic, and economic flexibility that has made them one of the leaders in design and execution of jewelry that have become works of art.