Five Stones Used in Native American Jewelry

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What comes to mind when we think about Native American, and specifically Southwest, jewelry? Turquoise, of course, but Native American jewelry, usually created in sterling silver, makes liberal use of many kinds of natural stones. We’re going to look at 5 of the most popular.

1. Turquoise

Of the many gemstones used in Native American jewelry, turquoise remains the favorite. The gorgeous sky blue, robin’s egg blue, light and dark turquoise and even green colors evoke the Desert sky and come from deposits in Arizona, California, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah. Natural turquoise can be solid in color, or be combined with brown, gold, white, and other colored minerals. The bluer colors of turquoise come from association with copper, and the greener shades from iron. There is a vast variety of colors and mineral mixes, something for every taste.

2. Coral

Also called Red Coral or Red Branch Coral, the intense red color complements turquoise and other colored stones. Made from collections of hundreds of tiny animals growing on the sea bottom, red coral was originally found mainly in the Mediterranean Sea. Pink coral comes from the Pacific Ocean.

How did coral make its way to the American Southwest and become an integral feature of Native American jewelry? We’ll leave that mystery for another time.

3. Lapis Lazuli

Deep blue, often with gold flecks, lapis is one of the few rocks that is used as a gem for jewelry. Many ancient cultures believed that lapis lazuli had magical powers. Today, you’ll see brilliant blue lapis with Sterling Silver. Lapis is easily scratched, and should be cleaned only with a soft, dry cloth. Denim Lapis is a lighter bluish-white form of lapis lazuli. Some Lapis Lazuli comes from Afghanistan

4. Onyx

The typical onyx stone is black as night, and polished to a high shine. When mined, it may have bands of white, black, brown or red. Treatments of heat, sugar and/or acid can turn onyx a uniform black color. It’s used mainly in settings, as it may chip or scratch easily, and not for carving or inlay work.

5. Malachite

Light to rich dark green, malachite sometimes had bands of darker and lighter shades of green. The bands may form concentric rings. Polished, banded malachite is worn as jewelry and is carved into ornaments and figures. It’s often found with blue Azurite, and sometimes the two colors mix or band together, forming “azure-malachite”. African malachite is often used in Native American jewelry.

Whatever your preference, and there are many other stones to choose from, the elegance of design and the beauty of the stones in Native American jewelry are to be cherished and admired.