What is repousse?

A method of embossing metal by stamping and hammering a design from the back to produce a three-dimensional bas-relief surface on the front.

Here is an excerpt from Indian Jewelry Making by Oscar T. Branson that shows the process.

Below are some examples of the repousse technique used by Native American jewelers.

One of the most classic uses of the repousse techniques is on ketohs (bowguards).

Ketoh (bowguard) by Navajo artist Daniel Martinez

View the slide show for other uses of repousse on ketohs. (Read more about ketohs on my previous post.)

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Sterling Silver Repousse Buckle by Floyd Arviso

Sterling Silver Repousse Cross by Robert Joe, Navajo

Orange Spiny Oyster and Satin Finish Sterling bumble bee pin by Tim Yazzie


A vintage NOS (New Old Stock) pin marked AP Sterling

The technique was used by Bell Trader’s craftsmen in the Fred Harvey era such as this copper cuff bracelet.

Read more about the Fred Harvey era in my previous post.

View the slide show below to see examples of Navajo barrettes that feature repousse designs.

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Dragonfly and the Isleta Cross

About the Isleta Cross

Also called the Pueblo Cross, the Isleta Cross is a very old Pueblo design associated with the Isleta Pueblo. The double-bar cross design is said to have originated with the Moors and Spaniards.

To the Pueblo Indians the double-bar cross was very similar to the dragonfly symbol of their culture, so many Puebloans incorporated the Isleta cross in their jewelry. By the early twentieth century, Pueblo artisans made elegant necklaces with a large central cross as a pendant and smaller crosses along the sides interspersed with beads.

Many crosses of Spanish and Mexican origin as well as Isleta crosses have a heart or a partial heart at the bottom. This is sometime referred to as the “bleeding heart”. In the Catholic Church, the Sacred Heart (the pierced and bleeding heart) alludes to the manner of Jesus’ death and represents Christ’s goodness and charity through his wounds and ultimate sacrifice. However it has been said that the reason the Puebloans put a heart on the bottom of their crosses was for other reasons. They felt it represented the big generous heart of the dragonfly who loved the people. Also, the Pueblo women were said to like the crosses with the hearts on the bottom better, so it could have simply been a case of fashion preference.

The Isleta Pueblo is located in central New Mexico, on the east bank of the Rio Grande south of Albuquerque. It is on the same site as when it was discovered in 1540. It was the seat of the Franciscan mission of San Antonio de Isleta from approximately 1621 until the Pueblo revolt of 1680. The Spaniards captured the pueblo in 1681. In the late 1700’s, when Isleta was repopulated with native peoples, it became the mission of San Agustín de Isleta. Tiwa, a Tanoan language, is the tongue of the Isleta Pueblo.

Read more about Pueblo here What does Pueblo mean?

About the Dragonfly

The dragonfly is associated with many Native American tribes but most notably those of the southwest beginning with early HOHOKAM and MIMBRES depictions on pottery. Early Puebloans and many contemporary southwest artists have continued the tradition.

from Heart of the Dragonfly by Allison Bird

Mimbres reproduction Dragonfly AD 1250 Site Mimbres Valley New Mexico


Dragonfly represents rain and its life-giving force, a source of renewal for the land, plants, animals and thus allows human life.

from Landscape of the Spirits: Hohokam Rock Art at South Mountain Park By Todd W. Bostwick, Peter Krocek

1000 year old dragonfly-petroglyph photo by bryan-pfeiffer – click photo to learn more……………


From Rock Art Symbols by Alex Patterson

The dragonfly inspires spiritually and creatively and helps us on the path of discovery and enlightenment.

It spiritually embodies the stripping away all negativity that holds us back, helping us to achieve our dreams and goals.

Dragonfly is the keeper of dreams, the energy within that sees all of our true potential and ability. Dragonfly reminds us that anything is possible.

If you have ever seen a dragonfly’s wings glisten in the sunlight you can see why they have inspired jewelers. And how their intricately colored bodies would lead to works of stone inlay.

It is no wonder that contemporary Zuni, Hopi, Navajo and other southwest silversmiths create many beautiful dragonfly pieces.



Our Annual Native American Jewelry Buying Trip Reveals……..

We just got back from our annual spring buying trip where we seek out the new and beautiful items made by Native American artists in the southwest US.

Here is what we found. No surprise here. Because the prices of silver and gold are higher, the price of Native American jewelry is higher.

But you might not know this. Small things like earrings, pins and light bracelets are just not being made, so are not available.

Medium weight pieces are not as readily available as last year and those that are cost 1 1/2 to 2 times what they did last  year this time. The same item we might have purchased last year at 65 grams for $150 looks pretty much the same but now weighs only 52 grams and costs $225.

Heavy, quality pieces are available and they are where it seems artists are focusing their time.

So we have begun listing the treasures.

Visit our NEW page to see the latest and greatest !!

Hand Stamped Native American Cross Wanted

Hi Paula,

The cross in the attached photo was bought in New Mexico somewhere between Zuni & Navajo reservations – It was about 2.25 -2.5” in length – my husband lost his over the summer and we are trying to find another just like it – Can you help?

Thank you!  Denise

Hi Denise,

I have one very similar made by Francis Begay – it has a clear turquoise cabochon in the center. It is 2 1/2″ long including the fixed bail.

Hope this helps as I know how it is to lose a favorite piece of jewelry – often it is difficult to impossible to replace exactly  – especially when the piece was hand made.

We have found that one year we might purchase a certain pendant from an artist and when we want more the next year, he or she has moved onto different things and isn’t “set up” to make those any more. Navajo artists, especially, are quite inventive and always changing the items they make to suit themselves, the availability of materials and the market.

Best of luck,



Horace Iule and his Zuni Cross Legacy

Horace Iule (1901-1978) was a Zuni artist who made a wide variety of sterling silver and stone pieces, most notably traditional Zuni crosses.

Horace worked with his wife Lupe Iule, who was from San Felipe Pueblo. They were married in 1933, and had six children: Ruby, Lupe, Cecilia, Robert, Barney, and Phillip. Cecilia continues in her fathers tradition with the crosses.

Cecilia creates her crosses from tiny to huge and uses coral, turquoise, and other gem stones.

Vintage Malachite and Opal Cross by Cecilia Iule, Zuni

Horace Iule was taught silversmithing by his father. He made sand-cast items and then embellished them with hammering and die stamping. His children use some of his original casting equipment to continue the Iule cross legacy.


Native American Materials – Sleeping Beauty Turquoise

Sleeping Beauty Turquoise is bright blue turquoise with distinct, often black, matrix. The matrix is the veining that appears in the stone.

Sleeping Beauty Turquoise Belt Buckle by Navajo Dan Martinez

Sleeping Beauty Turquoise Belt Buckle by Navajo Dan Martinez

The mine is located in Globe, Arizona in Gila County.

Sleeping Beauty turquoise is a uniform blue turquoise that is easily matched and cut so is a popular choice in Native American jewelry.


Sleeping Beauty Nugget Bracelet by Navajo Wilbur Muskett Jr.

Sleeping Beauty Nugget Bracelet by Navajo Wilbur Muskett Jr.


Read more about the Sleeping Beauty Turquoise Mine.


Sleeping Beauty Cross by Navajo Clem Nailwood

Sleeping Beauty Cross by Navajo Clem Nailwood


Native American Materials – Spiny Oyster

Spiny Oyster and Turquoise Naja with 3 Strand Necklace

Spiny Oyster and Turquoise Naja with 3 Strand Necklace

Sometimes people describe a Native American piece as having spiny oyster stones – similar to saying erroneously that a piece has “coral stones”.

About Coral

Coral History

Although spiny oyster is is durable, it is not a stone. It is a shell.

Navajo Spiny Oyster Pendant

Navajo Spiny Oyster Pendant

Spiny oyster, not surprisingly, is a shell (spondylus) that is covered with spines. It is found along the Pacific coast of Baja California and Baja Mexico.


It varies from vibrant red shading into oranges and purples, with definite striations and variation of the colors. Red spiny oyster has been used as a substitute for coral.


Santo Domingo Spiny Oyster Necklace

Santo Domingo Spiny Oyster Necklace


Santo Domingo Rouge Spiny Oyster Necklace

Santo Domingo Rouge Spiny Oyster Necklace

Right now the orange spiny oyster beads and inlays are hot, hot, hot, so I thought you’d enjoy seeing some of the many variations of this beautiful natural material.


Sterling Silver Navajo Spiny Oyster Cross

Sterling Silver Navajo Spiny Oyster Cross

Inlay with spiny oyster can be smooth and sleek or chunky cobblestone. Here is one example of each.

Navajo Sterling Silver Inlay Horse Head

Navajo Sterling Silver Inlay Horse Head

Spiny Oyster Cobblestone Inlay Navajo Bear

Spiny Oyster Cobblestone Inlay Navajo Bear

As if the orange wasn’t beautiful enough, spiny oyster comes in all shades or reds and purples – something for everyone’s taste! Here are a few examples.

Purple Spiny Oyster Treasure Necklace by Navajo Tommy Singer

Purple Spiny Oyster Treasure Necklace by Navajo Tommy Singer

Santo Domingo Red Spiny Oyster Necklace

Santo Domingo Red Spiny Oyster Necklace

Watch our new page where you will see some other beautiful spiny oyster items added later this week.