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Navajo – The Navajo were the first silversmiths. They commonly design jewelry around a stone’s natural shape. When they do inlay, it is bolder than Zuni inlay and usually has silver between the inlaid stone pieces (called “channel inlay“).
Zuni – The Zuni are known as stonesmiths that cut stones to fit into a precise geometric pattern or design. They tend to use four traditional colors:
Blue – turquoise
Red – Coral
Black – Jet or Onyx
White – Opal or Mother of Pearl
Zuni inlay tends to be more complex than Navajo, with more cuts and patterns. They usually don’t use silver between the inlaid pieces but produce “stone on stone” inlays. The Zuni also produce meticulous Needlepoint (narrow stones pointed on both ends) and Petit Point (any other small cut stone shape such as oval, teardrop etc.) pieces, often in clusters. Most snake designs are done by the Zuni.
Hopi – The Hopi are known as master silversmiths and who design overlay pieces mostly of solid silver with a cutout design on top of the main piece. The two pieces are “sweated” together, that is heated so that they become one. The background piece is usually oxidized (darkened) and etched (texturized) with hashmarks. Two characteristics of Hopi work are overlay and minimal use of stones.
Handmade: As the name implies, metal manipulation is done by hand, from cutting to polishing and engraving. Labor always increases cost, so this is the most expensive manufacturing method and also the most desired by consumers. Handmade accessories will always typically have slight yet charming variations in shape and finish.
Benchmade: This is a term that refers to an item that is partially handmade and partially machine-made. For example, some silver Navajo beads have machine cut pieces that then are soldered and hand strung by a Navajo Indian craftsman. These are considered benchmade.
Machine-made: Metal is machine-manipulated for cost savings and uniformity. Industrial presses cookie-cut shapes, which are then embossed by hydraulic machines. For modestly priced goods, machine-made pieces are often stamped from nickel or a proprietary alloy, then plated with sterling silver or other metal for a shiny finish.
Most modern Indian jewelry is stamped “Sterling” and is signed or is stamped with a hallmark by the artist. However a lack of hallmarks, initials, or signatures doesn’t mean it is not authentic. In the past, most reservation-made Indian jewelry was not signed and had no hallmark.