NATIVE SOUTHWEST JEWELRY TERMS

Authentic Handmade Indian Jewelry
Authentic Handmade Indian Jewelry sterling silver overlay sign inside Tucson Turquoise

Applique are silver cutouts, such as feathers or leaves on silver jewelry.

Backing is cement material on the back of cut turquoise that gives support. 

Baroque cabochon is a cabochon in a “free form” shape. Significantly, the cutter uses this technique to save material                                                                                                                 Cabochon is a gem cut in convex form.  The two styles of cabochons are geometric (cut to a specific shape like an oval or a square) and baroque (free form style having no definite geometric shape).  Consequently, in the turquoise trade, “Cab” is a short word for “Cabochon”.

Cast is forming silver jewelry which uses red hot silver and a mold of sandstone, concrete, tufa, or other material.

Chalk is soft or porous grades of turquoise that must have treatment before it can be put in use as gemstones.

Channel Work is a number of silver frames in an artistic form.  To start with, an individual stone is cut to fit each frame, put into place, and the silversmith grinds all the stones flat.

Cluster is a term that describes Zuni style stone work. Moreover, a group of stones are set together in individual bezels.

Coin Silver is silver from old coins that a silversmith melts for jewelry. Consequently, coin silver’s content is usually about .900 purity.  Also, early Native American Indian’s use U.S. and then later Mexican high-silver coins as primary sources of metal.

Concho is from the Spanish word for shell and is a large piece of silver in round or oval shape with scallop edges.  In addition, conchos are on some belts, pins, bolo ties, and other articles of jewelry.

Filework is a technique for which the silversmith uses a file for finishing or smoothing silver.  Additionally, Files can form decorative lines or designs on silver.

Fine silver is a metal content of .999 purity.

German silver or nickle silver is an alloy of copper, nickel, and zinc with NO precious metal content.  Most importantly, this alloy resembles sterling silver and is usually in less expensive jewelry.

Hallmark is simply a maker’s mark.  Notably, Indian makers’ marks of the Southwest consist of cast, stamp, or engrave initials or symbols, usually on the backside of a piece of jewelry.

Heishi is the Santo Domingo word for “shell”.  Uniquely, Heishi refers to fine, hand roll beads of turquoise, shell, coral, or other materials generally of the Rio Grande pueblos.

Inlay is a technique where stone or mosaic is set into silver or shell and is flush with the surface.

Jocla is the Navajo word for “earring” and usually refers to the double loop of roll turquoise beads that hang like a pendant of turquoise and shell necklaces.

Ketoh is the Navajo word for “bow guard” and is a silver and leather wrist guard, often with turquoise or other stones set in silver bezels. Comparatively, it is one of the early uses of silver by Southwest Indians.

Matrix refers to veins or spots on a rock or piece of turquoise.

Mosaic is a decorative technique in which small pieces of turquoise, shell, coral, or other stone forms a design that is set into an article of silver or shell.

Naja is the large adornment at the base of a squash blossom.  Incidentally, this crescent moon-shape silver pendant sometimes has turquoise.  To begin with, the early Moors use this form as an amulet to ward off the evil eye.  Consequently, the Spanish bring it to the New World as an ornament on their bridles, where the Indians use it in their jewelry making.

Needlepoint are stones, usually small, that have fine points on both ends and set in individual bezels. Likewise, these stones are usually close together in geometric patterns.

Old Pawn or Dead Pawn is jewelry which Indians pawn at the nearby trading post at the time they need money or supplies.  Additionally, when the owner abandons the jewelry it becomes “dead pawn”.

Oxidize is to make silver black by using a chemical in order to create greater contrast or to accent a silver work design.

Petitpoint is a type of stone cluster which uses stones that are oval, teardrop or round in shape.  In contrast Petitpoint, with round stones, are “snake eyes”.

Repousse is a decorative technique in which the silversmith hand-  hammers from the reverse side of silver to raise or emboss, dome like designs.                                                                                                                                                                                  Sandcast is one of the most difficult of all silver working techniques. To begin with, sand casting is pouring liquid metal into a tufa or pumice mold.  Next, after cooling, the silversmith takes the rough piece and removes it, files it, and polishes it. Finally, bracelets are normally cast flat and the silversmith pounds it into shape later.

Squash blossom is a silver bead, sometimes with turquoise or other materials, that possesses petals which represent the pomegranate blossom.

Stabilize is to treat turquoise with a plastic, oil, resin, or other substance to give it greater hardness.  

Stampwork is a technique where the silversmith uses small metal punches, similar to leather punching tools, to stamp designs into silver.

Sterling silver is a metal with silver content of .925 purity alloy with a .075 copper to make it hard.

Turquoise is a semiprecious stone, hydrous aluminum phosphate, with a Mohs rating of 5-6.  Copper salts give the stone it’s distinctive blue-green color.

Tufa is the calcareous and siliceous rock deposits of springs, lakes, or ground water.

Wrought is a technique of forming handmade silver jewelry that involves the hand hammering of silver into a specific shape.

Spiderweb turquoise has a matrix pattern looking like the tiny web of a spider.  Consequently, these thin lines may be any color but dark, especially black, is the most valuable.

Waterweb turquoise has a matrix pattern where darker turquoise veins separate lighter color turquoise.

Finally, Variscite is a hydrate aluminum phosphate mineral (AlPO4·2H2O). Sometimes people think it is turquoise; however, variscite is usually greener in color. Equally important, variscite is a secondary mineral forming from direct deposition of phosphate-bearing water. It reacts with aluminum-rich rocks in a near-surface environment. Correspondingly, it occurs as fine-grain masses in nodules, cavity fillings, and crusts. Also, Nevada Variscite typically exhibits black spiderwebbing in the matrix.  By the same token, most recent Nevada variscite comes from mines in Lander County.

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