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Types of Silver Work In Navajo Jewelry

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Author Topic: Types of Silver Work In Navajo Jewelry  (Read 570 times)
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« on: February 09, 2008, 03:30:38 am »

The Navajos are the acknowledged masters of silverworking. They learned these techniques from the Mexicans starting in the late 1800’s, and many feel that they have surpassed their teachers.  These are the major techniques used to obtain different effects in Navajo silver jewelry:


Repoussé is a French word meaning “embossed”. The silversmith hammers a shape on one side of the silver, which results in a raised design on the other side. Generally, the shapes are repeated to form a symmetrical design. Most Navajo silversmiths use their own die stamps with rosette and other shapes to create repoussé designs. The repoussé technique is used extensively in concho belts and bracelets.

Appliqué Appliqué is a French word meaning “applied”. In this technique, silver shapes are cut from a separate piece of silver, are often stamped and curved, and finally are soldered onto the main piece. The applied designs often used in appliqué work include small silver balls and “raindrops” (small engraved flat cone shapes); silver bars and horseshoe shapes; leaves and similar shapes from nature; and abstract shapes. Appliqué allows Navajo silversmiths to make use of leftover scraps of silver to adorn and enhance their jewelry.

Wirework Thin silver wire is used to create jewelry or adornments to the jewelry. The wire can be used as is, or it can be flattened or twisted for decorative effect. Some bracelets consist of two or more silver wires, which are usually soldered together at the ends using silver terminals. In earlier years, silversmiths would draw their own wire, but now pre-made silver wire is widely available and used by most silversmiths.

Sandcasting In this process a mold is carved from a soft stone. Often used is a volcanic stone called tufa which is widely found on the Navajo reservation. Melted silver is poured in a continuous stream into the mold. The halves of the mold are then clamped together. When finished, the sandcast piece will have small marks on the back resulting from the casting process.

Overlay This process is primarily associated with Hopi jewelry beginning in about the 1940’s, but currently many Navajo silversmiths are working in overlay as well, including the famous contemporary silversmith Tommy Singer. In the overlay technique, a design is cut out from one piece of silver which is then soldered onto a second, sold piece of silver, forming a negative design. Usually, the negative design is darkened using sulfur or another oxidizing agent, and sometimes the design is textured as well.

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