Native Americans in the Southwest have been making jewelry since prehistoric times. Local materials like turquoise and jet, along with shells from trading, were used to create pieces of jewelry such as necklaces and earrings. In southern Arizona, turquoise artifacts date back to 200 BCE and one of the oldest North American Mines is the Cerrillos turquoise mine in northern New Mexico. Turquoise is an important part of Southwest Native American jewelry. Each tribe has a unique story explaining the origins of turquoise as pieces of the sky. In fact, many of the Native American words for turquoise have a meaning equivalent to “sky stone.” Because of this powerful connection with the sky, it was believed that the stone had healing properties and that is why is was incorporated into much of the jewelry.
While Native Americans have been making jewelry since ancient times, silversmithing was not introduced until the latter part of the nineteenth century. One of the earliest Navajo silversmiths was Atsidi Sani. in 1850, Atsidi Sani learned blacksmithing from a Mexican blacksmith who was living in the New Mexico territory. in 1865, Atsidi Sani was introduced to silversmithing and began creating silver jewelry. Over the years, Atsidi Sani sought out other silversmiths to refine his own skills. He then taught his four sons to become silversmiths and, in turn, they taught other tribes. In the 1880s, J.L. Hubbell, who owned the Hubbell Trading Post in Ganado, Arizona, hired Mexican silversmiths to help teach the Navajo people the craft. Silversmithing continued to spread to other tribes. By the tentieth century, each tribe began to evolve their techniques and unique styles that incorporated native symbols and materials.