Handed down through generations, the art of jewelry-making among the Zuni people embodies a deep historical and spiritual legacy. As renowned artisans, they craft their myths, beliefs, and connections to the natural world into exquisite inlay jewelry that features a harmonious fusion of vibrant gemstones and intricate designs. Under their expert touch, gemstones and silverwork come to life, with each piece telling a story and evoking a sense of elegance and cultural significance.
Zuni jewelry is renowned for its intricate craftsmanship, impeccable attention to detail, and the use of vibrant, natural materials. For the Zuni people, jewelry-making is not just a craft but a form of expression deeply rooted in their belief systems and cultural identity. Turquoise, often referred to as the “Sky Stone,” holds a special place in Zuni culture and is used extensively in their jewelry creations. It is believed to connect the physical and spiritual worlds, bringing protection and healing to its wearer. Central to this cultural expression is the art of silversmithing, which harnesses intricate techniques, transforming pieces into breathtaking designs that complement the natural beauty of their gemstone inlays.
At Lema’s Kokopelli, we offer a wide array of Zuni jewelry that captures the spirit of the Southwest and the profound cultural heritage of the Zuni people. From delicate turquoise and coral inlay work to distinctive and highly sought-after cluster designs, our collection features the exceptional skills of Zuni artists, with each piece bearing a signature blend of tradition and contemporary artistry.
When you choose a piece from our store, you’re not only acquiring a stunning piece of jewelry, you’re also paying tribute to the artisans of a rich cultural legacy that spans centuries. We invite you to explore our online collection, where you will find an extensive selection of Zuni jewelry that captures the essence and spirit of the Zuni people. Whether you are a seasoned collector or someone looking for a meaningful and unique gift, our Zuni jewelry collection offers something for everyone.
Stones and shells have always been the primary focus for Zuni tribe jewelry. But more specifically, it’s how the Zuni jewelry artists create their “stone on stone” designs that make these pieces truly stand out. The attention to detail and technical skills required is virtually unmatched. That’s why it’s always fun to explore the latest Zuni jewelry for sale—and why our family continues to be interested in this craftsmanship.
For three generations, our business has continued to grow. We really enjoy seeing new developments with the designs and technical process. Although the traditional approach to Zuni Indian jewelry remains strong, there are always new designs and patterns to discover!
Silversmithing was technically introduced to the Zuni pueblo people around the 1870s by Navajo jewelry artists, as well as Spanish missionaries or explorers on occasion. These early stages of Zuni silversmithing were primarily used as an accent for their highly-regarded lapidary techniques, and the influence of Navajo silverwork was steady for decades. Many of the silver frames were actually Navajo-made, while the beautiful stone and shell inlays were placed by Zuni jewelry artists.
Eventually, though, Zuni jewelry artists mastered silversmithing for themselves and started to develop their own techniques. With the fundamentals established, they were able to explore their skills in more exciting ways. The Zuni jewelry we know today really only started to take root in the 1920s. And it only continues to get better with time.
The predominant colors used in Zuni jewelry are red, black, white, blue, and turquoise. Consequently, the most common stones for these colors are turquoise, as well as red coral, black onyx and jet, and then opal or specific types of mother of pearl for the lighter and white elements. With these stones, Zuni jewelry artists have unlimited possibilities. The combinations of different color pairings and shapes lets them create both simple and intricate patterns.
Interestingly, some of the terminology used to describe Zuni jewelry for sale has strong correlations with canvas embroidery. Both mediums refer to “petit point” as their most delicate technique with tiny, very fine handwork. For different pieces of Zuni jewelry, the stones can be cut as teardrops, ovals, or other shapes.
Creating the petit point style of Zuni jewelry involves a high attention to detail. Some petit point Zuni jewelry bracelets can have upwards of one hundred stones. The time involved and years of experience to achieve this level of art requires intense discipline. Because each stone is so small, it has to be carefully placed. Often time they’ll be arranged in “clusters.” And typically, the greater the detail and the more handiwork involved, the higher the jewelry will be valued.
We also use the word “needlepoint” to talk about Zuni jewelry. But there’s a clear distinction here. The meticulous needlepoint describes pieces with narrow stones. And, like needles, those stones are pointed on both ends. No matter which type of high-quality stones they start with, the best Zuni jewelry artists can always deliver a fantastic result.
Since they learned silversmithing shortly after the Navajo people, Zuni jewelry artists have been able to incorporate intricate metalwork into their designs for generations. It remains an important foundation of their process today. However, their traditional skill with stonework has never been compromised or distracted. Even now, they characteristically limit the use of the silver, and this helps draw attention to the stones themselves.
Both Navajo and Zuni artists are known for this type of artwork. However, the Zuni jewelry artists have a distinctly measured approach. Their specialty is to cut the stones so precisely that they can be arranged “stone on stone.” These types of patterns are categorically more complex because they require more cuts to complete a design.
The intricate stonework found within Zuni jewelry is recognized world-wide. The stones can be round or oval, rectangular, square, or even pear-shaped. What unifies how the Zuni jewelry artists approach petit point, though, is that these works often incorporate stones into a cluster and extremely close together.
When silver is placed between the inlaid stone pieces—called a channel inlay—the result often becomes more “bold.” This tends to be what distinguishes the Navajo inlay from a typical Zuni approach. For these pieces, silver can almost act like the means to an end. We need the metal to solder the stones and hold them in place, but for Zuni jewelry, the metal often becomes the backdrop. This also puts it in stark contrast with Hopi jewelry.
Both old and contemporary styles of Zuni jewelry have a wide appeal today. It’s easy for people to appreciate the careful work that goes into making each of these pieces. So whether you’re well-versed in Native American jewelry or not, it usually doesn’t take long to find something that makes you want to take a closer look.
For generations, Zuni jewelry artists have demonstrated excellence with their stonecutting techniques and sparked inspiration with other artists. This unique niche of artwork isn’t an easy skill to master. The techniques are complicated and require minute procedures. What’s more, Zuni jewelry artists also need to have an innate ability to select the right stones, perfect their designs, and play with color—all at the same time!
We’re incredibly fortunate to partner with some of the best artists creating Zuni jewelry today. For us, uncovering the best artists has often happened by word of mouth. All of the Zuni jewelry for sale in our store is uniquely crafted. These aren’t items you can find in a catalogue.
Our entire selection of Zuni jewelry has been individually photographed, so the item you see will be the exact item you’ll receive! That’s part of the reason why our customers continue to trust us and value the Zuni tribe jewelry we’ve been able to source for Lema’s Kokopelli Gallery. The company has been family-run for three generations. It started with Tony Lema Jr.’s grandmother and then his father. The focus remains the same. We’re committed to sourcing quality products and built our reputation with other like-minded and passionate creatives.
If you have any questions about our latest selection of Zuni jewelry for sale, please don’t hesitate to reach out! We’re always happy to answer your questions.