The Early Days of Zuni Earrings
The Zuni people established pueblos in their part of New Mexico for over two millennia. There is no indication that Zuni earrings existed before the mid-1800. All jewelry was made of stones and fibers and did not have the distinct patterns or technique that is seen today. With their abilities for stone carving did form fetishes of animals or figures, but, little involvement with other cultures other than their own did not expose them to many habits where they had very little need for Zuni earrings.
The Template for Zuni Earrings
It was in the mid-1800 that the Navajo tribe taught the Zuni about jewelry making. This was an important step in their jewelry making process as it caused them to embrace something new. Their Zuni earrings took the form of mosaics, where they can either to inlay or overlay. The inlay process for the Zuni earrings, allows them create the framework foundation for the entire piece, which is traditionally made out of silver. The stones are cut, such as turquoise, into the shapes that will form the piece and then use the inlay to place them on. The overlay is also done, where there are two pieces of silver and when the Zuni earrings are done, the stones are then placed on one side of the foundation made of silver.
These Zuni earrings will take the shapes of animals or that of the protector of the Zuni people, ‘Knife Wing’, which are half man and half bird with feathers like knives.
The silver that is used for Zuni earrings is somewhat different from the Navajo silver in that it is a little thinner. Yet, Zuni earrings have a distinct signature, the Navajo share very similar techniques.
Zuni Earrings Today
Today, Zuni earrings are very popular in the Zuni culture and for other artists as well. The designs in Zuni earrings also show some influence with the Navajo traditions and have both established themselves are master silversmiths within their tribes. To this day, Zuni earrings are sold to tourists but are also custom made depending on the jewelry that provides the service.
Zuni earrings are very specific and cannot be found in any jewelry store. One would have to approach independent retailers.
Zuni earrings have a distinct symbolism to them that expresses a communion with nature. With their connection to the river nearby and their pueblo, their work tell stories about the Zuni and their world. Their heritage is a very long one and remains virtually untouched. The precious stones and artistry that goes into their jewelry shows that it is a heritage that is very active in the modern age.