What is Sante Fe Style Jewelry?

Closeup of orange, blue, and blush Sante Fe style drop earrings

The Santa Fe Style Collection draws inspiration from the jewelry-making traditions of the American Southwest. Traditional southwestern jewelry utilizes easily attainable local materials such as copper, silver, coins, and turquoise, along with traded material such as gemstones, shell, and coral. The Santa Fe Style Collection honors these traditions and techniques by incorporating similar materials and stones, and each piece is crafted from genuine sterling silver.

When did Southwestern Jewelry Begin?

Prior to the 1600s, Native American Indians crafted fetishes, sculptures, and carvings that hold special meaning to their culture. Around the early 1800s, these artisans began learning silversmithing from the first Spanish colonizers. Gradually, as their skills improved, these jewelry pieces gained greater popularity. The industry of “Southwest Jewelry,” also called as “Indian Jewelry,” prospered into the 20th century. Surprising fashion lovers with its colorful and unique feel, the popularity of this distinctive style has grown far beyond its Southwestern roots. Now, these treasured beauties can be found as far away as Japan, Germany, and Australia!

The Symbolism of Southwestern Jewelry

Santa Fe Style designs portray a gorgeous selection of different animals, totems and symbols; each sharing a unique meaning. This spiritual significance led to its plethora of patterns of designs which interpret the meanings in different ways. One of the most popular themes among many tribes is the idea that the world was originally had a population of humans that subsequently changed into animals. This theory is a perfect explanation behind the close bond of Native Americans to animals due to a shared ancestry! Animals are held in the highest esteem among Native American tribes. There are many more symbols that also possess a strong place in Native culture.

Closeup of turquoise unicorn pendant

  • Bison: Sometimes erroneously known as Buffalo, Bison is a symbol of prophecy and fulfillment of prayers. The legend behind the symbolism of this animal is that one summer, “The Seven Sacred Council Fires” of the Lakota Sioux came together to camp. Two of the men went hunting in the Black Hills of South Dakota. They found a holy young woman who presented the Lakota with blessed pipes that represent the connection between all things. She also taught them to pray. As she was about to leave, she rolled four times upon the earth, changing into a white buffalo calf before disappearing. After that day, the Lakota held their pipes and Bison in high regard.
  • Bear: Bear is a symbol of strength, healing, overcoming adversity and a guardian. Among Native Americans, Bear signifies very effective spiritual force with distinct powers in the regions of strength, wisdom, and healing. There are several tribes that value and wear Bear charms and fetishes at all times to keep its powers with them.
  • Turtle: Turtle’s symbolism has a distinct meaning from one tribe to another. It is said that wearing Turtle brings self-reliance, long life, perseverance, fertility, and is a symbol of truth.
  • Horse: A symbol of power and harbinger of spiritual knowledge, wisdom, freedom, and a messenger, many Native American tribes hold Horse in high esteem. The number of horses a tribe held was a way to show their wealth.
  • Dragonfly: Associated with water and springtime, Dragonfly is also considered a messenger. Some Native Americans also believe Dragonfly is associated with healing and transformation.
  • Arrow: Another element that dominates Native American jewelry is the arrow. The literal explanation of the arrow is acquisition; hunting for or protecting one’s family. In a more symbolic sense, the arrow signifies defense and protection. On the other hand, a broken arrow represents harmony amongst different tribes, showing that a weapon of war has been set aside. Crossed arrows were considered the symbol of friendship while two arrows pointing in different direction represents conflict or war.
  • Arrowhead: An arrowhead is a sharpened tip added to an arrow. Made with stone in a wide array of styles, for Native Americans arrowheads were used as an image for alertness and direction.
  • Heart Line or Spirit Bear Symbol: The arrow in this symbol is known as the heart line or lifeline. The heart line starts from Bear’s mouth where the breath offers life and points towards the soul housing strength and faith. This symbol is portrayed in jewelry with a heart line passing from the bear’s head to the heart. It also symbolizes a warrior’s heart being as strong as a bear.
  • Wolf: The Wolf signifies direction, leadership, protection, and destruction. Several American Indian tribes believe themselves to be the descendants of wolves and thus worship this animal as an ancestor. Also symbolizing endurance, strength, family values, and intelligence, some tribes assumed that wolves, howling towards the moon, are divine beings that have the power to speak to the heavens.
  • Snake: The symbol of Snake is associated with many Native American groups. Snake holds a distinct meaning for each tribe. Among the Pueblo, Snake symbolizes fertility, while in Ojibwa culture, Snake is a sign of healing and rebirth due to its shedding skin. Looking into Lakota Sioux and Blackfoot belief, Unhcegila monster looks like a snake who is responsible for many unexplained deaths and disappearances. Also, the Hopi believe that snakes have close communion with the spirits of the earth.
  • Bear Claw: As Bear is highly regarded by Native tribes, the bear claw is the representation of protection and an association with the animal. It is considered the symbol for those who seek leadership roles.
  • The Crow: Regardless of the belief that Crow symbolizes loneliness, many Native American cultures believed the contrary. Crow characterizes the secrets of creation, perspective, intelligence, and fearlessness.
  • Eagle: The Eagle is the symbol of power representing personal power, defeat, and victory.
  • Kokopelli: A very common symbol in the Native American culture, Kokopelli, the humpbacked flute player stands for fertility and agriculture.
  • Feather: Present among nearly every Native American group, the feather is universally known to represent wisdom, trust, freedom, strength, and honor. Combined into numerous holy pieces of Native American regalia, it is one of the most respected signs.

Closeup of silver and turquoise feather pendant

Native American animal symbols and totems are still reflected in modern creations. Check out the great designs and styles from the Santa Fe Style Collection that reflect your own southwestern spirit! You could also tune in to our Sante Fe Show on December 2nd, 2018.