Fine-jewelry designer Kristen Dorsey handcrafts sculptural jewelry using techniques handed down from her ancestors in the Chickasaw Nation. This is not your everyday, silver-and-turquoise Native American jewelry. “Our ancestors worked in copper and it’s some of the oldest metalwork on the continent,” says Dorsey, noting her ancestors lived in Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. “They had access to large copper deposits and we valued copper like we value gold today.”
Dorsey says it is her mission to tell the story of her people through her five-year-old jewelry line, Kristen Dorsey Designs, with pieces ranging from breastplates and cuffs to pendants and earrings. We caught up with the designer at the Metal & Smith show in New York earlier this month. One of her collections is inspired by a celestial being called the sky serpent, said to possess an immense power to control the winds, rains, thunder and lightning. Other themes include the panther, which symbolizes the strong matriarchal leadership of Chickasaw women, and even of plants. Dorsey works in silver, yellow gold, and rose gold. Occasionally, she will add native copper to one-of-a-kind pieces. Most often, however, she appropriates rose gold to symbolize the look. You can also catch Dorsey’s work currently on exhibit with Native Fashion Now at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Manhattan through next month.
The Shokmalli Breastplate, fine silver, sterling silver, copper, stingray skin, and larimar, $3,700
Shield cuffs in sterling silver, $650 each, Shield ring in sterling silver, $340, and Shield pendant, $580
(Top: Sky serpent cuff black rhodium over bronze, $500, Sun Disk rings in black diamond and silver, $660, Constellation rings in sterling silver, $420 to $450)
Kristin Young is writing the All That Glitters blog while Amy Elliott is on maternity leave.