Native American Jewelry on Display at GIA

The Gemological Institute of America is displaying a Native American Jewelry collection exhibit at the Institute’s headquarters in Carlsbad, Calif. 

Two Navajo turquoise slab bracelets by Jerry and Joann Johnson. Photo by Kevin Schumacher/GIA.

This particular exhibit is distinctive because the items are on loan from one of the Institute’s students, Jamie Steelman, who is currently enrolled in the Graduate Gemologist (G.G.) program.

Steelman loaned a selection of his pieces, including a Navajo squash blossom necklace made of large chunks of Lone Mountain turquoise, a Zuni thunderbird inlaid ring, and other items from the Navajo and Zuni tribes.

“Traditional Native American jewelry is a truly American art form,” Steelman said. “Its beauty lies in its rusticity.”

From left: Zuniknife-wing inlay bracelet, owl inlay ring, and thunderbird inlay ring. Photo by Kevin Schumacher/GIA.

Steelman was 15 when he moved with his family to Albuquerque, N.M. He soon fell in love with the Native American culture and its jewelry, which “reflects the colors of the desert.” He has been collecting and studying it ever since.

“We really appreciate that one of our students wanted to share his love for this jewelry with the GIA community,” said Kim Vagner, project manager of In-Kind Gifts.

Native American tribes used bone, wood, shell, and other natural resources to make jewelry in ancient times. Europeans brought silver when they arrived in the New World, and these and other metals were incorporated into their designs. As a result of this blending of cultures and materials, Steelman said, “You can see how jewelry evolved in this country.”

Jewelry is an important element in Native American religious rituals and many of the pieces reflect their spiritual beliefs, according to Steelman. Animal spirit guides may be indicated in the carved animals of the Navajo fetish bib necklace, and turquoise symbolizes a metaphysical connection to the sky and water. All of the jewelry is representative of the unique indigenous American culture.

The Native American display can be viewed at GIA’s headquarters in Carlsbad, California and will be on display until July 1. Museum exhibit viewings are free and available to the public through scheduled tours. To sign up for a tour, contact or call (800) 421-7250, ext. 4116. Outside of the U.S. call (760) 603-4116.

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