Bracelet by Archie Apachito (MMA 89.43.1)
This impressive sterling silver bracelet was created by Diné artisan Archie Apachito ca. 1980 using inset turquoise from Los Cerillos, New Mexico. While Navajo peoples have used turquoise and silver for many decades, silver working was not a part of the Navajo culture until the 19th century; Navajos first set turquoise in silver in 1880. Historically, Navajo men have been the silvermiths, with boys learning from a close relative. More recently, women are also making silver jewelry with inset stones for sale in the market and many have become well-known as artists.
The main figure on the bracelet is a large lizard. On one side of the bracelet is a stylized depiction of Halley's Comet; the other depicts a stylized katsina.
Navajo silver bracelets are some of the most sought after and popular pieces of Navajo jewelry. In Navajo society, bracelets are frequently worn by both men and women. Originally Navajo bracelets were made from copper wires pounded together, and sometimes decorated with chevrons or other designs cut into the surface of the metal with chisels. Later, stamping was implemented. Navajo craftspeople used the same tools for leather stamping on copper and silver.
Turquoise, like the piece inset as the lizard's body, has long been an important stone to Indigenous groups across the Americas. Before it was used in silver jewelry, Navajo peoples used turquoise for earrings and many other ornaments. Navajo peoples often obtained their turquoise from people living at the Pueblo of Santo Domingo, who traded turquoise for weavings, silver jewelry, and livestock. Now known as Kewa Pueblo, the village is located in close proximity to what became the mining town of Cerrillos, NM.
To learn more about Navajo silver work, check out: The Navajo and Pueblo Silversmiths by John Adair (University of Oklahoma Press, 1989).