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Zuni coral jewelry reflects manís deepest connection with nature
The Native Americans have a very beautiful culture, which has started to receive more and more appreciation over the past two centuries. By far its most loved cultural artifacts are the jewelry produced by artists belonging to the various Indian tribes, among which the Zuni tribe holds a special place. Zuni jewelry astounds through uniqueness, beauty and naturalness.
History books say that the Zuni tribe lived in the southern part of Gallup in New Mexico for over a millennium. They were brave warriors, but also very skilled blacksmiths and artists. The Zuni people, just like all Indian tribes, strongly believed that nature and man had a very deep connection, so their whole philosophy and way of life revolved around nature and natural things. To this day, they represent their beliefs through art, and especially through the jewelries they craft. Zuni jewelry is made with unique natural gemstones and especially coral and turquoise, but also with organic materials such as wood and even bone or plant fiber. During the 1800s, Zuni jewelry artists started introducing silver into their handmade jewelry, thus giving birth to a very popular jewelry style that reached its peak in the 1950s-1960s. Today, Zuni jewelry is widely appreciated for its beauty, elegance and uniqueness.
As mentioned earlier, coral is one of the main gemstones used in Zuni jewelry making. Corals originate from tropical oceans and come in many different colors. Indian artists prefer to use red coral in creating coral jewelry, because the red shade of this gem symbolizes life, vivacity, dynamism and at the same time, noblesse. Often, coral is used in combination with Turquoise, another very precious stone which can only be found in certain mines in the world. Coral jewelry is valuable out of multiple reasons: first – coral reefs are in danger and, as such, there are strict regulations in what concerns the exploitation of coral; this scarce resource is also farmed in certain parts of the world, and this is where the Indian artists take their coral from. Secondly, coral is softer than other gemstones, so artists can shape it into different models and can create customized jewels. Thirdly, coral jewelry is unique because it’s made with lots of hard work and with unwavering passion. For Indian jewelry artists, jewelry crafting is not a ‘job’, a simple occupation – it is an art form, an act of culture which has deep roots the Native American history and the beliefs of its tribes.
Modern Zuni jewelry includes necklaces, bracelets, earrings, brooches, rings etc., but if you want something really special and more personal, you can buy more traditional jewelry pieces like kethons (arm guards used by warriors in these tribes), wampum jewelry or labrets (which is basically piercing jewelry). Indian artists craft each jewel by hand and this process can take many hours, and sometimes even whole weeks to be completed, depending on the complexity of the jewelry handcrafted. Therefore, the items have very high value and could well be fitted in private jewelry collections.
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