by Erick Begay
Some of the most beautiful and exciting Native American jewelry is made by combining many stones into one piece. Depending on how the stones are cut, this style of combining stones can be called Cluster-Work, Needle Point, Petit Point and Snake Eyes. These four styles emerged in the early 1920's-1940's and are primarily made by the Zuni Tribe, although some Navajos will make similar designs. These styles have a feminine quality to them, as the stones are set in small and elegant settings.
These designs are very tedious as each bezel (the silver holding the stone) is individually shaped and solder. Then the stones are cut, glued to matchsticks, then shaped and polished with a series of grinding wheel. Most artist typically will use Sleeping Beauty Turquoise or Mediterranean Red Coral, but other non-traditional stones (e.g. lapis, opal) have been used.
Many artist excel at combining stones of any shape into large clusters to form a design/pattern. The term "cluster work" is a general term that is used to describe this style. Many times "cluster work" is used synonymously with Petit Point. Generally with "cluster work" combinations of small round, square, rectangle and teardrop stones are used to create an infinite amount of designs.
Petit Point jewelry refers to cluster-work that is made up of stones that are pear-shaped: oval on one end and pointed on the opposite. This type of work is typically made in round and oval designs, but other shapes are possible. This style is made by Navajo and Zuni artists. Here are few artist that excel in petit point designs:
- Larry Moses Begay (signed LMB)
- Francis M. Begay (signed: F.M. Begay)
- Robert and Bernice Leekya (RBL)
- Justin Wilson (JW) , Violet Harvey Nez (VHN)
- Nathaniel and Rosemary Nez (N&R Nez)
- Alice Quam (A.Q)
- Robert Eustace (inscribed Robert Eustace).
- Ed Cooeyate
- Edith Tsabetsaye
- Irma & Octavius Seowtewa
- Claudine Peketewa
- Iva Booqua
This style of jewelry is among my favorite. The snake eye designs are when small round stones are set in a pattern, mostly precise rows of stones. When made properly, this style of design often has 100+ small stone in one piece. Probably the most notable artist family of this work is the Haloo family :
- April Haloo
- Steven Haloo
- Peter Haloo
- Vivian Haloo
Keep in mind that all of these style, as precise as they look, are 100% handmade and can never be made this precise with machines or cast with commercial casting equipment. These designs are staples of Zuni and Navajo jewelry, and genuine Native Handmade jewelry is not only beautiful, it is historical and cultural.
References (available on Amazon.com):