Handmade Sterling Silver Beaded Necklace
Handmade Sterling Silver Beaded Necklace by Navajo artist Al Joe. Each bead is hand formed and takes hours and hours to make. The process is explained in detail bellow. The necklace measures 22″ inches long.
Navajo Pearls are handmade sterling silver bead necklaces crafted by Navajo silversmiths. The tradition dates back to the 1800’s. The Navajo used the beads to tell stories and to pass them down from generation to generation. Navajo Pearls are an integral part of squash blossom necklaces but can be worn alone or with pendants.
Authentic Navajo Pearls are labor intensive to make because they are entirely hand crafted. Each bead is cut, stamped, dapped, drilled, soldered, filed, polished and strung by the hand of the artist. Most often the Navajo Pearls are oxidized to darken, then sanded with steel wool to give them an antique look, but can also be highly polished. No two beads are alike. It’s what makes the necklaces so special and valuable.
The Navajo silversmith that makes beads has two specialized hand tools. One is a dapping block that has concave half domes of various sizes in it. The other is a set of correspondingly sized dapping punches, which have ball ends.
Each bead starts out as two flat discs of sterling silver of a specific size. Each disc is domed one at a time by placing the disc over an appropriately sized cavity and dapping it with the punch until the flat disc becomes domed. Each half-bead is filed so that it will fit evenly with the other half-bead. A hole is drilled in the top of each dome. The burr from the drilling is filed off. Narrow strips of silver solder are cut and placed between the halves and with ample flux the two pieces are soldered together. The edge is filed and the bead is polished.
Variations on the process are needed if the bead is to be stamped or fluted. If a bead is going to have a stamped design on it, the stamping usually occurs before dapping which is why the stamping on some beads might be a little bit deeper or shallower among beads. Remember – handmade. If a bead is going to be fluted (sometimes called embossed), the silversmith uses fluted dies that fit into the dapping block as well as corresponding fluted punches. Fluted beads require larger discs of sterling silver to make a corresponding smooth bead of the same size. That’s because the fluting or “pleats” use up a good amount of material.
Most Navajo Pearls are strung on foxtail cord, which is a woven silver cord that can be sterling silver, nickel or other metals. A foxtail cord or chain is more like a cable, its strength and durability comes from weaving many small strands.
Native American Artist: Al Joe
An award-winning Navajo artist who works in silver and gold, Al Joe is known for his painstaking precision and graceful designs.
Joe often incorporates stones into his pieces such as lapis, coral or older turquoise stones from the Lander, Bisbee, Morenci, or Indian Mountain mines. As with many artists, it was a family connection that played a strong influence in Joe’s artistic development.
Joe’s evolution as a jeweler was unexpected as he, at one time, didn’t realize he
“had an artist inside.”
It has been a dedicated experience of very hard work to bring out his artistic talents. He believes some artists are naturally talented but is not hesitant to advise younger artists that there is sometimes an artist hidden inside that can take time and hard work to bring out.