Small Squash Blossom Necklace
Small Vintage Sterling Silver and Gem Grade Blue Gem Turquoise Squash Blossom Necklace designed by Fred Harvey. This small scale necklace from the 30/40’s features 23 oval shaped turquoise stones. It measures 26″ and has a hook and eye closure.
History of the Squash Blossom Necklace
“Squash blossom” is a term long been applied to a unique necklace produced by Southwestern Native American Tribes. It was first made by the Navajo and later by the Zuni and Hopi.
The term squash blossom was attached at an early date to the unusual bead, which has a flowering end. The Navajo word “Chil Bitan” means flower-like bead, or more literally translated, “bead which spreads out.”
However, the flower is not believed to be a squash blossom, and really does not resemble one. It is like a young pomegranate. The pomegranate was a symbol of Granada, Spain, and Spanish and Mexican dandies wore a small silver version of this symbol to decorate their blouses, capes, and trousers.
Navajo Indians may have seen one of these decorations and incorporated it into a plain silver bead necklace. They had already borrowed the Spanish crescent moon and star symbol, which was worn on the horse’s bridle, on the center of the animal’s forehead. Navajo craftsmen simplified this theme, often to a plain crescent; in fact, the Navajo word for this ornament is “nazhahi” – now commonly spelled naja, which means crescent. The naja was first worn with plain silver beads, but later became a part of the distinctive squash blossom necklace.
The squash blossom has been explained in other ways. For example, Mrs. John Wetherill, the wife of an early trader on the Navajo reservation, is said to have contended that this bead was inspired by the tiny flowerets in the center of the common sunflower.
There is a resemblance here, but it is more likely that the young pomegranate, by way of the Spaniards, was the real inspiration for this bead. The term squash blossom will continue to be used as it is so well established.
It is unsure when the squash blossom was first used by the Navajo. On a drawing of a shorter-leafed type, Woodward has the dates 1865-1880, and the dates 1880-1937 for a longer-petaled style. However, when Washington Matthews described Navajo silvercraft in 1881 he makes no mention of this bead type, yet he describes in detail the plain bead and other pieces of this early date. Adair simply notes that the squash blossom “probably did not come into existence until sometime after 1880.”
Early photographs, several dated about 1890, show the squash blossom worn by Navajos. Navajo are the best known, for they have been the most productive of this piece and have maintained a purity of representation which Zunis and Hopis have not observed.
Zuni Indians often expose so little of the flower that it would not appear to be a squash blossom. Hopi Indians have produced relatively few of these necklaces, most of them in the Navajo tradition.