We have to rely on old stories, handed down to us from several generations past, for the history of Navajo turquoise cuff bracelets. Certainly, jewelry was made by all the North American tribes, but the readily identifiable metalworking and stone setting of the Navajo, especially turquoise cuff bracelets is actually a fairly recent development of their culture. Moreover, it is generally agreed that turquoise cuff bracelets were one of the jewelry forms created by a Navajo named Atsidi Sani or “Old Smith”.
History of Turquoise Cuff Bracelets
Atsidi Sani was born in Arizona in the early 19th century and, as a young man learned metalworking from a Mexican. The introduction of metal to the tribes of North America sparked a demand for artisans who could work the new material and Atsidi Sani decided to meet that demand.
It is thought Atsidi Sani began working silver for decoration in the 1850s and gradually began making a variety of jewelry, including turquoise cuff bracelets which delighted the esthetic tastes of the Navajo and discerning Whites. It is known that Atsidi Sani’s four sons learned metalworking and jewelry making from their father and gradually these skills spread through the Navajo nation. Turquoise cuff bracelets were extremely popular because they tended to be large, strikingly beautiful objects that both men and women could wear.
The turquoise cuff bracelet is not specifically a Navajo development. Turquoise cuff bracelets have been an item of personal adornment for millennia. And turquoise cuff bracelets are to be found in other cultures besides that of the Navajo. Indeed, the similarity between Navajo turquoise cuff bracelets and turquoise cuff bracelets made by the Tibetan and Mongolian cultures is curiously similar and gives credence to the claims of the Hopi that the Navajo were just one generation removed from the arrival of the Spanish.
Other Native American tribes also made use of the turquoise cuff bracelet design for jewelry. The tribes of the Pacific North West, such as the Haida have a tradition of copper work and they too have created turquoise cuff bracelets in their own unique style.
As mentioned previously, the turquoise cuff bracelet is not an uncommon style of jewelry in most metal working cultures. Even though turquoise is, in some places a rare stone to encounter, turquoise cuff bracelets are known from the earliest days of metalworking. Modern interpretations of the turquoise cuff bracelet continue to be created and remain popular.