Across the Southwest, the Squash Blossom necklace is recognized as the most significant piece in any collection of handmade Native American jewelry. Despite the world-wide cultural significance of the individual elements of the necklace (the Naja symbol can be traced back as far as Paleolithic times) there is very little historical documentation regarding the Squash Blossom necklace as it exists today. Here is what we do know about the Squash Blossom, where it came from and what its individual elements represent.
The squash blossom necklace is often recognized as being rooted in Southwest jewelry traditions of the Diné people, adopted by the Zuni and Hopi, and is also traditionally found in works by the Plains Tribes. The Navajo are believed to be the first tribe to begin using the Squash Blossom design around the 1870’s. By the turn of the 20th century, several other surrounding tribes had adopted the design as well. This timeline means that the Squash Blossom may be the first piece of Native designed jewelry that also had European influence.
The elements of the squash blossom necklace originated in ancient cultures but come together as a uniquely Navajo tradition. In the American Southwest, Spanish and Moorish influences introduced the Naja shape, which can be traced back through multiple cultures to paleolithic times. The word Naja in the native language of the Navajo People, means ‘crescent shape’ or ‘curve’. The Naja shape was used to decorate the horse bridles of the Spanish, and over time was adopted as the centerpiece for the squash blossom necklace. Squash blossom beads are named (“the beads that spread out”) for their likeness to an actual squash or pomegranate blossoms, although sometimes the design does not actually incorporate the ‘beads that spread out’.
Early on, the beads used were rounded and simple. Sometimes dimes and quarters were used. Today you will find highly collectible pieces made with bench-made hand-turned beads, fluted beads and intricately designed cast beads. There are artisans who work in styles reminiscent of the early styles, using traditional cluster work, vintage coin, and sterling silver beads, while contemporary styles incorporate the Naja, stone and metal to make striking, modern, legacy pieces.
Squash Blossom sets and necklaces today are not only made with sterling silver, but also gold & mixed metals, and with a variety of stone, including high-grade blue or green turquoise, gaspeite, red coral, white buffalo, spiny oyster and other familiar favorites.
Perhaps the most attractive quality of the squash blossom design is the strength it portrays on the individual wearing it. There is a sense of individuality and boldness that is incorporated with each squash blossom. Sunwest has several squash blossom designs available, ensuring that we can provide you with the squash blossom necklace that perfectly fits your personality. To view our squash blossom inventory, click here. If you can’t find the design you are looking for on our site, please stop by our retail location in Albuquerque to find additional varieties.