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Squash Blossom Necklaces
Squash Blossom 101
“The squash blossom necklace is uniquely Southwestern, much like the bolo tie. It identifies us as a person who knows this land and the history that comes with it.” Jim Olson, Western Trading Post, as quoted in an article by Western Ag Life Magazine, Fall 2018.
Squash blossom necklaces were first made by the Navajo in the late 1800s and produced soon thereafter by other Native groups as well. Today, they are an iconic piece of Native American style jewelry.
Arguably, the most recognizable part of a squash blossom necklace is the “naja” (usually pronounce something like, nadga). The naja refers to the crescent-shaped pendant which hangs from most squash blossom necklaces. It is a symbol identified in cultures dating back to the middle east and prehistoric times, with each culture interpreting it slightly different. Historians believe the most direct lineage however, as to how it became a central part of a Native American style necklace is this: The Moors, used the symbol as one of protection, it adorned the bridles of their horse’s brow-bands. The Spanish learned much of their horse culture from the Moors and subsequently brought the symbol with them to the New World. It made its way Northward with the Spanish/Mexicans where the Navajo encountered it and started using it in jewelry designs.
There are usually five or more “blossom” features along each side of a traditional squash blossom necklace. Some say the Navajo created the squash blossom design after seeing a pomegranate design being used as decoration by the Spanish, often on buttons of the soldier’s uniforms. Others believe the squash blossom is a design taken directly from the flowery part of the squash plant, which, along with corn and beans, are crops the Native Americans relied on in the Southwest. Perhaps the pomegranate design on the Spaniard’s clothing reminded the Natives of a squash bloom and inspired the interpretation of it becoming a squash blossom flower design in silver? Unlike the history of the naja, the squash blossom petal’s exact origins are a bit murky and the history will vary depending upon who you ask. One thing is certain however, they are an important part in the design of a squash blossom necklace.
The final component of a squash blossom necklace is the beads. The Navajo first learned silversmithing from the Spanish sometime during the mid-1800s. By the later part of the 1800s, they had become known for making silver beads. Today, you can buy the beads pre-made at a jewelry supply store, but the very best squash blossom necklaces will always use handmade beads of sterling or coin silver.
Once you have the beads, blossoms and naja, you are ready to put it all together. The earliest necklaces were strung on a leather cord. Then nylon string was used, but today, most all necklaces are strung on either a coated wire or a mesh wire (called foxtail or tigers tail). The fox (or tigers) tail is believed to be the most durable way to string the necklaces, especially since some can get quiet weighty.
Remember, like always, deal with reputable dealers/sellers when you can and look for quality. Buy the best quality you can afford within your budget and may you enjoy it in good health.