Guide to Classic Southwestern Native Pearls

Classic Southwestern Native Pearls~ Your Ultimate Jewelry Go-To!

In my library, I have a collection of books about Southwest jewelry and I know from so many of your questions and comments that you share my passion for learning about jewelry. That’s why I’m excited to share our new blog series with you.

We will explore some of our favorite elements of classic Southwestern style. Why do these pieces inspire us? How is it that they are always fashionable? Why does our team choose to create heirloom pieces like Squash Blossoms and why are we drawn to certain materials like Sterling Silver, turquoise and coral?

Today we begin with a look at the foundation of Southwestern jewelry looks, the ultimate jewelry go-to, Native Pearls.

What are Classic Southwestern Native Pearls?

Native Pearls (also known as Southwest Desert Pearls and traditionally as Navajo inspired Pearls) are Sterling Silver beads. They are as essential to a Southwestern wardrobe as pearls are to classic styles.

How do you style Native Pearls?

You can wear Native Pearls one at a time, as a strand or strands of only Native Pearls, mixed with other necklaces and bracelets or with added pendant enhancers. Strands, earrings and bracelets made only of Native Pearl beads are neutral and complement any fabric or pattern. Made of precious metal, they elevate any outfit.

When you visit significant art and cultural events in Santa Fe, Scottsdale, Nashville, Austin and beyond, it’s clear that this iconic bead is the centerpiece of Southwestern style, whether it’s paired with casual, weekend chic or couture.

A single strand is perfect, nestling beneath the collar of a white button-down shirt paired with jeans and boots. (Is anyone else obsessed with Old Gringo boots? I may want them all! I’m looking forward to shopping for them when their new store opens at the Fort Worth Stockyards aka Cowtown.)

Multiple strands of Native Pearls look gorgeous with everything from t-shirts to strapless black-tie formals. You can wear a brightly colored Boho dress with Native Pearl necklaces layered with many other colorful bead strands. Perhaps you have a very colorful statement piece of jewelry, like a fabulous Turquoise Squash Blossom necklace or a pair of Fritz Casuse or Kenneth Johnson earrings. Layering Native Pearl necklaces will frame and spotlight these treasures while expressing your own sense of style.

Collectors, you have seen many of Miranda Lambert’s Idyllwind signature fringe apparel pieces in our photoshoots. Her style is complex—edgy and modern, with a vintage vibe. What can a cowgirl add to enhance that look? Our versatile classic Native Pearl strands, of course!

How do you care for Classic Southwestern Native Pearls?

Care for Native Pearls like other fine jewelry. We suggest you put them on last and take them off first to avoid any perfume, lotion or cosmetics getting on your jewelry. To keep your beads beautiful, clean and buff Native Pearls with a polishing cloth. Store pieces from American West Jewelry separately, as you receive them, in the zip-lock plastic bag with the anti-tarnish tab that’s included.

Never immerse your Native Pearls in chlorine, silver dips or chemical solutions, use ultrasonic cleaners or wear your Native Pearls to bathe or swim. Chlorine and other chemicals can damage the oxidized finishes of Native Pearls.

At one of our events, Bill was impressed with the care one of our Collectors had taken with their American West Jewelry Native Pearls. He spotted her necklace from across the room and noted its shine as possibly looking better than the day it shipped. The customer beamed and let him know she polished her Native Pearls with a polishing cloth after each use and then carefully stored them.

Even though it is tempting to hang beautiful necklaces on display, always store all necklaces flat. Flat storage avoids putting any stress on connections and clasps. Each step you take to protect your Native Pearls helps them endure and eventually become heirlooms you pass on to the next generation.

Sterling Silver Beads

Made by skilled artisans

Traditionally, Native Pearls were handmade with pieces of flat Sterling Silver hammered into a concave mold until they resembled tiny bowls or dome shapes. They would solder the two dome halves together to create one round shape. Before any automation could help make these Sterling Silver beads, it was an intensely time-consuming process that required great skills. It’s one reason why the beads were and are treasured. Even today, their creation includes many steps.

Oxidation on the sides of beads or in the depressions of stamped beads creates a contrast to spotlight patterns and Sterling Silver’s shine. Creating the chiaroscuro (the artistic contrast between light and dark) with oxidation takes skillful hand polishing. They also need a craftsperson with careful attention to detail to string them securely. 

Native Pearls come in other shapes like melons (elongated) and saucers (flattened) using the same process. Our beads have three styles: Concha Beads (featuring a floral pattern), Polished Beads (smooth beads that are oxidized and polished) and Rope Beads (textured, oxidized, and polished to highlight their textures).

The extraordinary landscape of the Land of Enchantment inspires all our designs. In that spirit, we conserve materials whenever possible to help preserve New Mexico and other sites of natural beauty around the world. American West Jewelry uses Native Pearls made with 92.5% reclaimed Sterling Silver. American West Jewelry’s Sterling Silver is also hypoallergenic, nickel-free and safe for sensitive skin.

We know many of our customers already elevate their look with Native Pearl jewelry. We want to see how you style your Native Pearls and hear how you plan to wear them. Share your ideas in the comments below.

We know you won’t just be seen in our Native Pearl Jewelry~You Will Be Noticed!

Happy Trails!

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