Here at Kachina House, we have the privilege of seeing large quantities of beautiful Native American jewelry of many different materials and eras of history. There is no doubt that in the Navajo tradition, the squash blossom necklace is one of the cornerstones of any jewelry collection. It represents a major era of Native American history, a coming-together of two vastly different cultures.
Indeed, it seems that the squash blossom necklace could only have been designed under the unique circumstances of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, when Spanish conquistadors arrived in the American southwest.
First, let’s look at the design of the necklace itself. The “squash blossom” portion actually refers to the string of turquoise beads along the necklace. These beads resemble the appearance of a squash flower, with small pieces of silver representing the petals of the blossom. Many people believe that the name was not chosen by the Navajo themselves, but by the way in which they explained the appearance of the necklace to the Anglo.
While the squash blossom beads are certainly beautiful, the meeting of Native American and Spanish cultures is signified in the naja, or “crescent,” that serves as the pendant. The curved, open symbol actually dates back to the Moors of the Middle Ages, who conquered and occupied Spain for eight centuries. The Moors would wear the naja on their horse bridles for spiritual protection.
When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the American southwest, they had taken on the habit of wearing the naja on their own horse bridles. Native Americans, upon capturing or trading for these emblems, would wear them proudly around their necks during ceremonies.
The use of silver in the squash blossom necklace is also the result of Spanish trade and influence. By the 1800s the Navajo people had become experts at crafting beautiful metal jewelry, specifically squash blossom necklaces, and selling them to non-Natives. Today, jewelry enthusiasts love the Navajo roots of the necklace, and its combination of modern and ancient influences.
Squash blossom necklaces can contain a variety of elements, from gemstone, to turquoise, to coral. Many jewelry makers add unique elements such as seashells, or extravagant ones like gold, to put their own spin on the Navajo treasure. Visit Kachina House to see a squash blossom necklace for yourself.