The Hopi began making jewelry in the 1500's, but silverwork began in the early 1900's. A Zuni silversmith taught them how to use the tools and metal and they began making simple jewelry. As time passed, it was noted that Hopi jewelry was not necessarily distinct from Navajo or Zuni jewelry. So, Dr. Harold Colton and his wife, Mary-Russell, founders of the Museum of Northern Arizona, suggested that they use designs from their pottery and basket weaving. This set them apart from the others. This idea lent itself well to the overlay technique which has become their trademark. After World War II, returning Hopi servicemen were given an 18 month silversmithing course. This perfected their style and brought new ideas and designs.
Today a piece of Hopi jewelry is a work of art. Each piece is done by hand and individually designed. The overlay technique utilizes two pieces of sheet silver. Designs are cut into one piece and then overlaid and soldered onto the second sheet of silver. The area that "peeks" through the cutouts is oxidized to show the pattern more clearly. Often it is also tooled to add depth. Hopi work is usually heavy and the cutouts are crisp, precise and often quite detailed. The designs come from their surroundings and customs. Each piece has meaning to the artist. The Hopi are a deeply spiritual tribe and this translates into their jewelry.