Squash blossom necklaces are a lovely and popular form of Native American jewelry and are traditionally associated with Navajo silversmiths. This guide will explain the components of these lovely necklaces and will briefly discuss their history.
The classic squash blossom necklace features a crescent shaped pendant, called a "naja", which is the Navajo word for "crescent", and beads with a design resembling a squash blossom. Both the naja and squash blossom beads designs are adapted from the early Spanish settlers of the American Southwest.
The naja motif was borrowed from the Spanish horse bridle. The Spanish had adopted the naja design from the crescent moon motif of the Moors of North Africa. The crescent design was common to many early civilizations.
The squash blossom design is based on a pomegranate blossom motif originally worn as silver trouser ornaments by the Spanish and, later, by the Mexicans who came to the Southwest. The Navajo do not use the term "squash blossom", instead referring to "the bead that spreads out".
Early squash blossom necklaces were made entirely of silver.
Until approximately 1880 necklaces made by the Navajo consisted of plain beads hung with a naja pendant. Beads on these early necklaces were graduated, with the largest beads placed on the middle of the strand. Early beads were made from two pieces of silver. Each piece was domed by hammering the piece of silver in a wooden mold with a smooth round punch. Holes were punched in the center of each half and the halves then soldered together, buffed and strung.
After 1880, silversmiths began to make the beads now commonly known as squash blossom beads and to intersperse them after every third or fourth plain bead. The squash blossom beads were made separately in three parts- first, the round form, then the petals and finally the small shank with a hole punched in it for stringing. The three pieces would then be soldered together. The use of the shank, rather than stringing the squash blossom beads directly on the necklace cord, allowed the bead and blossom to extend beyond the body of the necklace.
During the 20th century the shape of the squash blossom bead became increasingly elongated, and silversmiths began to set the beads with turquoise, coral and other stones.
While the squash blossom necklace is still thought of as primarily a Navajo art form, other Native American silversmiths, including the Zuni, also craft beautiful squash blossom necklaces in their own styles.
Squash blossom necklaces vary considerably in length, weight and size, so it is easy to select one that is scaled appropriately to the wearer.