The Zuni people of what is now west-central New Mexico are well known for their exceptional lapidary art. Some of the most popular Zuni artistries include stone fetish carvings and intricate inlaid jewelry. Today we’ll look at a different aspect of Zuni design: Clusterwork. This general term refers to several styles that showcase many small, thoughtfully arranged stones. Clusterwork is often used interchangeably with the term petit point, although petit point is more specific. Clusterwork was innovated in the mid-twentieth century by Zuni artists but is also popular amongst many Navajo (Diné) jewelers. Clusterwork pieces are usually made with sterling silver and either coral or Sleeping Beauty Turquoise, although other types of turquoise are used as well. Common patterns found on clusterwork jewelry are flowers, wagon wheels, sunbursts, squash blossoms, ladders, and rows. Clusterwork can be applied to a range of pieces like cuff bracelets, rings, earrings, or pendants.
The first and possibly the most popular style is known as petit point. The easiest way to identify petit point is by the shape of the stones. They can include round, oval, and square shapes, but the most common pieces showcase teardrop-shaped stones. Often you will see large cuff bracelets with snowflake, flower, or wagon wheel shapes. Earrings, necklaces, squash blossoms, and rings are popular pieces in this style.
Next comes my personal favorite. Needlepoint is a subcategory of clusterwork that focuses on many thin, needle-shaped gemstones that are variously arranged to create a textural masterpiece. Often, you will see cuffs, earrings, pendants, and rings arranged into wagon wheels, flowers, and straight rows.
The last style we’ll talk about is snake-eye. This style features many small, round stones that are bezel set to keep them securely in place. Most often they’re arranged into rows, but can sometimes be found in other patterns like the one shown above. Think of the most popular snake eye pieces as rows of polka dots. Tiny, uniform, polka dots evenly spaced to form several lines within a square or rectangle.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick jewelry lesson. Browse our online selection of Zuni jewelry to acquaint yourself with their many vibrant styles, or visit us in-store to find something uniquely you!