Southwest Traditions:
Turquoise and Shell

Turquoise and shell have been paired on jewelry and other objects for millennia, a combination that symbolizes the importance of water through the color of the stone and the origin of the shell.

Turquoise beads and pendants were first added to shell bead necklaces a couple of thousand years ago and are still used together today. The earliest turquoise mosaic on shell dates back to the early Hohokam, fifteen hundred years ago, but the form appears throughout the region by a thousand years ago.

Spiny oyster (Spondylus spp.) is the most common shell to be decorated in this manner today, although many kinds of bivalves are used. The completed mosaic is usually worn as a pendant, either alone or as part of a necklace.

Heishi and shell necklace, 1970-90. Turquoise, shell, jet, coral, silver. (Dicky Pfaelzer Collection, courtesy K.?H. Bershad, Urban F. Hirsch III and Rita H. Wells; 57080/12, Origin/Artist: Santo Domingo)