The traditional Native American bead necklace would have been made from materials found in nature. Tribes near the shore would use shells, those that hunted buffalo would use horns, bones, or teeth, and those in forested areas would make beads from wood. Each tribe developed its own tradition for beadwork. Amber, turquoise, and other colorful stones were often incorporated into a bead necklace. Some even included copper or silver beads, but metalwork was not part of original Native American necklace making. The beads were typically strung using leather from whatever animal the tribe regularly hunted.
Some of the most famous Native American bead necklaces are those developed by the Plains Indians, which feature the peyote stitch beading. Wampum is attributed to tribes on the eastern side of the country, and necklaces and belts made from Wampum were often used as money. Some beadwork was used to tell a story and pass heritage from one generation to the next, some necklaces were used to display trophies from an excellent hunt, while other necklaces were simply used as something beautiful to wear.
As Europeans arrived on the continent, the Native American jewelry makers did not abandon their traditional techniques. Instead, they incorporated new materials, such as glass beads, into their traditional work. The actual techniques remained quite unchanged even after the arrival of Europeans. It was only about 100 years ago that metal work was introduced to the making of a bead necklace, and the Navajo were the first to do this. Adding this technique led to the type of jewelry that is now known as Native American beadwork.
Turquoise jewelry is one of the most popular forms of Native American jewelry being purchased today. The Zuni, Hopi, Santo Domingo, and Navajo tribes are all famous for their ability to create beautiful necklaces out of America's native stone. To buy a bead necklace made by a Native American using traditional techniques and materials, you can either shop online or visit a reservation. FirstPeople offers handmade bead necklaces for sale, as does AllTribes.com.