Spiny Oyster

Native American artisans use a wide variety of gemstones to make jewelry: turquoise, jet, picture jasper, opal, and coral.

A favorite material of the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni tribes--the spiny oyster--is, as its name indicates, not a gemstone but the shell of the Spondylus gaederopus, a bivalve mollusk.

Found in mostly in the waters of South America and the Gulf of Mexico, spiny oyster has been used by Native Americans since prehistoric times.

Depending on the depths of the water in which it is found, the spiny oyster wears a shell of varying shades of white, yellow, orange, pink, red, purple, and brown.

The shell is separated from the meat and is then shaped into beads and cabochons.

Purple spiny oyster is sometimes confused with either sugilite or charoite, and the darker red color with Mediterranean coral. You can usually tell spiny oyster by the streaks in the stone.

(All above pieces can be found in Mary Navajo's booth)

Zuni artists are renowned for their skill with inlay, a technique in which multiple stones are pieced together to form a single image. Spiny oyster is almost always used, along with turquoise, mother-of-pearl, onyx, gaspeite, and lapis. The stones are glued into channels created by soldering pieces of silver to a backing plate. The stones are then polished flat, resulting in a gorgeous multicolored figure.

(Zuni inlay pieces by Gary James)

Spirit Heart Art has several displays at the Sedona Artist Market featuring paintings and jewelry. Their countertop display features handmade spiny oyster jewelry.

Artist David Davis sources his materials from Ecuador, creating pieces that highlight the beauty of the varying colors.

(Above pieces from Spirit Heart Art)

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