Native tribes in the Southwest have been creating ornamental jewelry for many hundreds of years. Before the Spanish ever arrived, these tribal artists had mastered the art of heishi bead rolling and lapidary. However, it was not until the 1800s that they learned to work metal from Mexican smiths. The Navajos were the first tribe to cast silver jewelry in the late 1870s and the technique spread to the Zuni and Hopi tribes by 1890.
Tufa stone is a compressed volcanic ash material that is found on the Navajo reservation. It is easier to carve than sandstone and its porous surface leaves a unique texture once the metal has cooled. Tufa casting is a labor-intensive process involving many steps.
Once cooled, the hardened piece is taken out of the mold and the extra metal in the sprue hole is removed. The artist will carefully sand and clean the design, making sure to leave the porous texture from the tufa stone. The last step is to shape the flat metal into its final form, such as the curved semi-circle of a cuff bracelet.