The Heishi beads: the secrets of an ancestral know how
Heishi beads are a timeless marker of Native jewelry and more specifically of Native American Pueblo (Kewa) jewelry. Pueblo refers to both a tribe composed of several Native groups and the term "village" in New Mexico. Pueblo artists are specialized in working with turquoise, black-jet, coral and other shells for many moons.
At HARPO, we want to make this exceptional work accessible, especially through Heishi bead bracelets and necklaces. These jewels, often imitated but never equaled, are representative of the patient and meticulous work of the Pueblo artists.
Indeed, it is difficult to realize at first glance, but when you buy a Pueblo Heishi beaded necklace, bracelet or earrings, you are dealing with a piece that has required hours of work upstream, as evidenced by the photos of these different stages of creation, taken from this Youtube video.
The steps of making Heishi beads
The artists must first choose the materials with which they will work: shells, turquoise, coral ... Then carefully cut into small pieces. This is the case for example on the photos above of shells ("grey shells") cut in their width with a grinder.
Once the shells are cut, it is then necessary to cut them with pliers to obtain small squares of similar sizes. Imagine the time and patience it takes...!
Then each of these small squares is pierced with a hole to be threaded on rigid wires. These wires allow to have final jewels (necklace, bracelet, earring) both flexible and resistant.
Each of the strands of pearls created is then put through a grinding machine and polished to form a smooth strand with a uniform diameter. This final step is a true testament to the quality of a Heishi strand: the beads should feel smooth to the touch as you run your fingers along the strand.
You will find many Heishi beads necklace at HARPO
This process results in beautiful jewelry made of natural materials, emblematic of Native American jewelry making.
At HARPO we like to show the diversity and beauty of Pueblo jewelry, which is why you will find many bracelets and necklaces made with Heishi beads. The diameter of the beads and the style of the jewels vary according to the artists' compositions.
You will find fine necklaces and bracelets with beautiful natural colors from various stones and shells. Each model can be assembled with another to create different strings of necklaces or real cuffs for your wrists.
Other necklaces have a more marked presence: the diameter of the pearls is variable, the row can even be degraded, which requires the artist to be even more meticulous during the polishing stage: he or she will create pearls with fine diameters near the clasp and thicker in the center of the necklace.
Beautiful examples of Heishi beads can be found on the Corn Beads Necklaces, so called because they have corn beads in the center (a very strong symbol of the Native culture). These corn beads are enhanced by Heishi beads of different materials and diameters.
Finally, HARPO's iconic fetish necklaces are also made of Heishi beads between each small animal. These fine strings of beads are always made with great care, in turquoise or other stones and shells.