The Naja’s Legacy in the New World

During Native American Heritage Month, we celebrate the Naja for the legacy it hold of adversity, survival, and beauty in the New World.

The Naja, which is the crescent pendant at the center of the Navajo squash blossom necklace, has roots in the Goddess-based religions of Phoenicia, Greece, Crete and Rome. However, it was the Moors – who dominated Spain for eight centuries – who adopted what would become known as a “Naja” on their horses’ bridles to protect the animal and its rider against “the evil eye”. In the 16th century the Spanish arrived in the New World in search of gold, executing their conquest upon ornamented Andalusian horses and introducing the Moorish bridle design to the Navajo and other first inhabitants.

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While Navajos don’t consider the Naja to have any spiritual or symbolic significance in their culture and religion, they have always been held it in high esteem as a form of wealth and bravery, proudly worn by men and women. First contact with the Spanish, who were adorned and armed in never-before-seen metals and riding atop strange four-legged beasts, was of course a moment that would forever affect the lives and cultures of the Indigenous peoples of land. To survive, the Navajo became fierce warriors and to return from war or raiding parties with Spanish Najas was most likely a way of counting coup on their enemy.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that the Navajo began to integrate silversmithing into their lives and culture, a practice that was also imported from Spain.  The ability to work in silver, leather and other metals allowed the Navajo to move their culture from a warrior society to that of a merchant society. The Long Walk of 1864, a forced 300-mile relocation and detainment of all Navajo people by the United States, was also a key moment in the necessary adaptation from a nomadic to more settled existence.

Upon the Navajo’s return from their four-year detainment at the Bosque Redondo internment camp, life was forever altered. Where prestige and wealth had come from raiding, it now came from sheepherding and trading. Silverworking became a very important part of this transition. At this time the squash blossom necklace, most famous for its inclusion of the Naja pendant, became popular. The squash blossoms are represented as having long petals at the brink of opening, connected to a spherical bulb at the base of the blossom.  While the squash plant represented life and sustenance to the Navajo, originally the flowery “beads” represented the pomegranates of Andalusia where a variation of this design can be found in the motifs of Granada, Spain.

Today, for some Navajo, such as myself, the Naja is a reminder of our people’s resilience in the face of unthinkable adversity. It is a symbol of creating something beautiful out of despair, of rising from the ashes. In that way I think the Najaremains as it has always been – a universal symbol of triumph over evil.

This month I hope you honor the triumphs in your own life, or in those you love, by celebrating the Naja in all her beautiful forms.

In Navajo we say Ahéhee’ — Thank you.

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Beyond Accessory, the Legacy of Jewelry  

It’s Native American Heritage Month! Here in New Mexico the Indigenous population makes up 10.6% with 22 distinct American Indian tribes calling this beautiful state home. Jewelry is a large part of Native culture, traditionally used to display wealth, identity, clan and tribal affiliation and more. All of us here at Team AW are blessed to be immersed daily in the inspiring designs and culture of both traditional and contemporary Native jewelers. Many southwestern and Native American jewelry styles have been incorporated into our own collections, such as the Sleeping Beauty, Boho and Native American collections, which could never have been possible without the guidance and blessings of our Native American peers.

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So for us, November is a time to say “thank you!” to all of our Native friends and family for the immense contributions they have given not only the jewelry world, but all facets of American life, from farming to the creation of our Constitution. Did you know that the Founding Fathers were inspired by the Iroquois Confederacy’s form of democracy? Well now you do!

As a Navajo woman, jewelry is more than just beautiful accessories. For the women and men in my family, our jewelry is a way of showing the world who we are as Diné people. To adorn ourselves in our Navajo jewelry when we leave our homes is how we present ourselves to the world as children of Changing Woman. We wear turquoise to connect us to and remind us of Dinétah, our homeland between the four sacred mountains. As women we wear turquoise to honor our men, and coral to celebrate the power and strength of the divine feminine. We wear the abalone shell to remind us of White Shell Girl who grew up to be Changing Woman and our primary deity. We treasure every gemstone because we remember the story of when she married the thunder and moved to the north where she because lonesome and homesick and created the stones for companionship.

In my family, like so many others, jewelry is passed from grandmother to granddaughter, from mother to daughter, from sister to sister, from aunty to niece, from cousin to cousin. Jewelry is how we share our stories as women with one another and remember who we are as a people. At American West, we recognize that every piece of jewelry carries with it a legacy, and just as our Native American neighbors to the north, south, east and west have been doing for centuries, we hope to contribute to every man and woman’s personal legacy through each piece of jewelry that we so lovingly handcraft here in Albuquerque.


Ungelbah Davila is American West’s blogger. She is Navajo of the ‘Áshįįhi Clan, as well as a native New Mexican of Spanish, Irish, and Sephardic ancestry. Her name, which in English means a woman who has returned from war to fight again, was passed to her from her maternal great-grandmother and is a source of personal power that influences the unique narrative she brings to her many art forms. 

The photos within this blog are of her grandmother, Gladys Denetclaw Daniel, 92, a traditional Navajo weaver and American West fan.

Albuquerque’s Top Haunts this Halloween

Boo! If that didn’t scare you, well maybe this will. Did you know our very own Albuquerque Old Town, where we can often be found photographing our lovely jewelry models, is a destination for ghost-hunters, -busters and beyond?

Ghost tours and paranormal investigators have been known to seek out certain Old Town locations notorious for their hauntings, such as the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

After visiting the chapel a group of investigators told the local news that it could be one of the most haunted places they’ve seen. They managed to get a recording of a phantom voice saying, “help me,” as well as photos depicting strange orbs. Check out the video here!

While you can certainly book a ghost tour on your next visit to Albuquerque, here are a few of our favorite spooktacular hotspots for a leisurely day of self-guided ghost hunting.

Begin with a good night’s sleep at the top rated hotel for supernatural activity: Hotel Parq. Originally a hospital for railroad employees, and then a psychiatric unit, Parq has more than a reputation for being a grand hotel.


Next, wander down to Old Town and visit the haunted Chapel before having lunch at the Church Street Café, an 18-room hacienda with ghosts residing from as far back as the 1700s. The café is not only famous for it’s excellent New Mexico cuisine, it is also said to be haunted by the spirit of an original owner, Sara Ruiz. Her ghost allegedly began appearing when the building was being renovated into its current incarnation. She would appear to the new owner and scream “Get him out of here now!” when contractors would come by to size up the work. Employees still claim to see the apparition in a long black dress.


Finally, visit the Kimo Theatre and perhaps take in a show to round out your day. The historic theater is said to be haunted by the spirit of young Bobby Darnall who was killed backstage when he was just six years old thanks to a hot water pipe explosion. It is now customary to leave a donut backstage for Bobby on the opening night of every performance lest things go disastrously wrong in the show.


Happy Halloween from all of us here at American West!

(photos courtesy of

It’s Feeling Chile in Here!

In New Mexico, autumn isn’t gauged by changing leaves, but by the moment when farm trucks start rolling into town piled high with gunnysacks bursting full of fresh green chile. By now, the air has been punctuated for over a month with the robust scent of roasting chile, the process the fruit must go through in order for its skin to be shuckable so as to access the tender meat within.

With roots steeped in the culinary traditions of southern Spain, influenced by the recipes of the Sephardic people escaping the Spanish inquisition, and finally blended with the indigenous fruits and vegetables of Pueblo gardens – there’s nothing like it in the world!

Chile – a fruit that came to this region of the New World circa 1580 and not to be confused with the Texas soup known as “chili” or the current “chilly” weather – is the New Mexico state fruit and a pinnacle of local culture around which many things revolve, such as fun gatherings.

Fiesta! Plan the Perfect Chile Peeling Party 

Step one: Drag home the requisite sack of chile to stock the garage freezer solely dedicated to chile storage.

Step two: Plan what kinds of spicy finger foods might entice our friends and family to partake in the annual ritual of peeling the chile, a tedious chore best preformed over margaritas and friendly conversation.

Step three: Reward yourself and your friends for a job well done with a gourmet green chile feast whipped up out of a recipe so old it may have originated on an Andalusian shore.

New Mexico Martini

Prepare two days in advance by soaking 2 roasted & peeled chiles in 1 ½  cups silver tequila. 

  • 2 oz chile-infused tequila
  • 1 oz Grand Marnier
  • 1 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 1 oz light agave nectar

Mix the agave nectar in the bottom of a cocktail shaker with 1 oz of warm water and stir to dissolve. Add the tequila, Grand Marnier, and lemon and lime juices, along with plenty of ice. Shake well and serve in salt-rimmed martini glasses garnished with an olive or a curl of the Hatch chile.

New Mexico Sushi

  • Green Chile
  • Garlic
  • 8oz container of cream cheese
  • Tortillas

Blend finely chopped green chile with one 8oz container of cream cheese. Add in a pinch of garlic to taste. Spread the mixture on your tortillas. Roll the tortillas up like a log and cut up into delicious, bite size morsels.

Green Chile Stewa wintertime staple

  • 1½ to 1¾ pounds beef chuck or pork butt (shoulder), cut in ½-inch cubes
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 to 1¼ pounds red waxy potatoes, peeled or unpeeled, and diced
  • 5 cups beef or chicken stock
  • 1½ tablespoons salt or more to taste
  • 3 cups 505 Southwestern brand Hatch Valley Roasted Green Chile sauce
  • 1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen, 1 cup carrot chunks, or 1 diced red bell pepper, optional

Sear the meat in a Dutch oven or large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until it browns and liquid accumulated from the meat mostly evaporates.

Stir in the onions and garlic and cook for several minutes, until the onions become translucent. Pour in stock and scrape the mixture up from the bottom to loosen browned bits.

Sprinkle in the salt, reduce the heat to a low simmer, and cook uncovered for 1¼ hours.

Stir in the chile and any of the optional ingredients and continue cooking for another 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the meat is quite tender, the vegetables are soft, and the flavors have blended together.

Ladle into bowls and serve hot.

** Don’t forget to share your party pictures with us at

Bring Home the Buffalo

A white buffalo is among the most sacred living things on earth for those whose indigenous homeland stretches across the American Great Planes. These precious creatures are a symbol of White Buffalo Calf Woman, who brought the people the scared pipe, along with hope and the essence of life.


It is her wisdom that reminds us that: ““When one sits in the Hoop of the People, one must be responsible, because all of Creation is related, and the hurt of one is the hurt of all, and the honor of one is the honor of all.”

The four colors of the medicine wheel— red, white, black and yellow — can also be traced to the story of White Buffalo Calf Woman. After giving the Lakota people instructions how to live in a good way, she transformed herself into a white calf.  As she walked away, she laid down to rest four times, each time becoming a different color that would become the sacred hoop for the Lakota people.


With our world experiencing so many hardships in these last months, and with the holiday season around the corner, it is a good time to reflect on the teachings of White Buffalo Calf Woman, who taught us to love one another and the importance of unity.

In honor of the white buffalo, we’ve brought back our White Buffalo Pendant from the American West archive so you can keep her story close to your heart this season, along with a few curated pieces inspired by the colors of the four directions. We hope you and your loved ones wear them in good health and walk in beauty.


Up, Up & Away Means Grab ‘Em While You Can

From the aspens turning the mountainside a shimmery gold, to the oversized sweaters you get to wear to the punkin’ patch, there is so much to love about fall in New Mexico. But what makes October one of the most highly anticipated months of the year isn’t our world class corn mazes, it’s the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta that is one of the most widely photographed events in the world due to its sheer visual magnificence.

Living here it’s difficult to escape the excitement that comes with an event in which for nine days hundreds of colorful hot air balloons take to the sky in a mass ascension – breathtaking. But not as breathtaking as the experience of actually boarding a floating aircraft propelled into the sky by nothing but hot air. Envision a 360 degree birds-eye view of rivers, mountains, and mesa, all hued in the vibrant pallet of autumn.

The thrilling feeling of freedom that comes with ballooning and how it manages to make a kid out of us all is what has inspired this week’s Up, Up & Away Clearance. If we can’t share with you the thrill of being airborne under a multi-colored balloon, well maybe we can give you a thrill of another kind – snagging a good deal on the classic jewelry you love! After all, it has all the bold, colorful, free-spiritedness of a balloon, and we have all the confidence in the world that wearing it will literally make you feel like you’re floating on air.

Think we’re stretching the imagination? Maybe, but with this year’s Balloon Fiesta theme telling us to “Inflate your Imagination,” we kind of think its apropos. But if you still don’t believe us, take a look at the multitude of statement pieces we have decided to retire and gift you with at clearance pricing. Like ballooning, it’s our New Mexico heritage at it’s finest. But, unlike a balloon, once they’re gone, they’re gone.


The Jewels of Route 66

She wore neon like a string of pearls…

On a balmy summer afternoon, Ruth shares with me her story of growing up along Route 66 and how this iconic road helped shape the woman she would become.

Ruth, Navajo, was adopted as a baby by a family from in Tucumcari, NM. Since the moment she opened her eyes to this world, Route 66 was there, but for Ruth the route is more than just an historic highway. Knowing that Route 66 ran through her new home as well as the land where she was born helped give her a sense of connection to her people and to Dinétah — the Navajo word used to identify her homeland. Eventually the road also became a symbol of femininity and strength to Ruth.

Growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Ruth saw Route 66 at its prime, a busy transcontinental thoroughfare bringing business, color and life to the communities along its way. New Mexico’s Route 66 communities big and small sported the aesthetic of the time. Diners and motels slanted into the horizon with deco profiles, complemented the landscape with colorful mid-century paint jobs, and lit up the dark desert night with the atomic glow of neon signs welcoming in road weary travelers. Blue-winged Biscaynes and candy-apple red Chevelles colored the asphalt like a speckling of gemstones against black velvet. And at the tips of everyone’s fingertips opportunity jingled like dinner rings.

“I began to see the road as a beautiful mother and we were all her children,” says Ruth. “The neon was her jewelry — coral earrings tucked against her dark hair, turquoise necklaces at her tan throat, soft hands decorated in green and pink stones.”

Ruth, a self-proclaimed “spitfire,” credits the route for inspiring her to venture away from home, go to college and learn about her world, things, she says, that were still uncommon for women of color to do back then.

“The ‘Mother Road’ brought people together, helped them get where they were going, and picked them up when they fell,” she says. “We would help people who broke down in Tucumcari. My father would drive them over to our house and my mother would feed them. We got to meet a lot of different kinds of people this way and it helped me understand that there was a bigger world out there.”

The afternoon passes and Ruth tells me more about coming of age in a time caught between tradition and revolution along the most famous road in America. As I sit and listen to her I begin to realize something very important.

It is this layering of memory that creates a legacy. It is what preserves a place, or an object and gives it meaning in an ever-changing world. Just as Route 66 created a legacy through the jewels that she wore, so too do the women that she’s touched. As women, our stories create memories that create legacies. Some stories are spoken, while some stories are merely worn.


Wyoming Or Bust

It is the first leg of our journey and the sky is turning an iridescent pink above the buckskin colored landscape of southern Wyoming when my father begins to tell me the history behind this road trip, 45 years in the making. The year is 1972 and the man who would become my father is a scrawny, baby-faced cowboy fresh off the family ranch looking for adventure in far away places. It is early summer and with hats on their heads and saddles in hand, he and his older brother climb into their “old worn out” Biscayne and head the 1,000 miles north from Catron County, New Mexico, to the Cowboy State.

Just spitting distance outside Cody, my dad hooked up with a hardworking Italian couple transplanted out West from their native New York to run a dude ranch. Slim, as my dad was soon called, was hired on the spot when he proved to be the only one on the outfit that knew better than to tie a horse up in the same spot for 10 hours. From what I understand, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and a classic coming of age story where during the course of one transformative summer Slim learned the important things in life, like how to talk to pretty ladies, stay on a buckin’ horse for the whole 8 seconds, and never underestimate the grit of a Wyoming old timer when he’s mad.

In exchange for room and board and enough dough to pay the $5 entry fee at the Cody Nite Rodeo, Slim became the chief horse trail guide for nice, vacationing families looking for an “authentic” experience. By day he’d lead wide-eyed posses of city slickers, spinning wild tales of grizzly encounters, shootouts, and other accounts of how the West was won. By night he’d descend upon the bucking shoots and try his luck of the draw.

Evidently in the early days of rodeo there was no rescue team in place to retrieve fallen cowboys from the line of fire. It wasn’t an uncommon sight to see disoriented fellers wandering aimlessly in the arena searching for the concession stand to quench their concussion-induced thirst. True sons of a WWII nurse, Slim and his brother took it upon themselves to fire up the Biscayne and run a makeshift medic operation, hauling busted up cowboys to the local hospital. When Slim took a fall to the head and ended up lost in the arena, looking for the concession stand, his big brother decided it was time to pack it up and go on home.

Today the stretch from Jackson Hole, through Yellowstone to Cody, is as beautiful and untouched as I imagine it was back then. We explored the Jackson classics, such as the Cowboy Bar, and took our requisite selfies with the antler gateway as dad narrated every nook and cranny with stories of his youth. Old Faithful was as faithful as ever and we even scared up a herd or two of bison in the park. But the crowning moment, for me, was sitting in the Buzzards Roost behind the bucking shoots at the Cody Nite Rodeo, looking down on the arena where my old cowboy looked for 8 when they pulled the gate, all those years ago.

Vintage Classics


From mid-century modern furniture to winged eye liner, almost everywhere you look these days you will see #ThrowbackThursday-worthy styles making their way back into the mainstream. One reason for the reappearance of classic looks is that Vintage has a quality that transcends time, keeping certain styles from ever loosing their appeal.

In the spirit of this “retro revolution,” we are proud to introduce our “Vintage Classics,” an ever-evolving assortment of the most beloved and timeless pieces from our American West design vault. With over 40 years of jewelry creation under our belt, we decided it was high time we dusted off a few old pieces and made them available online.

Our belief is that the precious metals and high quality gemstones that we select make every single piece of jewelry that comes from American West more than just an accessory. It is our hope that they are treasured heirlooms that become physical reminders of the important women in our families as they get passed down from mother to daughter, or from friend to friend. There are few things as personal and important to a woman as the jewelry she chooses to adorn herself with, the pieces that compliment her own beauty and carry the imprint of her personal legacy. All this and more we hope to share with you as you browse this exciting new-old collection and find those signature pieces that will become a part of your story.


New Mexico Wine is Bottled History

Wine. The Mesopotamians discovered it, Dionysus was the God of it, the apostles drank it, Emmylou Harris crooned it, “Casablanca” immortalized it, and Petronius called it “life.” And, in 1629, a Franciscan and a Capuchin monk traveling with Onate to New Mexico defied Spanish law and planted the first “mission grapes” in a Piro pueblo south of Socorro, marking the beginning of wine production in New Mexico. The vines are thought to be a European variety from Spain called “Monica,” a variety is still grown in New Mexico today.

At this time, Spain had banned the growing of grapes in the New World to protect the interests of Andalusian farmers, whose wine exports grossed one quarter of Spanish foreign trade. But, in remote areas of the Spanish Empire, such as New Mexico, the church ignored the ban due to the staggering cost involved in importing it.


By the turn of the century, wine making in the Land of Enchantment was a thriving business. A substantial strip along the Rio Grande produced an abundance of thriving vineyards. Historians claim the vineyard were so popular that residents stopped raising enough food to feed themselves and began depending on caravans for supplies. From there, wine production boomed in the fertile Rio Grande Valley. In 1880, the annual production of wine reached 908,000 gallons, and with twice as many acres of grapevines than New York State, New Mexico became the country’s leading exporter of wine.

Around this same time, Father Jean Baptiste Ralliere came to the Tomé Land Grant with several different types of wine grapes in tow. The 26-year-old priest also owned private land where he cultivated his own vineyards and established his own winepress, quickly becoming a powerful figure in the community.


Alas, with the beginning of Prohibition in 1919 the wine business began to decline. Finally, in 1943, the “great Rio Grande flood of the century” destroyed vineyards throughout the valley, and wineries that had been in production for over 50 years were out of business.

In the last decade, the Rio Grande Valley has begun to unearth its roots and has become a little Napa in its own right. Robert Jaramillo, of Jaramillo Vineyards in Belen, NM, is a third generation vintner whose grandfather was known to have produced 1,000 gallons of wine annually during Prohibition. Jaramillo says the arid climate, sandy loam soil, and rolling landscape here are ideal for growing grapes. The hills by the river are perfect for grapes because the cold air rolls off them, and because grapes require four times less water than alfalfa and bring in 10 times as much revenue cultivating them is a no-brainer.

“I started looking around here and not too many people knew about growing grapes. In fact, they said you couldn’t even grow good wine grapes here,” Jaramilo said. “But we’ve shown that European grapes can grow here and make really good wine.”

Jonathan Chavez, owner and vintner at Camino Rael Winery in Tomé is also following in the footsteps of his ancestors. With a sprawling vineyard located at the foot of Tomé Hill, he cultivates Isabella, Merlot, Muscat and others, producing many award-winning wines. Chavez claims the chemistry is the most important aspect of winemaking, and from the harvest to the bottle, the process takes three months to perfect. These perfections meet the delight of his patrons at his Los Lunas-based Camino Real Winery & Tap Room, along with live music and other local craft beers and wines.


The culture of wine has brought mankind together since its inception. Whether you prefer the crisp, dry, or sweet taste of it, all will agree that it has been over a glass or two that many a great moments have occurred. We don’t mind telling you that we too take an occasional sip of the vino, and it has been over a fine bottle of local wine that we have designed some of our favorite pieces of jewelry, including our Classics Collection. Yes, jewelry as fresh and classic as a sip of Chardonnay.