Vernon A. Begaye


Growing up on the Navajo Reservation with parents who were both traditional Navajo silversmiths (Jimmie and Ella May Begaye) and a mom who is also a traditional Navajo rug weaver, Vernon Begaye learned early on to explore and honor his artistic talents. While he began with the traditional designs learned from his parents it wasn’t long before his own artistic sensibilities began to distinguish his work. And win him innumerable awards.

The ability of Vernon Begaye to portray distinctive Contemporary jewelry designs with materials associated with traditional work is his hallmark. The unique finishing touches he adds to each set his work apart from so many others. His Associates Degree in Drafting along with studies at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in Carlsbad, CA and studies at Mesa Arts Center and Mesa Community College, both in the Phoenix area, his interests in computer-aided designs, and his interest in the design and lines of city architecture all fostered a natural preference in Vernon Begaye for a modern sensibility in his intricately patterned inlay jewelry pieces.

“I focus on clean, straight designs with multi-colored stone inlay influenced by Scandanavian designs,” Vernon Begaye notes as he describes his preference for clean, simple elements created through fabrication and tufa stone casting techniques. Art Deco, Egyptian design and Native American designs all also show their influences. “I include Navajo rug patterns and motifs and stamp designs,” he adds. The inlaid stones that appear in jewelry pieces by Vernon Begaye may include coral, mother of pearl, lapis, spiny oyster, petrified wood, sugilite, charolite and more; the turquoise included is from the Emerald Valley, Lone Mountain, Bisbee, Morenci or the Kingman mine. 

His distinctive touches include the working with stone he may add to the inside of his pieces, adding texture and pattern, for example, to the inside band of a cuff; or the thin line of delicate and intricate inlay he may add to the side width of a piece, such as a buckle – a detail not visible from the front but one the wearer would look down and appreciate; another piece bears a small inlay of coral and mother of pearl right on the face of a large turquoise stone. 

The singular design choices by Vernon Begaye have won him awards that span many years, from a 1993 Southwest American Indian Art (SWAIA) Fellowship award to a Fortunoff Fellowship, to an award from a Heard Museum show (Phoenix, Arizona), the Navajo Festival of Arts & Culture (Flagstaff, AZ), to his more recent awards from the famous Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial (in New Mexico) where in 2012 his Contemporary Native American jewelry pieces took both 2nd and 3rd place ribbons.

Cuff bracelets, buckles, bolos, necklaces, pendants and more by Vernon Begaye bear the mark of a dedicated jeweler, one dedicated to his Native American traditions, who works on his art each day. Vernon Begaye is either at his jewelry bench surrounded by buffing and lapidary machines, a stone cutter and rolling mill, casting equipment and hand tools, or he is roughing out a design for a new piece, or he is simply finding new inspirations - efforts seamlessly proven by each stunning piece.