Fine jewelry is not only found in major cultural centers such as New York and Paris. It has been produced by artisans and designers around the globe, using techniques steeped in local traditions and materials that are often as indigenous as the craftspeople sitting at their jeweler’s workbenches.
The earliest examples of Native American jewelry are usually called "old pawn," a phrase taken from the days when Native Americans would hock personal pieces of jewelry to make ends meet. Lots of Native American silver and turquoise pieces are routinely sold as old pawn, but only examples from the 1800s deserve that label. Silver was the base metal for most of these pieces, and one of the first styles seized upon by Navajo artists was the squash-blossom necklace.
Navajo artisans were also the first Native Americans to work with turquoise, which was common to the Southwest before it was mined out. The best Navajo necklaces and bracelets were labeled with the name of their source mine, just like a fine wine is labeled with the vineyard that has supplied its grapes. Due to the scarcity of local stone, it wasn’t long before high-quality turquoise was being imported, while softer, poorer-quality turquoise was often treated with resin to make it hard.
Other tribes worked with different materials to develop their own signature styles. The Pueblo, especially members of the Santa Domingo tribe, were highly skilled when it came to shell necklaces and mosaics. The Zuni added turquoise to the Navajo squash blossoms, and they also pioneered the use of red coral. As for the Hopi, their specialty has long been pins and other objects with patterns and treatments that suggest a textile heritage.
Farther south, in Mexico, silversmithing had been practiced for centuries. Indeed, Mexican silversmiths were the ones who taught the Navajo their trade. An American named William Spratling saw an opportunity to build on this legacy when, in 1931, he established a retail outlet for Mexican jewelry near the silver-mining center of Taxco.
Spratling’s designs borrowed liberally from pre-Columbian motifs, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that as his shop succeeded and imitators sprang up nearby, his designs themselves appropriated. Some competitors were actively encouraged. In fact, the Taxco School, as it is known today, was formed largely from former Spratling employees such as the Castillo brothers, Héctor Aguilar, and Antonio Pineda. Naturally, these artisans and their shops became incubators for still more generations of silversmiths.
The other great region for fine jewelry is Scandinavia. Copenhagen’s Georg Jensen is probably the best-known practitioner there. Founded in 1904, his firm built upon his fondness for the organic embellishment of Art Nouveau to create stunning pieces that heralded a new tradition of silver craftsmanship. His jewelry featured flowers, bunches of grapes, birds, and other animals. Though he briefly flirted with gold and silvers of varying fineness, in 1933 sterling silver became the rule at Jensen, which gives collectors of his early work an easy way to date a vintage piece...
Jensen was not the only producer of the Scandinavian Modern style. The Hans Hansen silversmithy produced jewelry by the likes of Karl Gustav Hansen, Bent Gabrielsen, and Anni and Bent Knudsen. N.E. From specialized in organic-geometric pieces, while Jørgen Jensen (no relation to Georg) staked his reputation on pewter.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
All About Jewels Dictionary
Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry
Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery
Clubs & Associations
- American Society of Jewelry Historians
- Association for the Study of Jewelry and Related Arts
- Society of Jewellery Historians
Other Great Reference Sites
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: Ethnic Jewelry
Source: Google News
Pocahontas-Themed Beaded JewelryIndian Country Today Media Network, August 27th
into standard mass-produced pieces, trendy baubles, or ethnic jewelry for tourists, my goal is to create work that strives to embrace contemporary jewelry-making strategies through artistic methodologies different from the traditional design...Read more
World traveler helps others get aroundPost-Bulletin, August 27th
from a lion pride circling a herd of elephants in Kenya, to cheetahs resting after a burst of speed near Johannesburg, South Africa, to Papua New Guinea women celebrating a successful crop, all in brightly colored dresses and adorned with tribal...Read more
Thief steals famed belly dancer's heirlooms worth thousandsNew York Post, August 27th
Among the missing items was the 3-foot-long scimitar sword, which Layla used as a prop, and a silver coin-covered outfit with tribal jewelry that belonged to a fellow dancer who was killed in a car crash. “She was a beautiful, incredible woman and...Read more
Thirty-third Annual Santa Cruz Greek Festival September 5, 6, 7Aptos Times, August 26th
Our Greek Agora includes ethnic jewelry, pottery, clothing and food items. Our Kid's Korner features the popular Mt. Olympus climbing wall and face painting. Greek Dancers from all over the Bay Area and dressed in traditional costumes will perform a...Read more
Santa Ana calendar: Aug. 22 to 29OCRegister, August 21st
Bead enthusiast Janet Seward will share photos Saturday of an excursion to Iran where she sought out ethnic jewelry and what women are wearing in the country. Seward's lecture will offer insights on contemporary Iranian culture. The free lecture starts...Read more
Leland Blue, A Way of Life in Northern MichiganMyNorth.com, August 13th
She takes pride in her jewelry, but she's also candid about the challenges of working with Leland Blue. “I realized there was the opportunity to establish a tribal jewelry. I felt like people were looking for something that would give them a connection...Read more
Historical Society Hosts Silver Jewelry PresentationWWNY TV 7, August 12th
The Jefferson County Historical Society is presenting a talk by Marjorie Marilley Ransom, who authored a book on Yemeni silver jewelry. The book is "Silver Treasures from the Land of Sheba: Yemeni Regional Jewelry" and Ransom was on 7 News This ...Read more
Free Lecture Celebrating Gorgeous BookWWNY TV 7, August 11th
Mrs. Marilley Ransom, a Croghan native, will be speaking on her new book entitled Silver Treasures from the Land of Sheba: Yemeni Regional Jewelry. The book is the fruit of several years spent by Mrs. Marilley Ransom living in the silver market of old ...Read more