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.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

All About Jewels Dictionary

All About Jewels Dictionary

This incredible reference dictionary on jewelry, from Enchantedlearning.com, is both beautiful and comprehensive. S… [read review or visit site]

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Jewelry collectors, feast your eyes on this internet gem! It's a goldmine of jewelry information featuring all styl… [read review or visit site]

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

With its vast galleries featuring clear images of jewelry and style, this site really covers it all! Divided up by … [read review or visit site]

Jewel History

Jewel History

Since March of 2007, readers of Lori Ettlinger Gross’s Jewel History blog have been treated to her weekly (someti… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vtg Japanese Toshikane Arita Sterling Silver Porcelain Necklace Bracelet SetVtg Chinese Export Sterling Silver Filigree Turquoise 1” Wide BraceletJennifer Begay Navajo "dancing Matilda" Coral Cluster Earrings Sterling SilverOld Pawn Navajo Wide Sterling Silver Natural Carico Lake Turquoise Cuff BraceletVtg 67g Los Castillo Rare Amethyst Taxco Mexico Mexican Sterling Silver BraceletVintage Villesana Taxco Mexico Mexican Sterling Silver 925 Cuff Hinged BraceletPre-1948 Mexico Silver Art Deco Cross Over Repousse Necklace 122 Grams TaxcoRare Old Pawn 30s+ Navajo Haleys Comet & Sleeping Beauty Turquoise Sterling CuffVtg Mexico Sterling Silver Pectoral Curved Bar Link Necklace Taxco 91 Gram 16 InAntique Chinese Carved Jade In Gold Gilt Filigree Silver Brooch Marked 2 1/2 X 1Vtg Matilde Poulat Matl Sterling Mexican Silver Earrings Turquoise Mexico 22g Lot Of 36 Vintage Sterling Silver Native American Rings Harvey Era Turquoise OldVtg Alcia Mexico Chunky 950 Silver Modernist Sculpture Necklace Taxco 100 GramsVintage Taxco 925 Mexican Sterling Silver Serpent Clamper Cuff BraceletVtg Mid Century Modernist David Andersen Large Sterling Silver Necklace PendantVtg Mexican Sterling Silver Amethyst Glass Star Sun Dangle Modernist NecklaceVtg Mexico Sterling Silver Graduated Bead 31 Inch Necklace Taxco 123 GramsOld Pawn Navajo Sterling Silver Natural Turquoise Peyote Blossom Cuff BraceletVtg Bold 103g Taxco Mexico Mexican Sterling Silver Necklace & Earrings SetBeto Pre-1948 Mexico Sterling Silver Abalone Art Deco Bracelet Taxco 85 GramsBest Vintage Old Pawn Zuni Sterling Sterling Turquoise Coral 3d Mosaic Inlay Old Primitive Hand Stamped Heavy Silver Navajo Cuff Bracelet Western Small WristVintage Robin Egg Blue Turquoise Navajo Medallion Cuff Bracelet,signed SVintage Handcrafted Sterling Silver David Andersen Norway Large PendantVtg Old Native American Navajo Indian Sterling Silver Turquoise Cuff Bracelet Pre-1948 Antonio Reina Mexico Sterling Silver Deco-tribal Link Bracelet TaxcoVtg Modernist 76g Bold Chunky Taxco Mexico Mexican Sterling Silver NecklaceVintage Mexican Sterling Silver Charm Bracelet With Bells Bell CharmsAwesome Los Castillo Cuff Bracelet 263 Sterling VintageAntonio Pineda Taxco Mexico 970 Silver Leaf Bracelet Pre-1948 Art Deco Taxco Mexico Sterling Fern/wing Repousse Bypass Bracelet Mexico 925 Sterling Silver Segmented Graduated Collar Link Necklace 109 GramsAntique Mexican Taxco Sterling Silver Signed & Hallmarled BraceletVintage Chunky Heavy Sterling Navajo Old Pawn Easter Blue Turquoise Brooch PinEstate Vintage Los Ballesteros Taxco Mexico Sterling Silver Wide Link BraceletVtg 101g Bold Massive Chunky Taxco Mexico Mexican Sterling Silver NecklaceVintage Mexico Sterling Silver Turquoise Amethyst Coral Turquoise Wide BraceletVintage Matilde Matl Poulat Sterling Turquoise & Coral Cross Brooch/pin 21gr3d Vintage Sterling Old Pawn Navajo Coral Turquoise Squash Feather Cuff BraceletPre-1948 Lf Mexico Sterling Art Deco Wing Demi-sphere Repousse Necklace TaxcoVintage Tourist Era Wide Stamped Nickel Silver Thunderbird Turquoise BraceletPre-1948 Villasana Mexico Sterling Silver Art Deco Repousse Bracelet Taxco 58 GmEagle 25 Vtg Mexico Sterling Silver 7 Charm Link Bracelet Inch Taxco 26 GramsVtg Aar Mexico Sterling Silver Large 14 Mm Cuban Link 9.5 Inch Bracelet 128 GrmsAntique Vintage Turquoise Coral Rings Sterling Silver? Southwest Na Tribe LotVtg Mexico Solid Sterling Silver Deco Tribal Arrow Link 19 In Necklace 70 GramsVintage Sterling Navajo Old Pawn Blue Gem Turquoise Feather Ring Size 7Mexico Sterling Silver Black Onyx Modernist Wavy Statement Cuff Bracelet 53 GramVintage Mexican Sterling Silver 925 Braided Cuff Bangle Bracelet Pre-1948 Mexico Sterling Silver Jade Art Deco-tribal Panel Link Bracelet 96 GramOld Pawn Incredible Work, 3 Piece Onyx Sterling Cuff Bracelet, NavajoVtg Native American Navajo Indian Sterling Silver Bead Topaz Victor V NecklaceVtg Mexican Sterling Silver Aztec Face Enamel Pendant 3” Signed Brooch PinVintage Lot Of Sterling & Turquoise/coral/mother Of Pearl Rings And Earrings Vintage Heavy Mexican Onyx Inlay Sterling Silver Taxco Necklace 63.1 GramsVintage Mexico Sterling Silver And Amehyst Bug Insect Beetle Earrings ScrewbackFancy Vintage Southwest Sterling Silver Turquoise Stone Flower Feather NecklaceNice Old Sterling Silver Whirling Logs Stamp Work Vintage Native American Vintage Two Trees Mexico Sterling Black Onyx Xo Link Bracelet Taxco 44 GramsVintage Signed Mexican Bikers Ring-mexican Aztec Eagle Warrior-size 11 3/4