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.
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Recent News: Ethnic Jewelry
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Jewelry store worker left bound at cemetery; 1 in custodyThe Tand D.com, April 13th
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A jewelry store worker abducted in a parking garage by men seeking a code to the store safe was repeatedly zapped with a stun gun, bound and left at a cemetery, according to court papers. Federal agents have arrested 31-year-old ...Read more
Designers make a bee-line for the 23rd Jewellery and Watch Show (JWS) 2015 ...Zawya (registration), April 12th
Abu Dhabi, 12 April 2015: The 23rd edition of the Jewellery and Watch Show (JWS) in Abu Dhabi is going to be a full-house of exquisite and exclusive collections, with 150 jewelry brands from around the world, having booked their spots a month before...Read more
The Island of the Gods Takes Center Stage at Inacraft 2015Jakarta Globe, April 8th
Central Jakarta, the merchants are on hand for the Jakarta International Handicraft Trade Fair or Inacraft, one of the mainstays in Jakarta's expo calendar and a haven for sellers and aficionados of batik, woven craft, ethnic jewelry and other...Read more
3 Best Bets in Magic Valley EntertainmentTwin Falls Times-News, April 3rd
E., and Ooh La La! will feature 32 local and regional jewelry artists, and provide complimentary champagne and hors-d'oeuvres. Jensen Jewelers, 133 Shoshone St. N., will have art by Rosi Martinez-Eckert on display and provide free ring cleaning and drinks...Read more
Ottawa designers inspired by Indian heritage unveil a new line of tribal jewelryVancouver Desi, December 23rd
Best friends and business partners Ronjiny Basu and Tanima Majumdar have already made a name for themselves by selling colourful Indianmade scarves in Ottawa. Now, the duo are behind an eye-catching, tribal-looking jewelry line. Launched in ...Read more
Get the Look: Tribal JewelryAARP News (blog), July 17th
TribalJewelry1 It's officially summer and I'm ready for an exotic vacation! I've spent more than enough days indoors catching up on TV shows, fixing home appliances and fantasizing about time away from work. Recently I learned my friend Liz was...Read more
Ethnic jewelry — a pricelessJakarta Post, February 2nd
Since the 19th century, the country's ethnic jewelry has attracted admirers of ethnography and art. They have since been hunting and collecting these valuable gems and treasures to remote areas across archipelago in order to get in touch with local...Read more
SUPERSTARS DELVE INTO TRIBAL JEWELRYArtnet, February 28th
“They were drawn to ethnic jewelry, as it can be deeply spiritual reflecting religious beliefs but also social values as well as economic wealth and status, too,” said Maureen Zarember, who heads up Tambaran and whose latest exhibition, “Adornment,” ...Read more