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 Bold Iconic Dna Chunky Taxco Mexico Mexican Sterling Silver BraceletPre-1948 J Anton Mexico Silver Amethyst Art Deco Wide Round Link Bracelet 77 GmsVtg Chinese Export Sterling Silver Filigree Enamel Dangle Pendant NecklaceVintage Mexican Modernist Flower Petal Sterling Silver 135 Gram NecklaceVintage Chinese Indochina Sterling Silver Repousse 1.75” Wide Buckle BraceletOld Pawn Navajo Silver Bead Coral Turquoise Naja Squash Blossom Necklace WesternAntique Chinese Engraved Sterling Silver Enamel Flower Pomander BroochSigned Ny Zuni Petit Point Silver Turquoise Squash Blossom 25.5" Necklace Rdr NrVintage Huge Finely Carved Moss Snow Jade Onyx Diamond Jadeite Enhancer PendantVintage 1950’s Sterling Silver Signed Mexican Amethyst NecklaceSigned Vtg. Calabaza Navajo Carinated Hand Stamped Sterling Silver Cuff BraceletVtg Danish Denmark Modernist Signed Julius Klagenborg 830 Silver BraceletVtg Chinese Export Sterling Silver Carved Pink Tourmaline Flower Sz 8 RingAksel Holmsen Norway 925s Sterling Silver Guilloche Handmade Enamel PendantVtg Signed Repousse Taxco Mexico Mexican Sterling Silver Clamper Cuff BraceletVtg Two Trees Mexico Sterling Silver Modernist 8 Sided Wide Bangle Taxco 98 GrmsVintage Chinese Carved Cinnabar Bead NecklaceVintage Old Hannu Ikonen Finnish Modernist Bronze Reindeer Moss Pendant NecklaceCarolyn Pollack Old Pawn Sterling Silver Handcrafted Designer Tribal Necklace Mexico 950 Silver Turquoise Hinged Pectoral Panel Link Necklace Earrings 97 GrmVintage Matl Matilde Poulat Style Sterling Dove Earrings Mexican SilverPre-1948 Mexico Sterling Silver Carved Jade Art Deco Butterfly Bracelet 155 GrmsFred Harvey Era Navajo Silver Turquoise Stylized Arrow Cuff Bracelet Old PawnVtg Navajo Indian Old Sterling Pawn Silver Hollow Graduated Bead Long NecklaceVintage Old Pawn Navajo Sterling & Coin Silver Bead Squash Blossom NecklaceVtg Hob Mexico Sterling Silver Large Art Deco Clamper Repousse Bracelet 69 GramsVintage Native American Sterling 925 Silver & Turquoise Bracelet Cuff Signed KthNiels Erik From Silver Denmark Ring Massive Dark Stone Modernist ScandinaviaAbsolutely Stunning Vint 165grams Hallmarked Complete Match Sterling Taxco SetVtg Fred Harvey Era Spiderweb Turquoise Thunderbird Sterling Stamped Pin Brooch Fred Harvey Era Navajo Silver Whirling Log Cerrillos Turquoise Bracelet Old PawnVintage Ultra Fine 14k Gold Lavender Jade Natural Jadeite EarringsVtg Lot Sterling Silver Native American Navajo Hopi Zuni Jewelry, Buckle Lot RdrPre-1948 Mexico Sterling Art Deco Carp Repousse Bypass Bracelet Taxco 61 GramsGorgeous .925 Sterling Donovan Cadman Pilot Mountain Turquoise Cuff BraceletVtg Bold Chunky Signed J. Gomes Taxco Mexico Mexican Sterling Silver NecklaceVintage Southwestern Native Sterling Turquoise Staped Cuff BraceletJay King Dtr Huge Heavy Angel Skin Coral Beaded Sterling Necklace 58 Gr. 18-21"Big Chunky Vintage Mexican Sterling Silver Azurite Bead Necklace Mexico 925 Silver Turquoise Deco-tribal Statement Pectoral Panel Necklace 80 GmFinland Vintage 1970’s Modernist Xxl Silver & Agate Ring, 12.1 GHeavy Mexican Sterling Silver Modernist Necklace SignedVintage Sterling South Western 10 Turquoise Stone Cuff Bracelet LovelyStunning Taxco Signed Sterling Silver Huge 209 Grams Onyx Matchstick NecklacePre-1948 Mexico Silver Statement Art Deco Style Solid Link Bracelet 48 Grm TaxcoVintage Chinese Hand Painted Portrait Pendants Necklace14k Gold W/ 925 Southwestern Tribal Old Pawn Signed Mens Cast Cuff BraceletVtg 40s 50s Made In Mexico Indian Feather Headdress Mexican Biker RingVtg 113g Massive Heavy Mexico Mexican Sterling Silver Amethyst Bracelet Vtg 50g Taxco Mexico Mexican Sterling Silver Black Onyx Scroll Heavy BraceletVintage Los Ballesteros Sterling Silver Coffee Bean Bracelet Hallmarked Southwestern Old Pawn 925 Sterling Silver Handmade Tribal Mens Cuff Bracelet Vintage Chinese Cloisonne Enamel Bead Flower NecklaceMagnificent Signed Tn-296 Huge Solid 261grams Sterling Mexico Cleopatra NecklaceAntique Early Chinese Export Silver Coral Carved Buddha Hinged Panel BraceletPre-1948 Mexico Sterling Silver Amethyst Repousse Ridged Link Bracelet 74 GramsLadies Antique Chinese 14k Solid Gold Carved Green Jade Carp Fish Brooch Pin RdrVintage Sterling Silver Taxco Bracelet, Substantial & HeavyPre-1948 Mexico Silver Amethyst Large 3.25 In Mask Pendant 20 In Chain 49g TaxcoVintage Mexico Margot De Taxco Am Pm Hourglass Bracelet 925 Sterling Br 1913