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
Flyboy folkloreIssaquah Press, December 10th
Almost more amazing than McKee's journey to Italy and back, from gunner aboard B-25 missions to regional jewelry salesman, is the 91-year-old's steel trap of a memory. From his current Timber Ridge home in Talus, where he's lived the past three years...Read more
Bankruptcy Beat Snapshot: Michael McGrailWall Street Journal (blog), December 5th
It's been brought in to help in many of the major retail bankruptcies of recent years, from big-box electronics chain Circuit City to regional jewelry and home goods seller Fortunoff. Tiger won the job running going-out-of-business sales for Fortunoff...Read more
Exceptional gift art for the holidays offered at Napa Valley ExpoNapa Valley Register, December 4th
Sandra King — Bottle Art: vintage objects adorned with crystals, pewter, copper and seashells. Jamie Kortan — Beeswax luminaries. Jacqueline Miyata — Ethnic jewelry adorned with semiprecious stones, crystals and antique beads. (Only on Saturday.)...Read more
In the Footsteps of Seeger and Guthrie, Vermont Folk Singer Rik Palieri ...Seven Days, December 4th
Palieri keeps the paper certificate acknowledging that nomination on his living room wall, where it is crowded in by more interesting cultural knickknacks and memorabilia he's picked up on his travels — photos, tribal jewelry and handmade instruments...Read more
Logistics Company Brings Hope To WamenaJakarta Globe, November 28th
Currently, RBO sells 22 original products from Wamena on their website, including the famous coffee, batiks, ethnic jewelry, noken and koteka. “We're probably the only internet company selling koteka all over the world,” Inaba said, with a laugh. On...Read more
Shopping event to benefit Domestic Violence RoundtableSudbury Town Crier, November 26th
Located at 410 Boston Post Road in Sudbury, Mango Tree Artisans showcases fair trade items, including handcrafted sterling silver and ethnic jewelry, ceramics, baskets, Judaica, eco-friendly clothing, instruments, glass, metal, wood and children's toys...Read more
Holiday eventsTimes Herald-Record, November 23rd
metal, clay, glass, wood, photography, upcycled and recycled materials and more. On Nov. 24 only, additional vendors will be in the Fellowship Hall selling baked goods, soaps and oils, tribal and ethnic jewelry, greeting cards and other unique...Read more
Zawadi: A Hidden GemThe Hilltop Online, November 18th
“I'm a big jewelry fanatic and I love ethnic jewelry, I'm definitely going to buy these,” says Bolton. “A lot of Howard students would appreciate the merchandise in the store if they just took the time to walk a little further down U Street, this store...Read more