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    

Vintage Chinese Export Gold Gilt Silver Filigree & Carved Jade Pin Brooch | G TSigned David Andersen Sterling Silver Blue Enamel Guilloche 15.5" Necklace BnwKupittaan Kulta, Elis Kauppi Vintage 1970’s Sterling Silver & Moss Agate PendantVtg Native American Navajo Indian Turquoise Thunderbird Sterling Silver Bolo TieOld Pawn Navajo Sterling Old Raymond Yazzie Turquoise Squash Blossom NecklaceGorgeous Vintage Chinese Gilt Silver Filigree Enamel & Jade Bracelet | Rs AxVtg Mexico Sterling Silver Veiny Sodalite Art Deco Link Necklace 49 Grams TaxcoVtg Sterling Silver Old Pawn Navajo Squash Blossom Turquoise Bead Necklace 24.5"Pre-1948 Avila De La Borda Mexico Silver Turquoise Coffee Bean Repousse NecklaceOld Pawn Navajo Sterling Morenci High Grade Turquoise Squash Blossom NecklaceLapponia, BjÖrn WeckstrÖm Stunning Sterling Silver “crosswaves” Collier, 62.6 GJuhls Kautokeino, Vintage Xxl Sterling Silver Modernist Collier, Necklace NorwayHeavy Vintage Signed Emma Mexican Sterling Silver Bracelet.Antique Chinese Carved Rose Quartz Shou Bead NecklaceLapponia, BjÖrn WeckstrÖm, Heavy Stunning 1996 Sterling Silver “zelda” BangleSouthwestern Old Pawn Sterling Silver Natural Royston Turquoise Cuff BraceletKultaseppa Salovaara Ky, 1970’s Sterling Silver & Chrysoprase Pendant, 3.4 GDavid Andersen Norway Sterling Silver 925s Blue Enamel Leaf 7.5" Bracelet Bnw NrKupittaan Kulta, Elis Kauppi Vintage 1970’s Modernist Sterling Silver Cube RingVintage Signed Mexican Sterling Silver Floral Design Clamper Bracelet.Scarce Antique Zuni Natural Turquoise Snake Eye Sterling Silver Cuff BraceletVintage Old Pawn Navajo Turquoise Sterling Handmade Naja Squash Blossom NecklacePre-1948 Edp Art Deco Mexico Sterling Fern/wing Repousse Bracelet Taxco 73 GramsVtg Old Pawn Navajo Sterling Silver Bench Pearl Beads Turquoise Choker NecklaceLapponia, BjÖrn WeckstrÖm,stunning Vintage 1980’s Sterling Silver “shuttle” RingKupittaan Kulta, Elis Kauppi 1970’s Sterling Silver & Chrysoprase Bangle FinlandHappy Piasso Red Spiny "heart Of Taos" Navajo Squash Blossom Necklace SetPre-1948 Villasana Mexico Sterling 3 Dimensional Tribal Bracelet 54 Grams TaxcoValon Kulta & Hopea,valo-koru Vintage 1974 Silver & Moonstone Ring,finland,10.7gVtg Rare Sterling Silver Oldpawn Native Navajo Bear Claw Turquoise Bead NecklaceBest! Vintage Mexico Sterling Silver Chevron Bracelet Heavy, Wide 181 GVtg Mexico Sterling Massive Cubes & Beads 32 Inches Necklace 188 Grams TaxcoVtg Bold Chunky Antique Amethyst Taxco Mexico Mexican Sterling Silver BraceletBjorn Weckstrom Lapponia Finland Sterling Acrylic Ring Extraordinary Rare!!!!Los Castillos Mexico Silver Art Deco Repousse Swirls Pivot Link Necklace TaxcoGreek Key Design Jade 14k Gold Vibrant Green Vintage Jadeite Sz 7 RingVtg Mexico Sterling Silver Veiny Malachite Deco-mod Link Necklace 56 Gram TaxcoVintage Chinese Export Gilt Vermeil Silver Enamel-white Jade Butterfly BroochStunning Siam Thailand Handmade Sterling Silver Hindu Mermaid Cuff Bracelet | GVintage Chinese Gilt Sterling Silver Enamel Flower Bangle BraceletAlfredo Villasana Vintage Taxco .925 Sterling Silver Sroll Design 7.5" BraceletVintage Salvador Teran Sterling Silver And Coral Necklace And Earring SetPre-1948 Es Mexico Sterling Art Deco Shrimp Repousse Bracelet 69 Grams TaxcoNorway Sterling Red Enamel Filigree Bracelet – Ivar Holth Ivar Holt Vintage Chinese Export Sterling Silver Filigree Coral Bead Dragon Bracelet 6.75"Vtg Kaunis Koru P.r Sterling Silver Spectrolite Ring Size 6.5 Finland ModernistVtg Mexico Sterling Silver Art Deco Demi-spheres Clamper Bracelet 58 Grams TaxcoVintage Carved Chinese Export Green Jade Bead Horse Stallion 34" Necklace StrandVtg Rare Coffee Bean Repousse 1930's Mexico Mexican Sterling Silver BraceletVtg Mexico Sterling Silver Black Onyx Large Link Necklace 18 Inch 94 Grams TaxcoDavid Andersen, Unn Tangerud Rare 1964 Sterling Silver & Thulite Earrings, ClipsVintage Peter Justensen Sterling Amazonite Kinetic Ball Tall Ring Moves DenmarkVintage Native American Southwestern Sterling Silver Mixed Lot 203 GramsVtg 86g Bold Rare Chunky Coffe Bean Mexico Mexican Sterling Silver BraceletPre-1948 Mexico Sterling Obsidian Art Deco 26 Inch Necklace & Earrings 56 GramsVtg Mexico Sterling Amethyst & Lantern Beads Long 33 Inch Necklace 70 Gram TaxcoNorway Ivar Holth Guilloche Enamel & Sterling Seven Scenic Panels 7.25" BraceletHappy Piasso Natural Royston Turquoise Ring Sterling Silver Native American 9Matti J. HyvÄrinen Vintage 1970’s Modernist Sterling Silver Ring, Finland, 5.6 GGeorg Jensen, Henning Koppel Heavy 21 G Vintage 1970’s Sterling Silver Ring #140