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 JewelHistory blog have been treated to her weekly (sometim… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique Chinese Silver Filigree Carved & Pierced Mutton Fat Jade Earrings Vtg 73g Bold Chunky Pink Coral Taxco Mexico Mexican Sterling Silver NecklaceGorgeous Old 18" Antique Chinese Natural Salmon Coral Barrel Bead Necklace! Nr!Vintage Southwestern Fred Harvey Era Sterling Silver Turquoise Cuff BraceletVintage Old Mexico Sterling Silver Turquoise BraceletVtg Georg Jensen Denmark 925 Sterling Silver Link Chain Bracelet 54g 7.5"Tone Vigeland Norway Designs Hammered Sterling Silver Bangle Bracelet 7"#j22Vintage Chinese Gilt Sterling Silver Carved Green Jade Buddha Pierced EarringsVtg Chinese Export Silver Plated Natural Coral Blue Enamel 1.5" Wide BraceletVintage 91g Turquoise Taxco Mexico Sterling Silver Mexican NecklaceVintage Early Mexican Sterling Silver Agate Aztec Pendant NecklaceOld Navajo Squash Blossom Necklace W/silver Bench Beads, Sterling Naja PendantVtg 1940's Mexican Taxco Sterling Silver Foiled Glass Signed Anita 128g NecklaceVtg Early Taxco Mexican Sterling Silver Corn Husk Agate Necklace Bracelet Set 1920's Period Art Deco Mexico 980 Silver Repousse Bracelet Taxco 69 Grams2 David Andersen Sterling Silver Rings Mid Century Modern Rings NorwayVtg Old Pawn Southwestern Sterling Silver Navajo Saucer Bench Beads Necklace 26"Zuni Lacey Open Work Sterling Turquoise Petit Point Mandala Cuff Bracelet 82 GrmVtg 110g Rare Bold Chunky Taxco Mexico Mexican Sterling Silver NecklaceVtg Signed Southwestern Sterling Silver Bead Shadowbox Coral Turquoise NecklaceFine Vtg Mexican Sterling Silver Malachite Onyx Heavy Link Panel Bracelet 53gOld Antique 19th C Chinese 14k Yg Carved Rose Quartz Beads&massive Pendant! RareVintage Amethyst Sunburst Mexico Mexican Sterling Silver BraceletGroup Lot Of Sterling Silver Mexico Jewelry Bangle Cuff Bracelets Gheaui S245Vintage Chinese Export Gold & Silver Enamel Turquoise Filigree Bracelet, RareGeorg Jensen Sterling Silver And Turquoise Pin / Brooch 107 Beautiful! DenmarkVintage Old Mexico Sterling Silver Bead Double Strand NecklaceVintage Old Pawn Heavy Navajo Sterling Kingman Turquoise Row Bracelet-106 GramsVtg Rare Bold Chunky 63g Amethyst Taxco Mexico Mexican Sterling Silver BraceletVintage Native American Silver Wide Bracelet Large 30/41mm Petrified Wood StoneOld Pawn Cast Navajo Sterling Silver Cuff Bracelet Western Small Wrist SandcastVintage Georg Jensen Floral Motif Brooch Pin 159 Art Nouveau DenmarkGem Antique Bisbee Turquoise Beads1a1 Mer Dime Sterlg Old Bench Beads20iwowzrVintage Hans Hansen Sterling Silver Modernist Cufflinks Mid Century Denmark Vtg Sterling Silver Southwestern Squash Blossom Bench Bead Turquoise NecklaceVtg Extraordinary 158g Massive Taxco Mexico Mexican Sterling Silver BraceletLots 12 Pcs Vtg Sterling Silver Native Navajo Zuni Turquoise Coral Rings *65.8gOld Pawn Navajo Sterling Beads Graduated Natural Turquoise Heishi Necklace 40 GmVintage Victoria Ana Nunez Brilanti Taxco Mexico Sterling Silver Swirl BraceletVtg Chinese Celadon Jadeite Jade Export Necklace Hand-carved Interlocking RingsRare Vintage Native American Hopi Victor Coochwytewa Bird Sterling Brooch PinHeavy Los Ballesteros Mexican Silver Stone Bracelet Modernist Antonio Design 925Sublime Mexican 940 Silver Pectoral Necklace Vintage Taxco Deco Repousse Sgnd McFabulous Alfredo Villasana Sterling Silver Cuff Bracelet Mexico Mexican TaxcoVintage Original Zuni Silver & Turquoise Knifewing Man Pin, C. 1930-40sVintage Sterling Silver Modernist Hoop Earrings - Ana Greta Eker - NorwayVintage Sterling Navajo Whirling Logs Pendant Charm With Turquoise StoneVintage Mexico Bead Ball Silver Bracelet (54.5g) 6.75inVintage Chinese Export Carved Elephant Cinnabar 2" Wide Cuff Bracelet Early Georg Jensen 826s Silver Brooch # 84 1909-1914 Mark Ex. Cond. No ReserveMens Antique Chinese Export M.nosey Dragon & Co. 14k Gold Sapphire Ring,11.5Amazing Sterling Peyote Thunderbird & Sunface Inlay Pendant 3 1/2" L. Showy NrVintage Theresia Hvorslev For Alton Sweden Modernist Sterling Silver BraceletFine Vtg Mexican Taxco Sterling Silver Blue Lapis Lazuli Inlay NecklaceVintage Mexico Malachite Oval Inlay Sterling Silver 925 Bracelet (32g) 8inVintage Navajo Sterling Arrowhead Whirling Logs Charm Green Turquoise StoneVtg Old Pawn Southwestern Sterling Silver Navajo Melon Bench Beads Necklace 21"Tone Vigeland Norway Sterling Silver 925s Modernist Loop "sloyfe" RingLos Castillo Taxco Sterling Silver Big Gecko Necklace, Heavy 63 Grams, No ResrveVintage Signd Sterling Silver Jewelry Lot Turquoise Feather Bracelet Navajo Ring

Recent News: Ethnic Jewelry

Source: Google News

Smyth Jewelers to move to new location in Annapolis Towne Centre
Eye On Annapolis, August 31st

Greenberg Gibbons announced that Smyth Jewelers will relocate to a new, more prominent location on the main smyth circle of Annapolis Towne Centre. The regional jewelry store, which is currently located on the second floor of the mixed-use development, ...Read more

Cynthia Germain Tribal Jewelry and Leather Works Trunk Show and Talk
ArtfixDaily, August 30th

Cynthia Germain has been proudly committed to hand-crafting beautiful garments and leather goods. Her devotion to using real leather and hand stitching gives each piece a unique, artisanal touch.The process begins with a labor of love: preparing the ...Read more

Natasha Nicholson's studio, recreated at MMoCA, is a work of art in itself
Wisconsin Gazette, August 27th

The fourth room, the Bead Room, houses the artist's extensive collection of beads, ethnic jewelry and antique fabrics, often joined to other found objects in her various compositions. They are another important set of facets to her vast collection...Read more

Column: Tradition isn't trendy
Arizona Daily Wildcat, August 24th

At Fashion Week, Japanese designer Junya Watanabe displayed a subpar show exhibiting white models with exaggerated dreadlocks and large, chunky tribal jewelry. In the past, Watanabe has been known for his deft manipulation of cultural styles in his ...Read more

Favorite Summer Indulgences from Emilie Rubinfeld
Women's Voices for Change, August 20th

As we are now winding down the summer, we've asked several accomplished women of style whom we admire to come up with their Sweet Summer Indulgences for the season. This week we invited Emilie Rubinfeld, Chief Marketing Officer at Carolina ...Read more

Chicago's Most Fashionable Street Fest Features Up-and-Coming Designers, New ...
Benzinga, August 19th

personally designed by Amy Olson, Baraka Handmade Ethnic Jewelry, hand-crafted Mistura Timepieces, Enfiniti Designs, and the doggie fashion show sponsored by Canine Crews, which features Pampered Pooch Couture and Bentley's Corner Barkery...Read more

On View | Natasha Nicholson: The Artist in Her Museum
Madison.com, August 16th

Throughout are series of provocative sculptures she has created, her collections of familiar but cryptic objects, her collections of beads and ethnic jewelry, and her Cabinet of Curiosities. In her “Thinking Room,” Nicholson stashes found objects for...Read more

Can Sunrise Mall be saved?
Corpus Christi Caller-Times, August 6th

His ethnic jewelry and antiques store, Objets d'Art, had immediate success when he scored a 4,000-square-foot store for the price of running a kiosk during the Christmas season of 1986. The reason for the deal: Padre Staples and Sunrise were competing...Read more