While the tradition of making jewelry out of shells and beads dates to prehistoric times, Native American silver-and-turquoise rings, bracelets, pins and the like are a relatively recent phenomenon, going back only as far as the mid-19th century. Pieces from the 1800s, if you can find them, were usually produced for tribal or religious purposes rather than adornment (the tourist trade came later).
When times got tough, people would take their most expendable personal pieces and pawn them, thus spawning the phrase "old pawn" to describe pre-1900 examples of Native American jewelry made of silver. Although there is a lot of jewelry on the market labeled "old pawn," only pieces from the 1800s deserve that label.
One of the controversial aspects of Native American jewelry is the extent to which non-Native traders influenced its production. These traders frequently coached Native American artisans to create designs of little or no cultural or historical relevance, provided them with tools and materials, and, of course, sold the finished pieces to tourists who had ventured into the Southwest via the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. Beginning in 1899, what we’d call adventure-travelers could purchase Native American jewelry and other souvenirs at Fred Harvey curio shops.
Silver was the base metal for most of these pieces—squash-blossom necklaces were one of the first styles. For stones, Navajo artisans were the first to use turquoise, which was indigenous to the area but was quickly mined out—the best pieces were labeled with the name of their source mine. It wasn’t long before high-quality turquoise was being imported, while softer, poorer-quality stones were often treated with resin to make them hard.
Other tribes developed their own styles. Shell necklaces and mosaics were a specialty of the Pueblo, particularly members of the Santa Domingo tribe. The Zuni were known for their cluster pieces and use of red coral. And the Hopi produced pins and other objects that suggest textile influences.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
All About Jewels Dictionary
First American Art
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: Native American Jewelry
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At the GalleriesGreen Bay Press Gazette, September 22nd
Oils, watercolors, etchings by national award-winning artists; handmade Native American jewelry; also antiques and collectibles. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, closed on occasion. (920) 854-2770. • LILY BAY POTTERY, 3450 N. Lake Michigan Drive, Sturgeon Bay...Read more
Folk Life Festival to show how people lived in earlier generationsQuincy Herald Whig, September 19th
New this year is White Feather and Rolling Bear Originals, which is bringing Native American jewelry, beads and leather work, paintings and regalia. The Palmyra Heritage Seekers will be on hand to talk about historic preservation and activities going...Read more
Antique shows set in Indian Lake, Blue Mountain LakeDenPubs, September 18th
sensibility – including camp, cottage, Mission, and Old Hickory furniture; historical fine art, folk art, and rustic art; rare books; vintage boats; hunting and fishing antiques; antlers; taxidermy; quilts; militaria; oriental rugs; Native American...Read more
Rafter 6 AntiquesKFDA, September 17th
Rafter 6 Antiques and More is a small mall with items from different venders. It is known for its oil and gas signs and western collectibles. They buy and sell through the internet and also pick up and price items. See Facebook for the latest additions...Read more
50 for fall: Upcoming concerts, shows, festivals and events in the valleyThe Desert Sun, September 8th
Oct. 11: Dinner in the Canyons, featuring Native entertainment and live auction of handcrafted Native American jewelry, art and other items, 5:30 p.m., Andreas Canyon, Palm Springs. $300. (760) 833-8167. Oct. 11: The Experience Hendrix Tour, a musical ...Read more
Off the grid in Taos, NMLos Angeles Times, September 5th
gifts and accessories; Chocolate + Cashmere, which has homemade chocolates in flavors such as lavender and honey, plus cashmere hats, socks and baby booties; and Coyote Moon, which offers colorful Mexican folk art and Native American jewelry...Read more
Cruise offers up artful varietyThe Trinity Journal, September 3rd
As the wife of George “Walking Bear has Two Eagles” Gillette, she learned the craft of beading Native American jewelry. As Marie and George traveled around the country working with Native American communities her intricate creations became more and ...Read more
Gun and collectible show in Ruidoso not just for menRuidoso News, August 28th
Women will find a variety of Native American jewelry, home decor, clothing and collectibles. Since its inception in 1999, the group has contributed more than $170,000 to Lincon County charities including $65,000 for Lincoln County scholarships and $16...Read more