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.
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Recent News: Native American Jewelry
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Men's Summer Fashion Takes a Deeper Turn Towards Meaningful JewelryBenzinga, May 30th
View authentic Native American jewelry and Southwest-inspired men's jewelry at TurquoiseJewelry. About TurquoiseJewelry.com TurquoiseJewelry.com is the online leader in turquoise jewelry and accessories including necklaces, rings, earrings, pendants, ...Read more
Vintage clasp of Jessica Anderson from Savannah, GA. This Intergalactic Bead ...Examiner.com, May 29th
Carnes and Susan Barnes from South Carolina were there and they have expanded their inventory and have many Native American jewelry pieces as well as strings of some of the best American South West turquoise. Anyone can buy a string of gems and ...Read more
San Juan Bautista is rib nirvanaHollister Free Lance, May 28th
Joe Rangel has been coming to town for 22 years to sell his Native American jewelry. “This is the first time I've been at this show, though,” he said, and added that he has been traveling all those years throughout the southwest selling hand-made...Read more
Top Five Jewelry Pieces Worn at This Summer's Music FestivalsBenzinga, May 28th
"Authentic Native American jewelry really adds depth to personal style," says Anderson. "Every Native piece at SilverTribe.com is handmade by a Native American artisan so the jewelry comes with centuries of tradition, culture and craftsmanship. Add a...Read more
Beauty and Balance in TurquoiseNew York Times, May 13th
“They raised Native American jewelry from trinkets to art.” Plenty of contemporary jewelers have fallen under their influence. “Loloma inspired some of my earliest work,” said the New York-based jewelry designer Pamela Love. “You'd never be able to...Read more
Tribal meetings force vendors to cancelCarlsbad Current-Argus, May 10th
Begay and her grandmother were selling hand-crafted Native American Jewelry, including turquoise bracelets, rings and necklace. "I started to learn how to craft jewelry when I was really young," Begay said. "I would watch my Cheii, my grandpa, silversmith...Read more
Experience historic beauty of Native American sitesAlbuquerque Journal, May 9th
If you appreciate authentic Native American jewelry and art, this area is a must-see. Another area of interest to many visitors is the Gallup Historic District and El Rancho Hotel, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Rock...Read more
Wal-Mart Accused Of Selling Fake Native American JewelryLaw360 (subscription), May 6th
The group claims that Wal-Mart has been selling the fake Native American jewelry since Jan. 2, 2013. It sent a letter to Wal-Mart in April demanding proof that the dream catcher earrings were designed and handmade by Native Americans, but Wal-Mart...Read more