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

All About Jewels Dictionary

This incredible reference dictionary on jewelry, from Enchantedlearning.com, is both beautiful and comprehensive. S… [read review or visit site]

First American Art

First American Art

The companion website to First American Art: The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection of American Indian Art, which… [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    

Vtg Old Fred Harvey Era Sterling Silver Navajo Zuni Turquoise Cuff Bracelet LotStunning Hvy Navajo 4 Row Turquoise Cluster BraceletOld Pawn Vintage Navajo Green Spiderweb Turquoise And Sterling Cuff BraceletNavajo Southwestern Sterling Silver Turquoise Thunderbird Necklace 59.7gr*signed* Navajo Old Pawn Sterling Silver *dry Creek* Turquoise Necklace PendantHuge 3.25" Long Navajo Sterling Silver & Turquoise Mountain Ring Size 10 | G BxGorgeous Vtg Navajo Stamped Sterling Silver Turquoise Insect Pin Brooch | G LOld Pawn Navajo Sterling Turquoise Cluster Cuff Fits Smaller Wrist 34 GramsSterling Silver - Navajo Turquoise Squash Blossom 160.6g - Necklace (24") Zz679Fred Harvey Era Coin Silver Navajo Bracelet With Repousse Thunderbird DesignsVintage Handmade Sterling Silver Graduated Navajo Stamped Beads NecklaceOld Hallmarked Navajo Mark Chee (d.) #8 Mine Turquoise RingEarly Navajo Ingot Silver Bracelet W/rolling Log StampworkEarly Important Pueblo 4 Strand Turquoise Tab/shell NecklaceOld Dead Pawn Navajo Sterling Spiny Oyster Cobblestone Turquoise Inlay BraceletOld Pawn Vintage Navajo Sterling Silver Leaf Sand Cast Squash Blossom NecklaceVntg Hvy Zuni 60 Snake-eye Turquoise Cluster BraceletMuseum Quality Thunderbird Turquoise Harvey Era Navajo Early 30's Cuff BraceletHi-quality Michael Perry Navajo Sterling Silver & Bisbee Turquoise Belt Buckle Vintage Edison Grube Navajo American Indian Silver & Turquoise Necklace PendantrVintage Zuni Ranger Belt Buckle Set With Inlay Turquoise Solid ConstructionCollectible Vtg Navajo Sterling Silver & Spiderweb Bisbee Turquoise Ring Sz 7 |gOld Pawn Vintage Navajo Sterling & Green Boulder Turquoise Cuff BraceletFred Harvey Era Navajo Turquoise Bracelet With 3 Large ThunderbirdsOld Pawn Vintage Navajo Kingman Turquoise And Sterling Men's Cuff BraceletVintage~navajo~hand Wrought~sterling Silver~stamped~graduated Bead~necklace~141gSlender Old Zuni Sterling Silver & Turquoise Inlay Row Bracelet Antique Navajo Fred Harvey Concho Necklace W/turquoiseOld Zuni Inlay Sunface W/satellite Turquoise Frame BraceletOld Pawn Vintage Zuni Sterling Owl Shell Turquoise Inlay Squash Blossom NecklaceSterling Silver Native American Navajo Turquoise Ornate Belt Buckle ~hm Ej #824Vntg Navajo Lozenge Shaped Stamped Silver BraceletFred Harvey Era/1920-40/ Turquoise Watch Fob?/pendant/charm/tarnished Arrow/rareHvy Wide Navajo 47 Domed Turquoise Tri-cluster BraceletOld Pawn Navajo Stamped Sterling Applique Turquoise Coral Belt Buckle By "km" |gOld Handmade Navajo Stamped Silver & Spiderwebbed Turquoise Bracelet W/ SnakesOld Thick Heavy Ingot Silver Bracelet With Chiseled Repousse CenterOld Pawn Navajo Sterling Cube Saucer Bench Bead NecklaceOld Pawn Vintage Navajo Sterling Turquoise Coral Ornate Squash Blossom NecklaceLarge Native American Signed Spider Pilot Mountain Turquoise 925 Silver BraceletVntg Navajo Ric Charlie Amazing Tufacast BraceletNice Vintage Zuni Sterling Silver & Coral Row 6.25" Cuff Bracelet ”Splendid Old Hopi Sterling Silver Corn Motif Bolo Tie Authentic Burdian Soseeah Sterling Zuni Indian Squash Blossom Necklace EarringsOld Pawn Pre Fred Harvey Era Navajo Turquoise & Sterling Or Coin Silver Pill BoxVintage Signed Federico Jimenez Silver Turquoise Bracelet Cuff 79 GramsNative American Sterling Silver Turquoise Signed V&m Banteah. Zuni Buckle. NrHopi Edison Wadsworth Lg Double Sided Slvr Overlay PendantVintage Navajo Sterling Silver & Spiderwebbed Turquoise Ring Sz 8 Maria PlateroVintage Hopi Navajo Sterling Silver Bracelet W Ancient Pottery DesignLarge Old Pawn Navajo Foliate Sterling Silver Matrix Turquoise Stone Ring 10Old Pawn Zuni Sterling Silver & Snake Eye Turquoise Ring Size 6.25 | G ARare 1930's Navajo Sterling Silver & Turquoise Concho Belt Hat Band - No ReservePueblo Jose Rosetta 10 Strand Heishi Necklace W/turquoiseW7124-Lot Of 3 Vintage Zuni Sterling Silver Turquoise Black Jet Inlay Cuff Bracelet ”Very Old Zuni Mosaic Inlay Rainbowman PinHeavy Old Vintage Navajo Sterling Tubular Bench Bead Necklace 60 Grams 27.5" Big Old Pawn Navajo Mens Sterling Silver Wide Band Turquoise Thunderbird Ring 12Vtg Native American Navajo Sterling Silver Turquoise Squash Blossom Signed Ld

Recent News: Native American Jewelry

Source: Google News

Spotlight 29 Casino to Host the Winter G
Indian Country Today Media Network, July 26th

COACHELLA, CA -- (July 25, 2014) -- Native American culture will come alive with Native American song and dance at the festive Winter Gathering POW WOW presented by the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians December 12th-14th at the Spotlight ...Read more

Indie Film THE BALLAD OF SNAKE OIL SAM to Screen in Madrid, New Hope ...
Broadway World, July 25th

The story told is a love letter to music subculture and the dance community, depicted with steampunk costuming and Native American jewelry and artifacts. Local designer, Evelyn Hanna from Funky Desert Apparel in Yucca Valley worked on the costume ...Read more

Visionary of the American West: An exhibition commemorates Fred Harvey
Albuquerque Journal, July 24th

The distinctive Harvey/Native American jewelry will be on display, including pins, bracelets, buckles and rings. “It's what you think of as classic New Mexico Indian jewelry of the '40s,” Seibert said. “It's punched work. The Harvey family had the...Read more

A Warm and Sultry Art Walk in Jerome
GatewayToSedona.com, July 24th

A warm and sultry night filled with art, music, and gallery hopping is in store on August 2, for First Saturday Art Walk in Jerome. Visit 25 galleries and studios throughout this charming mountain town from 5 – 8 pm. A free shuttle runs during the walk...Read more

Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market
USA TODAY, July 24th

Look for traditional and modern Native American jewelry, sculptures, paintings, pottery, weavings, beadwork, kachina dolls, baskets, and more. Artists are on hand to chat with you about the cultural significance of and techniques used to make many of...Read more

Get ready for Bazaar Days
Leader and Times, July 21st

Carlson's Yippee Yi Yea will be having discounts on many of the store's wares, including 20 percent off storewide for everything except for Native American jewelry and then up to 70 percent off on items displayed on the sidewalk. Carlson added in the...Read more

Native Americans celebrate their culture at Drums pow-wow
Standard Speaker, July 19th

The pow-wow offered an array of Native American jewelry, sun catchers and other goods for sale. And there were activities, like native dancing, drumming and two special features. Randy Overly Sinnemahoning of Cameron County, a Lakota Sue Indian, was ...Read more

Southwest Passage provides tribal jewelry, regional fare
Seacoastonline.com, July 15th

"My mother has been buying and selling Native American jewelry from the Southwest for over 15 years," Garland said. "We have family there and I've been going with her on buying trips and holidays since I was a little girl. We share our love of this...Read more