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

Source: Google News

Find inspiration, adventure and relaxation in the timeless town of Taos
Albuquerque Journal, July 4th

The Millicent Rogers Museum (1504 Millicent Rogers Road, El Prado; millicentrogers.org) is small, but filled with pieces that demonstrate life and art in the southwest, including Native American jewelry, pottery, tapestry and religious pieces all...Read more

At year's end, Heritage Square in Golden will be only memories
The Denver Post, July 1st

Judy Farley owns Wings of Eagles, a gift shop that specializes in Native American jewelry. She opened her business with her late husband at Heritage Square more than 20 years ago. They were married there, and throughout the years they hosted events...Read more

Man seeks justice year after $50K jewelry theft
KOAT Albuquerque, June 30th

Last year, someone took $50,000 worth of Native American jewelry from Eason Eige's home. “I was burgled to the tune of many thousands, tens of thousands of dollars,” Eige said. Police said Michael Lucero admitted to stealing 50 pieces of jewelry and ...Read more

Summer Vacation Season Can Be Prime Time For Theft
Benzinga, June 26th

"Authentic Native American jewelry is constantly gaining value. With a limited group of artisans creating jewelry in the authentic styles of their tribe, Native pieces are truly one-of-a-kind as they are individually handcrafted. We urge Native...Read more

Bixby police search for man suspected of stealing about $10000 worth of ...
kjrh.com, June 24th

They began collecting Native American jewelry about 20 years ago and started selling some of their collection at the antique store last year. "We took a pretty substantial hit," Guinn said. "[We lost] about 150 rings and cuff bracelets and necklaces...Read more

$35 Million Lawsuit Against Jeweler Thrown Out
JCK, June 24th

The products under scrutiny were from a collection called Wolfwalker, designed by Wendy Whiteman, which Peter Stone Co. sold from 2006 to 2009. The pieces were advertised as authentic Native American jewelry, Native American jewelry, Native American ...Read more

Wheelwright Museum opens its first gallery devoted to Native American jewelry
Albuquerque Journal, June 13th

People look at Native American jewelry on display in the Martha Hopkins Struever Gallery at the Wheelwright Museum in Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal). A tufa-cast silver bracelet by Preston Monongye (Hopi) with a serpent design in turquoise...Read more

“They are sick people,” After four-alarm fire, Native American jewelry store ...
kfor.com, April 3rd

OKLAHOMA CITY – A store owner, who lost everything when a fire ripped through the Stockyards in March, claims she's been hit once again. The store owner, Yolanda White Antelope, says looters have targeted her Native American jewelry store. She says ...Read more