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

This Is the Gender-Neutral Clothing Our Kids Will Be Wearing in the Future
Mic, October 1st

Courtney Hartman never gave much though to how gendered kid's clothing can be — that is, until she went shopping for her son and came across pajamas with penguins on them. A curious thing struck her: There was a pink set and a blue set. The pink...Read more

These Amazing Native American Designers Are Getting a Huge Endorsement
Mic, September 29th

The emerald dress' pattern designed by Bethany Yellowtail consists of tiny illustrated elk teeth, which often adorned traditional clothing worn by Crow Nation members. The panther imagery in Kristen Dorsey's hand-sculpted jewelry is a nod to her...Read more

Native American traditions preserved at Noxen powwow
Citizens Voice, September 28th

“I've got about 25 different nations represented here,” said Robert Schramm, co-owner of Silver Arrow Gallery from the Lehigh Valley. Schramm travels the country with his wife, Joan, to purchase authentic Native American jewelry and crafts to sell at...Read more

Morongo powwow blends culture, community
The Desert Sun, September 27th

Visitors passed by stands selling Native American jewelry, clothing and food. They also got to watch dance and drum competitions for free. “I like to watch the dancers and listen to the music,” said Dora Martinez, a Yucaipa woman who's visited the...Read more

Native American bola ties can be valuable
Arizona Daily Star, September 12th

Smart collectors know: Native American jewelry and bolas are widely popular, but top dollar goes to old pieces made before 1900. Items dating up to 1940 come second. Most examples made the 1960s and '70s tend to be heavy and sell for less today than ...Read more

Navajo weaver to visit Two Grey Hills
Jackson Hole News&Guide, September 9th

Native American jewelry will also be in the spotlight during this year's Fall Arts Festival. Matthies said Jean Waddell of Waddell Trading Company will bring “the finest collectible jewelry” from some of the most famous Native American jewelers. Gary...Read more

Real or Fake? Native American Jewelry Workshop
Weekly Alibi (blog), September 9th

A workshop with Native American art expert Ira Wilson. Gain basic identification skills and learn what questions to ask when shopping for Native American jewelry. How can you tell the difference between authentic and fake Native American jewelry?...Read more

Major Native American jewelry collection stolen
KRQE News 13, July 8th

SANTA FE, ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – A Santa Fe woman who's spent most of her life collecting expensive, historic Native American jewelry now needs your help. About a week ago, a thief hauled away more than 400 of Joan Caballero's rare and unique ...Read more