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

Valentine's Day Jewelry Showcased at Turquoise Tortoise Gallery in Sedona Arizona
GatewayToSedona.com, February 7th

Eckhardt and Hoskie Native American jewelry Whether it is the blues to greens of domestic turquoise from one of the highly regarded southwest mines such as Royston, Kingman, Sleeping Beauty and Bisbee, or the multiple hues of orange or purple spiny ...Read more

Petoskey gallery owners continue circle of giving
Petoskey News-Review, February 2nd

Their downtown Petoskey gallery featuring Native American jewelry, leather goods and art has flourished for more than 30 years without much in the way of traditional advertising. They do not maintain a website nor have they tweeted their own horn via...Read more

Thousands of dollars of Native American jewelry stolen from Bakersfield man's car
ABC30.com, December 25th

A wholesale jeweler in the valley for the holidays has been hit by thieves. Now he's offering a reward in hopes whoever took off with the merchandise returns it. The Fresno Police Department is looking into leads as they investigate the break-in...Read more

Is Native American jewelry coming back in style?
azcentral.com, November 19th

A trend I have noticed of late is the return of value in regards to Native American jewelry. And I mean the “good stuff.” Squash blossom necklaces, silversmith artisan cuff bracelets, mid-century inspired Zuni and Navajo rings, and the list goes on...Read more

Tips to avoid fake Native American jewelry
KOAT Albuquerque, November 2nd

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. —After federal authorities charged three people with selling fake Native American jewelry across New Mexico, Action 7 News asked reputable vendors how to spot fake jewelry. Warpath Traders is one of many Albuquerque shops that ...Read more

Three New Mexicans Charged With Selling Fake Native American Jewelry; Indian ...
Indian Country Today Media Network, October 30th

Three New Mexicans have been charged with violating a federal law that protects the artwork of traditional Native American artisans, authorities said Thursday. “The indictment announced today and yesterday's enforcement operation are not only about ...Read more

Feds: Shops sold Filipino jewelry as Native American
KOAT Albuquerque, October 29th

Ali is the owner of the two Old Town jewelry stores that were raided and purport to specialize in the sale of Native American jewelry. Bowen was formerly employed as a store manager by Ali. Manasra holds himself out as a wholesaler of Native American ...Read more

3 charged with selling fake Native American jewelry
KOB.com, October 29th

Ali is the owner of two jewelry stores, Gallery 8 and Galleria Azul, in Old Town that purport to specialize in the sale of Native American jewelry. Bowen was formerly employed as a store manager by Ali. Ali was arrested in Albuquerque Wednesday and...Read more