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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At the Galleries: Door County galleries and museums
Green Bay Press Gazette, October 28th

Oils, watercolors, etchings by national award-winning artists; handmade Native American jewelry; also antiques and collectibles. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, closed on occasion. (920) 854-2770. • LILY BAY POTTERY, 3450 N. Lake Michigan Drive, Sturgeon Bay...Read more

Mesa Verde Traders Introduces New Sterling Silver Pieces
Newswire (press release), October 24th

Native American Jewelry is made in the USA. We all love affordable artwork as well as understated statement pieces that you can wear every day. Navajo craftspeople are well-known for skill in producing beautiful silver jewelry that is often adorned...Read more

How to prep your Arizona business for Super Bowl opportunity
azcentral.com, October 24th

With only a few months left until the Super Bowl in Glendale, Diane Radeke wants her Native American jewelry store in Scottsdale, Old Town Jewels, to maximize the opportunity by helping visitors find her store online. "We are a brick-and-mortar...Read more

At the Galleries
Green Bay Press Gazette, October 21st

Oils, watercolors, etchings by national award-winning artists; handmade Native American jewelry; also antiques and collectibles. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, closed on occasion. (920) 854-2770. • LILY BAY POTTERY, 3450 N. Lake Michigan Drive, Sturgeon Bay...Read more

The Profiler: The Rev. Roger Bauer
The Alamedan, October 20th

Yes, there's the motorcycle; the long hair; and the Native American jewelry, earring and nose ring. Take even a fleeting amount of time to chat with Bauer and you might be drawn in by his wide grasp of useless historical facts, his boisterous laugh, or...Read more

Beauty, condition count most in Victorian whatnot shelves
Arizona Daily Star, October 17th

Assuming that he/she wants to buy mom a piece of Native American jewelry, I figure the question really is, “Is this a good deal? Is $1,500 a good price?” First off — and I cannot stress this enough — if you don't know what you're doing, know your seller...Read more

Heineken Picks Artisanal American Brands for #Heineken100 Products
brandchannel.com, October 16th

bison leather goods brand; high-end eyewear label GLCO (Garrett Leight California Optical); and RTH, a Los Angeles-based purveyor of re-engineered American surplus apparel, handcrafted housewares, leather portage and Native American jewelry...Read more

New Native Arts Website Offers Authentic Handcrafted Art & Unique Shopping ...
Business Wire (press release), October 6th

a comprehensive biography for every artist, as well as insightful blogs from leading Native American arts experts exploring the Native American arts business, the history and style of popular forms, and current trends in Native American jewelry and...Read more