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
First American Art
Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry
Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery
Clubs & Associations
- American Society of Jewelry Historians
- Association for the Study of Jewelry and Related Arts
- Society of Jewellery Historians
Other Great Reference Sites
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: Native American Jewelry
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A bazaar weekend in DurangoThe Durango Herald, December 7th
Al Woody was busy Saturday morning painting a ceremonial powwow drum during the Native American Winter Market at Durango High School. More than 40 vendors sold Native American jewelry, rugs, pottery and other arts, crafts and food from around the ...Read more
Big, bad and valuable at Wild West Bison StampedeStandardNet, December 7th
Arlene Max and Hilda Torrivio, both members of the Navajo tribe, sold custom-made Native American jewelry outside of the auction on Saturday. "This is all part of our heritage," Max said, of the jewelry and the bison. "It is part of who we are and we...Read more
Historian named honorary candle lighterCoshocton Tribune, December 5th
In addition, he has participated in various re-enactments, has acted in several documentary films that have been shown on the History Channel and PBS and also is a talented Native American jewelry artisan. Moore's wife, Stacy, is a native of Coshocton...Read more
Holiday Time Arrives at Turquoise Tortoise GalleryGatewayToSedona.com, December 3rd
Southwest and Native American jewelry artists regularly stop at the gallery with their latest designs and many premiere jewelry artists are regularly featured including the Lister family from the Navajo Reservation and Leo Feeney, known for the extra...Read more
Holiday Happenings 2013The Mountain Jackpot, December 3rd
The store stocks all things Western; from jeans and Cowboy shirts, to horsehair belts and a terrific selection of Native American jewelry and home décor and accessories. Merry Jo Larsen and her family have worked continuously for 48 years to provide...Read more
Community Calendar — Tuesday, Dec. 3The Athens Messenger, December 2nd
Native American jewelry show and sale, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Kennedy Museum of Art, The Ridges, Athens; proceeds benefit museum. "Creative Adventures in Screen Printing" workshop, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Paper Circle, Nelsonville Public Square; $120 cost ...Read more
SilverTribe Follows Up "Black Friday" Sale with Even Bigger "Cyber Monday ...PR Web (press release), December 1st
However, though recognized as a trend-setter in the world of both Native American jewelry and fashion jewelry, SilverTribe remains committed to spreading the message of what these remarkable works of art represent. SilverTribe prides itself on its...Read more
Online Leader in Southwest and Native American Jewelry Offering Huge ...Newsday, November 28th
SilverTribe.com celebrating “Black Friday” with dramatic discounts on the largest collection of Southwest and Native American jewelry available online. (PRWEB) November 28, 2013. The biggest and most highly-anticipated shopping day of the year is upon ...Read more