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

All About Jewels Dictionary

This incredible reference dictionary on jewelry, from Enchantedlearning.com, is both beautiful and comprehensive. S… [read review or visit site]

First American Art

First American Art

The companion website to First American Art: The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection of American Indian Art, which… [read review or visit site]

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Jewelry collectors, feast your eyes on this internet gem! It's a goldmine of jewelry information featuring all styl… [read review or visit site]

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

With its vast galleries featuring clear images of jewelry and style, this site really covers it all! Divided up by … [read review or visit site]

Jewel History

Jewel History

Since March of 2007, readers of Lori Ettlinger Gross’s JewelHistory blog have been treated to her weekly (sometim… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Rare Circa 1910 Navajo Slim Ingot Slvr 3 Turquoise BraceletLot 2 - Great Old Navajo Double Strand Silver Squash Blossom Necklace W HandsEarly 1900s Pueblo Dragonfly CrossStunning Zuni Turquoise Squash Blossom Necklace W/najaHeavyweight Old Navajo Silver Coin Squash Blossom Necklace 495 GramsVtg Old Pawn Navajo Sterling Silver Turquoise Red Coral 5" 167g Cuff BraceletOld Vintage Fred Harvey Era Silver Shot Glass With ThunderbirdLot 7 - Rare Victor Coochwytewa Hopi Silver Overlay Concho BeltEarly C.1920's Navajo Ingot Silver Bracelet W/turquoise21g Old Stock Navajo Kirk Smith Sterling Silver Spiderweb Turquoise Ring Sz 82 Large Old Pawn Zuni Sterling Silver Cluster Turquoise Snake Eye Coral Ring LotOld Pawn Navajo Silver Matrix Turquoise Bench Bead Collar Necklace Bracelet LotVtg Old Pawn Navajo Pearl Graduated Stamped Bench Bead Sterling Silver NecklaceRichard Begay Navajo Turquoise, Sterling Silver Beaded Necklace W/ Sterling NajaVintage Navajo Old Pawn Green Turquoise Sterling Silver Men's Ring Sz 11Vintage Heavy Handmade Silver Link NecklaceZuni C. Peyketewa 3 Segment Turquoise Necklace W/danglesOld Vintage Fred Harvey Era Sterling Fob Pendant Crossed Arrows TurquoiseVntg Huge Pueblo 6 Squared Blue Gem Turquoise Cross Pendant3 Old Early Primitive Navajo Stamped Silver Turquoise Bracelet Tourist Era LotVtg Hopi Signed Victor Coochwytewa Sterling Silver Cuff Bracelet"e&c Fierro" Navajo Pawn Big Heavy 2 Oz Sterling Silver & Lapis Cuff BraceletVntg Navajo Hvy Wide Petrified Wood Bracelet W/silverwork23g Old Pawn Navajo Sterling Carico Lake Spiderweb Turquoise Mens Ring Sz 10.75Hvy Navajo Anthony Bowman Tufacast Silver Turquoise BraceletLarge Signed Old Pawn Vintage Navajo Turquoise & Sterling PendantOld Pawn Navajo Handmade Forged Sterling Stamped Cuff Bracelet Old Pawn Handmade Zuni Sterling Silver & Natural Turquoise Cuff Bracelet | RsSigned 1940's Navajo Sterling Silver Turquoise Stamped Thunderbird Cuff BraceletGorgeous Handmade Navajo Sterling Silver & Turquoise Necklace Signed Mc | RsLot 11 - Incredible Benjamin Becenti Navajo Silver Inlay Storyteller Concho BeltVintage Old Pawn Navajo Rare Large Kachina Turquoise Sterling Bolo Tie SignedOld Pawn Vintage Navajo Turquoise Sterling Link Toggle Men's Or Women's BraceletMuseum Vintage Navajo Spiny Oyster Silver BraceletVtg Pawn Old Harvey Era Turquoise Sterling Silver Whirling Log Charm Pendant34g Incredible Old Old Old Vintage Pawn Navajo Turquoise Row Cuff BraceletVintage Sterling Silver Navajo Native American Squash Blossom Necklace 69.3gNative American Sterling Tommy Singer Turquoise Western Charms Charm Bracelet Massive Old Pawn Navajo Bracelet Natural Morenci Turquoise Sterling SilverVtg Old Pawn A. Blackgoat Navajo Sterling Silver Pill Ring Jewelry Box TurquoiseSigned Navajo Tim Bedah Solid 14k Gold Morenci Turquoise Foliate PendantVintage Dead Pawn Navajo Signed Green Bisbee Turquoise Sterling Men's Ring Old Pawn Navajo Handmade Sterling Silver Green & Blue Turquoise Cuff Bracelet JOld Pawn Vintage Navajo Spiderweb Turquoise Men's Sterling Ring Sz 1232g Old Pawn Navajo Sterling Silver High Grade Bisbee Turquoise Ring Sz 10.25Vintage Sterling Silver Turquoise Navajo Buckle & Western Tooled Leather Belt 32Vintage Ivan Kee Navajo Sterling Silver Mosaic Inlay Opal Necklace Earrings LotLrg Old Pawn Navajo Handmade Sterling Carved Royston Turquoise Cuff Bracelet JVintage Navajo Sterling Silver Old Pawn Large Spiderweb Royston Turquoise RingAntique 1930's Navajo Old Pawn Solid Sterling Silver Ingot Beaded Cuff BraceletVnt Navajo Melvin Francis Channel Inlay Knifewing PinOld Fred Harvey Era Silver Turquoise Bracelet With ThunderbirdsOld Pawn Zuni Masterpiece Sterling Silver Mosaic Knifewing Inlay Pin | G AxLarge Kewa Charlene Sanchez Reano Inlay Shell EarringsMuseum Vintage Navajo ""squared Green Turquoise"" Silver BraceletVtg Old Pawn Southwest Sterling Silver Turquoise Navajo Tomahawk Bolo Tie Fab Old Thunderbird Fred Harvey Green Turquoise Repousse Navajo Cuff BraceletStunning Navajo Sterling Silver & Multi-stone Inlay Link Bracelet Ray Tracey ”Early 1950's Vintage Navajo ""concho Belt"" Silver BraceletFab Vintage Vincent Platero Navajo Stamped Sterling Silver Bracelet

Recent News: Native American Jewelry

Source: Google News

Market unveils Native American work
Castleton Spartan, November 19th

If you are looking for a cultural experience or the perfect set of turquoise earrings, there is no better place to visit than the Santa Fe Plaza; home to the Palace of the Governors. Thought to be one of the oldest government buildings in the nation...Read more

At the Galleries: Door County galleries and museums
Green Bay Press Gazette, November 18th

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

New Briefs: Unearthed Atari games bring in big bucks
KRQE News 13, November 13th

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Native American jewelry from New Mexico will be catching the eyes of New Yorkers this holiday season. The National Museum of the American Indian will be showcasing Navajo jewelry in a new exhibit called Glittering World...Read more

UNR honors Native American culture
UNR The Nevada Sagebrush (subscription) (blog), November 10th

Saundra Mitrovich, outreach and retention coordinator for the Center for Student Cultural Diversity, makes earrings using beads during an activity for National Native American Heritage Month at the Center on Nov. 4. The Center will continue to host...Read more

Four Winds Gallery marks 40 years in Shadyside
Pittsburgh Post Gazette, November 7th

Father and son Gene and Mike Waddell specialize in collector-quality Native American jewelry at their gallery founded 75 years ago. Mr. Foutz, a fifth-generation trading post owner, is considered an expert on Navajo weavings, jewelry, pottery and culture...Read more

Special Agent's New Book Unveils Dark World of Indian Art Trade
The Watch, November 3rd

MONTROSE – “The hardest part of undercover work,” former federal agent Lucinda Delaney Schroeder says, “is you have to be so friendly to crooks and then stab them in the back.” Wearing authentic Native American jewelry, driving a Camaro and using a ...Read more

Dance, song, culture and food spice Social Pow-Wow
Standard-Examiner, November 1st

The Pow-Wow also featured for sale some traditional Native American jewelry and food, including an American frank wrapped in made-from-scratch Indian fry bread. Students from the Clearfield Job Corps culinary arts program were on hand preparing and ...Read more

STLtoday.com, September 3rd

Premier seller of Native American jewelry and arts and direct reservation buyers for 46 years, this family owned business has been bringing authentic arts to the public across the U.S. since 1968. Coming to the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel & Conference...Read more