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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Massive Collection of Authentic Native American Jewelry OnlineBenzinga, March 26th
Authentic Native American jewelry speaks to people the way few other pieces of jewelry can. The deep spiritual connection to Mother Earth is keenly evident in each piece that authentic artisans craft. Much more than just a fashion statement, authentic...Read more
At the Galleries: Door County galleries and museumsGreen Bay Press Gazette, March 24th
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. • MARTINEZ STUDIO AND GALLERY, 5877 Wisconsin 57, Sturgeon ...Read more
Turquoise Trouble: Gem Scarcity Affects Jewelry LoversVirtual-Strategy Magazine (press release), March 23rd
With mines closing, TurquoiseJewelry.com reports shortage of precious gemstone used in Native American jewelry. Phoenix, AZ (PRWEB) March 23, 2015. Quality turquoise jewelry is becoming harder to find, says TurquoiseJewelry.com. The reason?...Read more
Watch Bill Murray Do a Talk-Show Segment in a Dress and Cowboy HatVanity Fair, March 20th
Being Bill Murray, the comedian opted to make his Jimmy Kimmel Live entrance on horseback while wearing a dress, cowboy hat, cowboy boots, tasteful fringed sweater, purse, and Native American jewelry. “I'm usually in jeans and a T-shirt. This is just...Read more
Sundance Gallery owner on new path after closing Downers Grove storeChicago Tribune, March 2nd
Smith-Peterson attributes her interest in Native American culture to her childhood when her mother often wore silver Native American jewelry and to an uncle who was an outdoorsman and traveler. "I grew up seeing it and gained an appreciation of it...Read more
Prehistoric Native American jewelry unearthed in Newtown, OhioWLWT Cincinnati, March 2nd
Prehistoric Native American jewelry unearthed in Newtown, Ohio. Piece is one of only 6 or 7 in the country, historian says. UPDATED 6:55 PM EST Mar 02, 2015. NEXT STORY. Retired Forest Park lieutenant involved in funeral procession crash ID'd...Read more
Andy Lee Kirk Works Headline A Lifetime Collection of American Indian Jewelry ...ArtfixDaily, March 2nd
The collection is comprised of over 200 lots of Native American jewelry including necklaces, cuffs, rings, pendants, and belt buckles. Gemstones such as turquoise from Battle Mountain, coral, mother of pearl, jet, malachite, and abalone will offer a...Read more
Rare Native American pendant found by cable crew in OhioNational Monitor, March 1st
A rare piece of Native American jewelry, believed to date from the fifth century CE has been found by a crew digging a ditch in Ohio. Contractors digging a ditch for a fiber optic box near in the Ohio village of Newtown unearthed human remains and...Read more