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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Market Days in InglesideAransas Pass Progress, April 16th
(Annita West/Index photo). Loretta Mike at Market Days. Ingleside resident Loretta Mike filled her booth “Painted Desert” style with all handmade Native American jewelry. (Annita West/Index photo). Niki Rowe at Market Days. Niki Rowe of Ingleside had a...Read more
Video reveals music store burglar in the actThe Western News, April 15th
After putting the guitar back, the man carefully moved nearby boxes and crawled toward a display case full of turquoise and Native American jewelry, breaking the lock and stashing most of the loot in a black Burberry Fragrances bag. He then made his...Read more
Local shop continues donations to Audubon SocietyShepherdstown Chronicle, April 10th
In addition to crystals, it offers a wide variety of sterling silver and natural stone jewelry; Native American jewelry, books and music; incense; sages, shells and prayer feathers; magical and ceremonial herbs; tools and statuary for practitioners of...Read more
Bobcat moms coming to Athens this weekendThe Athens Messenger, April 2nd
The annual Native American jewelry show and sale will be held Friday and Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm at the Kennedy Museum of Art. The Dairy Barn Fest is also taking place at the Dairy Barn Arts Center on Friday from 3-8 pm and Saturday from 10 am to 5 ...Read more
ID: Leonard FourHawksGazetteNET, March 27th
Later, he and his wife moved to the area and opened FireHawk Native American Studio in Florence, selling Native American jewelry and art. Since closing the store in 2005, he has been a park ranger and a museum guard until retiring (again) in 2013...Read more
Carl Family Story Told In RiverheadOyster Bay Enterprise Pilot, March 27th
The walls of the exhibit area showcased animal skins, Native American Regalia, a lacrosse stick, and display cases featuring hand made Native American jewelry. They invited Evans-Sheppard to make a DVD presentation about her book on the Carl family of ...Read more
America's best spring drivesCNN, March 26th
Where to stop: More than 10 galleries display Native American jewelry, textiles and pottery at the Millicent Rogers Museum, named after Taos' famed art-enthusiast and socialite. See all of America's best spring drives. Planning a getaway? Don't miss...Read more