Celebrating Native American Jewelry

While Native American jewelry is ancient in origin, it is more popular than ever, appealing to jewelry fans worldwide, and appearing at the top of trend lists annually. With Thanksgiving a few weeks away, let’s explore the history of Native American jewelry. You’ll also learn what to know about Native American jewelry before you buy.

Origins of Native American jewelry

Native Americans in the Southwestern and Western U.S. United States started creating incredible jewelry from everyday things they found naturally. Items such as wood, bones, stones, rocks, and shells became beautiful pieces of jewelry. Today, these pieces are some of the most breathtaking and desired works of art in the world.

According to the article “Native American Jewelry” on Indians.org, the first Native America jewelry was created around the 1850s. By 1868, the Navajos were less mobile, so they began sharing their skills more with each other. A Navajo blacksmith by the name of Atsidi Sani is credited with furthering the art of this jewelry making. He used metals such as brass and copper to make bracelets, necklaces, coins and other items. Sani also taught others Navajos his techniques. Around 1880, the Navajo began incorporating silver and turquoise into their jewelry making.

The timeless appeal of turquoise

One of the most common stones used in Native American jewelry is turquoise. It is most often set in silver and worn in necklaces, earrings, and bracelets, and rings. The use of turquoise has been around the Southwest since prehistoric times, and the use of turquoise in jewelry is a thousand-year old tradition. The Anasazi used turquoise and shell to make beaded necklaces, bracelets and earrings as well as to decorate effigies. Using turquoise in Southwestern jewelry is still popular today, not only by people that live in the Southwest, but by people worldwide.

The advent of machine-made jewelry

The article “Native American Jewelry” on Indians.org, explained that the Fred Harvey Company started supplying jewlery making materisl, such as sheet metal and polished turquoise around the year 1900. Soon after, Harvey and company began making Native American-inspired machine made jewelry.

Most of the pieces were made and sold to tourists and outsiders, and common jewlry designs included thunderbirds, lightning bolts, and bows and arrows. As the popularity of machine-made pieces grew, the silversmiths began to copy the machine made jewelry, creating Native American-style necklaces, bracelets, and rings that were cheaper, but of a lower quality than authentic, hand-made pieces.

After 1900, the tools and technology used to create jewelry improved. As a result of mechanical evolution, the sale of genuine, hand-made jewelry began to suffer, but it is also why today, authentic hand-made jewelry pieces can be worth many thousands of dollars.

What to know about buying this jewelry

Interested in buying an authentic piece of Native American jewelry? Collecting this jewelry, such as necklaces, bracelets, rings, and earrings, is a fun and interesting hobby, but here are some things to know to help ensure you buy authentic product without paying too much.

According to the article, “Native American Jewelry Part 2: Starting Your Collection” on http://www.medicinemangallery.com/collection-old-pawn-jewelry-part2.lasso, you’ll want proof that the piece you’re interested in is authentic, and that it was made by a Native American Indian. In many states, such as New Mexico, it is illegal to sell jewelry labeled “Indian made” that is not actually made by Native Americans.

Most modern silver jewelry that is made by a Native American will be marked or signed. Ask the jewelry dealer for proof of authenticity on the piece of jewelry you like before you buy. If the dealer can’t give you the certificate, it probably isn’t authentic.

When it comes to turquoise, know the difference between treated and untreated turquoise. Treated turquoise has been coated or dyed for strength and/or color. Some people think that treated turquoise is of lesser quality than untreated. However, treated turquoise stones are generally stronger than those not treated. If you’re a purist, know that untreated turquoise tends to be porous and have imperfections.

From an investment point of view, look for pieces made between 1870 and 1940. These pieces generally increase in value, and some easily sell for tens of thousands of dollars. Of course, taste in jewelry is subjective, so the best advice is to buy what you love and will wear. This jewelry is more than beautiful-it often carries with it a rich history and culture. And because of its beauty, it is an easy way to dress up any outfit.

Where to find this jewelry

The Internet is a great place to start, but be sure to do some research. Websites that provide a lot of well written, detailed information, including vintage dates, the maker and origin, prices, dimensions, and multiple images are usually a good sign.

Typing “Native American jewelry” will bring up many websites, but if you’re interested in old Indian jewelry, search under “old pawn jewelry,” and look for Native American pieces.

If you’re looking for authentic pieces, be aware that pieces called “Indian style” or “southwestern style” are usually non-Native American Indian made. If you’re more concerned with the look of a piece than its authenticity, it’s fine to buy “old style” pieces, but make sure you don’t pay authentic vintage pieces prices.

If you live in an area with jewelry stores and pawn shops, take some time to visit them, but call ahead first to save time. If you’re willing to travel, the Southwestern U.S., such as Santa Fe, N.M., has many stores carrying Native American jewelry. Look for shops that belong to organizations such as the Antique Tribal Art Dealer Association (ATADA), and ask about any shop or website’s authenticity certificates and return policies.

When you bring in a piece of jewelry or other item to Empire, that property is appraised by a professional jeweler. If you choose to take a loan out or “pawn it” instead of sell it, the item becomes collateral against the loan, and you receive cash against that collateral.