Published on October 28, 2011 by Amy
Native Americans have long been famous for their beautiful handmade jewelry. They used different natural resources to make their jewelry and some of it is so well made, it is of museum quality.
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Native Americans began making silver jewelry, such as Native American necklaces, in the 1850s. It was then that a Navajo named Atsidi Saani learned blacksmithing at Fort Defiance. By 1868, the Navajos were no longer nomadic, so they learned from skills from each other. Having used brass and copper to create bracelets and coins, Atsidi Saani decided to use the skills he had learned to make silver Native American necklaces and other jewelry. He also taught others his skills. Not only was the jewelry sold, but also used as barter on the Reservation by traders. They took jewelry like Native America necklaces made of turquoise and silver as security, much like a modern day pawnbroker. If the jewelry was not claimed within a certain amount of time, it belonged to the trader. Around 1880, the Navajo had combined their love of silver and turquoise into their jewelry making.
Close to the turn of the Twentieth Century, the Fred Harvey Company began supplying sheet metal and polished turquoise. Eventually, the Harvey Company began making machine made jewelry that had an Indian style, although it is not know if Native Americans were actually helping in the jewelry making process. Most jewelry pieces were small to be sold to tourists. The designs often included thunderbirds, lightening bolts, and weapons such as bows and arrows. Unfortunately, genuine silver Native American jewelry made by silversmiths began to suffer. There is only a slight difference between the silver jewelry made by the machine and that made by the silversmith. And because the machine made jewelry was so popular, the silversmiths began to copy the machine made jewelry, creating Native American necklaces, bracelets, and rings that were of a lower quality than before. After 1900, Native American silver jewelry changed because the tools and technology used to create it improved. The electric buffing wheel meant that the polish used on jewelry like Native American necklaces was much more polished than before.
If you are looking to purchase a Native American necklace and you wish it to be authentic, there are several things for which you can check. Almost all silver Native American jewelry that is made today is marked or signed. A trustworthy dealer will usually provide proof of authenticity on each piece of jewelry. Keep in mind that in many states, such as New Mexico, it is illegal to sell jewelry labeled “Indian made” that is not actually made by Native Americans.
As for turquoise, some collectors think that the treated turquoise is of a lesser quality. However, turquoise stones in jewelry like a Native American necklace will be stronger than those not treated. Untreated turquoise tends to be porous and have imperfections. There are many ways to treat turquoise (coating, dyeing, etc.), so if you are concerned, you can ask the seller which method was used.
Collecting jewelry like Native American necklaces, bracelets, rings, and earrings is a fun and enjoyable hobby, but by knowing a bit about it, you can prevent paying too much for an inferior item.