Antique Native American jewelry makes a great investment and now is a great time to buy. A warning though that reproductions, which are less valuable than authentic jewelry, are common. To increase your chances of finding authentic pieces, we suggest looking for natural stones and a good patina

 

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Chatelaine's Antiques and Appraisals Magazine > Jewelry > Expert Tip: Buying Antique Native American Jewelry

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ANTIQUE NATIVE AMERICAN JEWELRY
 
 You may not realize it, but some of the best antique jewelry wasn't made with gold, diamonds, or pearls. Navajo and other Native American artists used silver, turquoise, coral, and other materials to create unique and intricate pieces.

Antique Native American jewelry makes a great investment and now is a great time to buy. A warning though that reproductions, which are less valuable than authentic jewelry, are common. To increase your chances of finding authentic pieces, we suggest looking for natural stones and a good patina (the surface color formed from exposure to the air and human touch).

Here are some tips on the hottest styles of antique Native American jewelry:
  • Navajo ingot jewelry
    Authentic ingot jewelry will be heavy and non adjustable. Look for indications that the piece was handmade, such as file marks and cracks inside and around any design. Most ingot jewelry was hand pounded from raw silver, and the absence of these marks indicates a machine-made piece.

    The absence of a signature is not a red flag, however. Any signatures will be hand-etched — stamped signatures didn't appear until the 1940s and 1950s.

  • Fred Harvey period jewelry
    During the mid-1900s, Navajos sold handcrafted jewelry at trading posts along Route 66 and outside the railroad station in Albuquerque. Their business was aided by the Fred Harvey Company, which was instrumental in bringing tourists to the Southwest.

    Look for plenty of stamping, repoussé, and appliquéd silver work on the rings, bracelets, and necklaces. Birds, arrows, and dogs were favorite forms of Fred Harvey period artists.


  • Santo Domingo necklaces
    During the Depression, many Native American jewelry makers couldn't afford traditional materials. Instead, they used whatever they could find to make "poor man's squash blossom" necklaces. Old battery casings or 45 records became backings, while Bakelite, toothbrush handles, medicine bottles, and combs were transformed into decoration.

  • Zuni stone to stone jewelry
    More colorful than other Native American jewelry, antique Zuni pieces are distinguished by dark red coral and greenish turquoise stones.

    When buying Zuni jewelry, check the color of the stones. Varying hues of blue and green are an indication of natural turquoise. Over time, oxidation and the oil in human skin will change the color of stones. Greener turquoise is generally older.

    However, if the turquoise is a consistent hue, you may be looking at stabilized stones, which are less valuable than natural turquoise. Stabilized stones have been injected with plastic to make them harder and brighter in color.

 


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