American Indian Jewelry
Native American jewelry styles are as varied as the indigenous tribes that once inhabited the whole of North America. Most of this jewelry can be categorized into two groups, beadwork and metal work. At Roberts + Gene, we source the later and primarily only from the Southwest. The Navajo, learned to work metal from their Spanish neighbors in the 16th century. They in turn shared this skill with neighboring tribes such as the Hopi and Zuni. It is believed that the use of silver in metalworking did not appear in their work until the mid-1800s. Artisans created jewelry not only for themselves, but members of their tribes to convey ritual importance and status among their people. It was not until the early 1900s that this jewelry was created for commercial consumption.
We also source “Harvey House” pieces. Fred Harvey, opened two restaurants along the Kansas Pacific Railroad in 1875. Three years later, he followed up his growing restaurant empire with his first eating house/hotel and forever changed the landscape of American tourism, especially in the Southwest. At the turn of the century, he began hiring local tribal artisans to create affordable piece of jewelry (most popular were cuff bracelets) to sell in the souvenir shops of his establishments. Often coin metal and primary machine made, he kept the cost low and earned the pieces the label, “souvenir jewelry.” However, Fred Harvey pieces are highly collectable and honored for what they truly are – a stamp of American jewelry history. While many of the pieces from this era are base metals and resin stones, we only collect sterling, Navajo silver, coin silver and genuine turquoise.
American Made – As the history and beauty of Native American jewelry has touched something deep inside so many of us, many young silversmiths are heavily influenced by the design work of traditional Navajo and Zuni Pueblo designs. We work with several of these silversmiths and you'll note that we make NO claims that these pieces are Native American crafted. The are American made by silversmiths who share a lifetime passion for turquoise and silver.
Coin Silver – An alloy of silver and copper, coin silver contains 90% silver. Pieces may be marked "Sterling" when in fact they test as Coin. Coins were often melted to create silver for smithing work and mixed with other alloys for strength. As such, silver content in such pieces can be difficult to determine.
Dead Pawn – Vintage pawned jewelry is often referred to as Dead Pawn or Old Pawn. Historically, an individual would bring in a piece of jewelry to a pawn store in exchange for money. They were given a time frame - usually between 60-90 days to pay back those funds in order to reclaim their jewelry. Often pieces were never reclaimed and then termed "Dead" and available for resale in the pawn shop. In truth, unless dealers and pawn shops kept meticulous records of sources, there is little way to authenticate the original source of such pieces. Because of this, we avoid using that term unless we can guarantee the source.
Estate Jewelry – Traditionally, jewelry that was acquired from a deceased individuals estate. However, the term has become more commonly associated with pre-owned jewelry - regardless of source.
Naja – An inverted crescent form/symbol that dates back as early as the Paleolithic era. It was brought to the Americas by the Spanish (who borrowed it from the Moors) and is now closely associated with the Navajo Nation. It is primarily found on necklaces, most notably the Squash Blossom, and is thought to be a symbol of protection.
Navajo Jewelry – Crafted by members of the Navajo Nation. Jewelry is often characterized by stamped or hammered silver work, large single stone and medium size clustered stones. Pieces tend to be rich in symbolism. The Squash Blossom is a quintessential example of this. (see Squash Blossom).
Navajo Silver – Also called German Silver or Nickel Silver, this is not actually silver at all but called so because of it's silver appearance. It was used as a less expensive alternative in the souvenior jewelry trade and is an alloy of copper, nickel and zinc. These pieces will be marked "silver" in our product descriptions.
Repousse – A ancient metalworking technique used predominately by Navajo artisans whereby the hammering is done on the inside (or backside) of the piece in order to create a raised design .
Sandcast – A style of Navajo jewelry crafted by carving molds from sandstone (tufa stone and limestone were also utilized). Liquid silver is poured into the carved mold and after the silver cools, is shaped into a piece of jewelry.
Squash Blossom – A necklace that is closely associated with Navajo craftsmanship. It is comprised of Navajo pearls (handmade silver beads), silver squash blossoms and stones (most commonly turquoise). The centerpiece universally features a Naja. The "squash blossoms" are in all actuality pomegranate blossoms. But because this crop was unfamiliar to the Navajo people, they recognized the design as a squash blossom. It was an important piece of ritualistic jewelry as well and worn during ceremonies held to encourage strong crop growth.
Sterling Silver – A alloy of silver that contains 92.5% silver and 7.5% of copper (most commonly). Sterling silver jewelry will be stamped with the following markings: STER, Sterling, 925. These pieces will be marked "sterling silver" in our product descriptions.
Zuni Pueblo Jewelry – Our Zuni Pueblo jewelry is in the later style dating back to the late 19th century when they were introduced to silverware by the neighboring Navajo. Their work is characterized by smaller, finely crafted stone settings referred to as "needlepoint" or "petit point". The Zuni are also the most skilled and sought after artisans of Fetish jewelry (small gemstone animal carvings).