From the Vault: Identifying authentic Navajo bracelets from 1870-1900
By Michael Clawson, Guest Writer
Navajo Ingot Silver Bracelet c. 1900s, Size 5.75
“Ingot, simplicity and wear,” Mark Sublette says in his video about identifying early Navajo bracelets. Those three aspects are what the experts look for when looking at early Navajo jewelry, and they can also help collectors of all stripes as they consider adding to their jewelry collections.
Some of the most beautiful Navajo bracelets come out of an important period spanning from 1870 to 1900. It was during this period that Navajo artisans were inspired by the Spanish, but also Native Americans to the northeast, as they began to use specialized tools to create one-of-a-kind bracelets.
“[They were] also inspired by the Plains Indian who were making their own jewelry,” Sublette says in the video. “They were making it using German silver. Often these were cuffs, big wide cuffs, that were used on the bicep or maybe on the elbow, but they weren’t the wristbands like the Navajos. The Navajos interpreted it for themselves and determined what their aesthetics were and what they liked.”
The process began with the ingot, made from slugs or coinage, including the Mexican peso and the American dollar coin. One of the tell-tale signs of an early bracelet is the use of hand-forged tools, including chisels, which left distinct markings on the bracelet called cold chisel. It is these markings that are indicative of an early bracelet. Jewelry from this period also does not have turquoise stones and elaborate markings, nor does it use the repoussé technique of hammering designs from the reverse side of the bracelet to create a low-relief style. These elements would start turning up regularly by 1900 and beyond. And even then, when turquoise was introduced, it was small, non-descript stones that were usually surface finds at mines such as Tyrone and Cerrillos.
“It’s important when you’re looking and trying to figure out value, things that were before the turn of the century have an increased value, monumentally,” Sublette says. “You look for ingot, you look for simplicity and you also always look for wear. If it doesn’t have wear it’s probably uncommon, and highly unlikely, that it is an early Navajo bracelet.”
Watch the video and learn more about Western and Native American artwork at www.youtube.com/medicinemangallery.