Native American Indian Jewelry: How to identify Authentic Antique Navajo Bracelets from 1870 1900

Native American jewelry expert Dr. Mark Sublette of Medicine Man Gallery with 25 years experience in the Indian art business gives tips on how to identify early Navajo bracelets. Excellent tutorial for beginning to advanced collectors on the characteristics one looks for when buying Native American old pawn jewelry.


Native American Indian Jewelry: How to identify Authentic Antique Navajo Bracelets from 1870-1900

Today I'd like to talk to you about early Navajo bracelets. These are some of the most beautiful objects that you can find, and the Navajo or Diné (as they call themselves) started making these somewhere probably in the 1870s. They were inspired by the Spanish.

Now, the Spanish were making jewelry way earlier than this, but, somewhere around the 1870s they started to (they being the Navajo) use the tools, and started to understand how the process was, and once they learned how to do it, they really took off and became masters of the Indian jewelry trade.

They were also inspired by the Plains Indians, who were making their own jewelry, and they were making it using German silver, and often these would be cuffs – big, wide cuffs, that were used on the bicep or maybe on the elbow, but they weren't the wrist bands like the Navajos.

The Navajos interpreted it for themselves, and decided what their own aesthetics were in regards to bracelets, and what they liked. Now, when you're looking for authentic antique Native American bracelets, one of the things you want to look for is ingot. Ingot is the way that refers to silver (basically), and different types of silver were used in these early bracelets. They could be used from a slug, like this, or they might have been made from a coin – usually it was made from a Mexican peso or American dollar, and by the 1890s the American government said, “No more using of our coins to be melted down,” and so ingot really went out of style for bracelets by about the 1930s for the Navajo jewelry.

One of the things you'll see in these early pieces (is that) they're going to use things like this – handmade Navajo Silversmith tools. They'll also use chisels, and the chisel marks that we’ll find are what we call cold chisels, and these are important because they are indicative of being a vintage old pawn bracelet.

One of the other things that you want to look for is: Does it have turquoise? Early bracelets (the earliest) wouldn't have any turquoise. It would just be simply designed with little chisel marks; no elaborate markings other than that, and they never would use repousse; reprousse is the pushing out of the silver. When you see that, (then) that's really more of a little later design – 1900 to 1910. When they did use turquoise in their bracelets, and they did use this early on (pre-turn of the century) there will be very small, nondescript little pieces of turquoise (often green) that were surface finds, maybe from the mines in Tyrone or Cerrillos. These are the kind of pieces you would expect to see, and there would always be a nice, early handmade bezel on these.

So, it's important when you're looking, and trying to figure out value, and things that are before the turn of the century have an increased value (monumentally), that you look for ingot, look for simplicity, and also always look for wear. If it doesn't have wear, it's probably uncommon that it's going to be and highly unlikely that it’s an authentic antique old pawn Navajo bracelet.