Buying and caring tips for Navajo Jewelries
The majority of American Indians too use readymade Sterling silver to craft their designs although there are some artists who use other silver like coins or german silver which are also acceptable (but make sure you are informed if the silver is not sterling).
Wonderful! So you have decided to invest and enjoy wearing handmade jewellery created by Native American Indians. But before you make the purchase, be sure you are buying authentic handcrafted jewellery and not machine made or Navajo jewellery made by artists who are not Native American Indians – which is often sold as the real thing. Learn a little about the jewellery you are planning to buy -browse the internet and if possible stop by at some stores selling Indian jewellery – to get a feel of what authentic Indian jewellery should look like. Visiting stores selling imitation or poor quality Indian jewellery can be advantageous too – for tips on how Indian jewellery should not appear! The more research you do, the better informed your purchase will be and the chances of getting cheated will be diminished.
A little about the materials required to create Indian jewellery – mainly Silver and sometimes even Copper along with gemstones go into making Navajo jewellery. Most Indian jewellery with the exception of Heishi beads and Wampum beads utilize silver As per law, silver jewellery has to be Sterling grade silver, which is 92.5 percent purity silver. Most metals used in jewellery are not of 100% purity (the metals used are always alloys) because a pure metal can bend easily and the ring or bracelet will loose its shape just after one use. The majority of American Indians too use readymade Sterling silver to craft their designs although there are some artists who use other silver like coins or German silver which are also acceptable (but make sure you are informed if the silver is not sterling).
The silver in Navajo jewellery enhances the beauty of turquoise. Most turquoise available in the market today is treated. Stones are sometimes treated (with stabilizing/coating or dying agents) to make them stronger or to enhance their appearance. For eg. good quality untreated turquoise is very expensive, which will increase the price of the jewellery. If the stones have been treated, the seller must let you know in detail the kind of treatment the stone has undergone.
The beauty of silver and turquoise are enchanting and it has captured the interest of millions worldwide. Contemporary Indian artists are re-creating the beauty of Navajo jewellery with gemstones other than traditional Turquoise – corals, onyx, lapis and carnelians are also being used in making Indian jewellery. These present-day Indian artists have learnt the art of making Navajo jewellery from their ancestors. Along with traditional designs, they also offer more contemporary pieces like Watches with the traditional silver and turquoise work. The price of most authentic Indian jewellery is high, in comparison to the value of the materials used – the patience, skill and hours that go into creating a handcrafted piece are much more than imitation or machine-made jewellery, hence the higher price. In fact, if the seller is offering the jewellery at a lower price, it may be imitation or machine-made or pawn jewellery. Browse around to get an approximate idea of what each jewellery piece should cost.
The American Indians sell a piece of their ancient culture through their jewellery. Their creations imbibe their age-old beliefs into each piece of handmade jewellery. The Heishi strands, Squash Blossom necklaces, Naja sets, Kitohs etc are all traditional Navajo concepts. Good quality genuine handmade pieces have clear designs on them; the cut and setting of the stones are impeccable. Poor quality or Imitation pieces will not have the clarity in the designs and the cut and setting of the stones will be poor – sometimes even the glue will be visible between the silver and the stones – an indication the piece is imitation.
Most American Indians like all artists hallmark their jewellery. This means that the pieces created by them are signed by a symbol or a letter. A hallmarked piece is a sure sign that the jewellery is authentic. Some pieces like Heishi strands have a distinct silken feel that cannot be imitated by inferior pieces. Almost always, a Heishi strand will have one flawed or chipped bead – this is proof that the strand is handmade.
The safest course is to look for documentation that the piece is genuinely made by American Indian artists (most of who are registered with different societies, recognized by the Government like the “Indian Arts and Crafts Association”). Later if you plan on reselling your jewellery, you can get a better price than if the jewellery has no certificate. Buy from a reputed seller who will provide accurate information about the piece. Also if a seller has duplicates of the same piece, it is not authentic handcrafted jewellery. All handcrafted jewellery (even similar pieces) has some differences – big or small.
Caring for your Navajo jewellery is as important as making the purchase. Store the piece separately to avoid scratches on the stones. Turquoise is a brittle stone; a slight blow can break the stone. This is the same for other stones like corals, carnelians too. Keep your Navajo jewellery away from extreme temperatures and to clean the stone just rub with a cloth. The silver in Navajo jewellery should never be polished to a high finish. Always leave some area tarnished; this will enhance the beauty of the piece. Tender loving care will make your Navajo jewellery look beautiful for years.
Some collectors invest in antique Navajo jewellery – made in the 1900’s, these pieces are referred to as Dead Pawn or Old Pawn. These pieces are antiques and may even be heirlooms of families that have been sold, stolen or pawned for money in order to feed the family. Some Indians sell their heirlooms to gratify their alcoholism or drugs. Whatever the reason for parting, these Dead Pawn do not normally have a good vibrations, therefore it is advisable to stay away from them. However, there are some antique pieces gifted by the Indians to others with a grateful spirit and carry positive vibrations – however these are relatively rare and one must delve into the past to verify the truth.
The revival of interest in Navajo Jewellery has given a profitable livelihood to the present American Indians. There are plenty of Indian artists offering beautiful handcrafted traditional Navajo jewellery. Some can even take orders or help you decide which Animal symbol will bring you luck!
Knowledge is power. And in learning about the culture and history of the American Indians, you will be able to appreciate the beauty, skill and potency of wearing authentic Navajo jewellery.