by Dr. Lori Verderame
Some of the best known objects made by Native Americans are Native American baskets, beadwork saddles and satchels, Maria Martinez pottery, and Navajo blankets and rugs. But, one of the most widely collected categories of Native America objects is turquoise jewelry. Some of the most popular and valuable Native American jewelry pieces are made of silver and turquoise with other materials. Called old pawn Indian jewelry to collectors, this Native American jewelry has traditional Indian designs and is very valuable.
There is strong value in “old pawn indian jewelry” which is Native American jewelry made in the early decades of the 1900s and traded for goods and services. This term is used widely when describing authentic antique and vintage Native American pieces in turquoise, silver, coral, and other natural materials.
Since much of the traditional Native American jewelry pieces feature turquoise, it is a good idea to learn about the natural materials. Be sure to buy natural turquoise and not turquoise that has been treated with resin. Unlike colored gemstones, color is not a value or quality indicator for turquoise since colors can vary from mine to mine. Some turquoise shows elements of bright blue color while other turquoise can be closer to a green color. There are many famous mines where turquoise and other stones are found like Arizona’s Sleeping Beauty mine, California’s San Bernardino mine, and New Mexico’s New Enchantment and Cerrillos mines to name a few. Many pieces of authentic Native American jewelry like squash blossom necklaces, Zuni rings, coral beads and inlay earrings easily command thousands to tens of thousands of dollars on the jewelry market. Learning about the gemstone, stone, and minerals trade is interesting and will help you learn more about collecting Native American jewelry.
What to Look For
Look for quality materials, attractive and recognizable Native American designs, and objects made by well known Native American artists and artisans. Look for the well respected artists like Gilbert Ortega, Charles Loloma, Darryl Becenti and Lee Yazzie among others. Some of the most desirable pieces of Native American jewelry date from the late 19th Century to the 1960s. Avoid pieces that are not Native-made or are simply described as Native-American style.
Unlike costume jewelry or gemstones, most Native American jewelry is made with naturally developed materials like turqouise, coral, and gaspite.
Learn the distinctive styles associated with various tribal artisans like Navajo turqouise and silver squash blossom necklaces, Zuni petit point bracelet designs, etc. This information is like being able to recognize a French Impressionism work or a moonlight painting by George Sotter. When you know what a piece should look like in terms of quality and design, you won’t get taken.
Get an online appraisal report of your Native American jewelry from Dr. Lori.