Are you a jewelry lover that’s looking for something genuine? Or maybe you’d like to buy a quality gift for a loved one’s collection. Whatever the case may be, I’m here today to share with you five great tips for buying authentic Native American jewelry!

Tommy Jackson’s artist stamp

 Look for information about the artist. Their hallmark, or artist stamp can often be found inside or on the back of the jewelry piece. Even if the hallmark is indistinct or illegible, it’s still a sure sign that the product is handmade. Bright light and a magnifying glass are helpful for identifying an artist’s stamp. On rings and cuffs, the stamp is normally located on the inside; For Pendants, pins, and brooches look on the back; Necklaces may have their hallmark near the clasp; Handmade Navajo Pearls will often have the hallmark on one of the metal beads or near the clasp. They usually have a hook clasp as well. A lobster claw clasp indicates machine-made metal beads. These can still be of beautiful quality. However, if you’re looking for something handmade then the clasp is an excellent guideline.

 

 

Navajo Pearls: sterling silver hook clasp

Know your metals! Sterling is one of the most common types of metal you’ll see in Native American jewelry. Its hallmark will either say Sterling Silver, Sterling, 925, 925/100, or 92.5%. You may wonder what the number 925 refers to, and that’s the fact that sterling is 92.5% pure. Any more silver content and the metal would be too delicate for jewelry. If you’re still unsure, another easy trick is to use a magnet. If it sticks, it’s not sterling. Nickel silver or German silver is also seen from time to time. This alloy is made up of copper, zinc, and nickel and is much harder and more lightweight than Sterling Silver. It makes for a long-lasting and more durable piece. It’s also much less expensive than sterling silver. Vintage Native American jewelry was often made from melted-down coins. Copper and gold are also seen occasionally.

 

Genuine amethyst

Learn to identify real vs. fake gemstones. Knowing what to look for when it comes to gems, minerals, and shells can help you to find the most authentic pieces. That’s not to say that unnatural stones and shells don’t have their place. Some lab-created stones like opal and cubic zirconia are highly comparable to their natural counterparts. Durability, affordability, vividness, and environmental concerns are all pros to man-made products. However, if you’re looking for a beautiful turquoise statement piece, you may want to identify whether or not it’s the real thing. The first step is to get to know the stones and shells you’ll be dealing with. Turquoise, lapis, jet, onyx, mother of pearl, spiny oyster, and coral are all very common. Learn to identify coloring, reflectivity, hardness, banding, inclusions, matrices, or flaws. Bright lighting and a magnifying glass will help you here. Howlite is often mistaken for turquoise. An easy way to tell is to perform the scratch test. Howlite is only 3.5 on the MOHS hardness scale. It will scratch relatively easily. A quality piece of turquoise is between a 5-6 and will not scratch so easily. This type of testing is only appropriate for jewelry that belongs to you. Pay attention to the weight. A hearty chunk of turquoise is going to be much heavier than colored resin/plastic. Lastly, look out for color. Dyed gems tend to be very vivid and showcase colors not normally found in nature. Anything overly smooth, vivid, and lightweight is usually not of the earth. The last indicator is the price! Genuine stones will always be more expensive than man-made ones. 

 

Pickle Barrel Trading Post, Globe AZ

Be selective of where you buy. If you’re buying directly from the jeweler, there is virtually no need to worry about receiving low-quality or inauthentic products. Another reliable way of finding true Native-made pieces is to buy through a dealer who works directly with designers. Find out about their business. Longevity, inventory, and customer satisfaction are all things to look at. Ask them about some of the artists they showcase and what styles they carry.

     

     

    Beaded necklace by Kewa artist Priscilla Nieto

    Learn about different Native American jewelry styles! There are many rich and fascinating approaches to jewelry-making. Despite the fact that art is an ever-evolving, shared cultural joy, each tribe is known for their own flare and methodology. Squash blossoms and conchos are distinctly Navajo. The Hopi are famous for their fantastic silver overlay jewelry. The Kewa (Santo Domingo) are well recognized for their lapidary art; specifically bead-making and heishi (pronounced hee-shee) beadwork. The Zuni are well known for their intricate stonework. Petit point, needlepoint, clusterwork, inlay, and fetish beads are all styles popularized by the Zuni people. Navajo artists often work with similar styles.