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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
-by Cameron Vines
-Photos by Jim Lundstrom