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Navajo silversmithing

Page history last edited by marcyj@u.washington.edu 15 years, 1 month ago

     Navajo jewelry is highly regarded as some of the most beautiful and detailed jewelry in the world.  This is evident in how commercially sought after this particular kind of Jewelry is. Navajo jewelry making is a progressive and evolving art. This is because Navajo jewelry is more concerned with beauty and wealth than it is with symbolism or custom.  This aspect of Navajo jewelry is evident in how readily they had adopted new techniques of silversmithing from the Mexicans, the progressively changing forms of squash blossom necklaces and Concho belts, the eager use of foreign materials and borrowed symbols, and the raiding and trading lifestyle of their past which first brought those symbols to them but without the culture.   What this has lead to is a wealth of technique and refinement with a rich and diverse history.  This section of the wiki will cover this history and the development of these techniques. Specifically we will focus on the development of Concho belts and squash blossom necklaces and the changes associated with their phases.

     Concho belts refer to oval silver disks on leather belts. First Phase Concho belts were made from the 1870’s to the 1890’s and had notches cut out of them to loop a belt through. The material used was melted down silver coins hammered into a covex oval.

Second Phase Concho belts were also made out of melted down and hammered coins but they had started to perfect their soldering by around 1885 with the aide of better fluxes, and soldered on loops for the belt to go through the Conchos.  Third Phase Concho belts made in the 1940’s featured the latest development of turquoise in bezels on Concho belts.    

     Squash blossom necklaces went through similar changes at these same times. However, for squash blossom necklaces with the addition of bezeling, the “squash blossoms” and crescent patterns grew in size and became much bulkier than their previous styles.

     Prior to the introduction of better fluxes and tools to the navajo, the navajo attempted soldering  with rudimentary fluxes like borax and made their own solders with silver and brass filings. These early attempts at soldering rarely worked out. They became adept at engraving, flattening, cutting and boring holes during these technologically poorer times.

This Is a First Phase concho belt. The conchos were being hammered out of silver coins of varying sorts, whatever was available. Later the preference for jewelers would become the peso for it's high silver content.


Here are a few good links and resources


Larry Frank, Indian Silver Jewelry of the Southwest, Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Westchester, Pennsylvania, 1990.

Margery Bedinger, Indian Silver, Navajo and Pueblo Jewelers, University of New Mexico Press, 1973.

Online Articles



Comments (2)

kuersr@... said

at 12:40 am on Jun 1, 2009

Navajo Jewelry:
I really like the concise and chronological timeline you have laid out to distinguish between the three phases of concho belts. This new knowledge has me wanting to check everyone's belts to see which phase they are closer to. But alas, belts today are mainly not adorned as much as the concho belts from the 19th and 20th centuries! Have you noticed that the U.S. 2 cent Stamp is of a beautiful (silver and turquoise stones in bevels) Navajo Squash blossom necklace? I think I was putting a 2 cent stamp on an envelope the day after you did your presentation and I was so excited that I could identify it! Thank you!

marcyj@u.washington.edu said

at 5:06 pm on Jun 3, 2009

yeah! I've seen that stamp before actually, and had asked my mom what it was. That was the first time I'd heard the term squash blossom necklace actually.

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