Bennie Ration, extraordinary Navajo silversmith and artist

Bennie Ration

One of the greatest contemporary Native American jewelry silversmiths of our time, award-winning Bennie Ration has a distinct three dimensional style with geometric patterns figuring prominently in his pieces. Using overlay to highlight and accent his designs, Bennie Ration creates unique pieces using the finest materials. His pieces are recognized all over the world as some of the finest silverwork. Bennie was born in March of 1955 to Francis and John Ration of the Canoncito Navajo reservation in New Mexico. His father, John, began teaching Bennie the art of silversmithing in grade school. From age 11, Bennie was a talented artist.

Bennie ration developed a unique look to his pieces which include overlay, exceptional stones, three dimensional kachina figures, animals, feathers and other designs.

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Fox Mountain Turquoise Pendant with Overlay Collar Necklace by Navajo artist Bennie Ration

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Lizard Pin Pendant by Bennie RationNPP452-lizard-turq-ration-1

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Turtle Pin Pendant by Bennie Ration

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Natural Persian Turquoise Maiden Ring by Bennie Ration

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Lapis Lazuli and Denim Lapis in Native American Jewelry

LAPIS LAZULI
Lapis is a deep blue stone often with gold flecking that twinkles like stars.

The most desirable lapis is solid, deep blue with no white calcite spots and just a sprinkling of glittering golden yellow pyrite. Such material is found only in Afghanistan (mined there for over 7000 years) and Pakistan and……….there is a limited amount of lapis mined in the western part of Colorado (Italian Mountain) that is deep blue with large amounts of pyrite. Other places where lapis is mined include Egypt, Mongolia, Canada, and Chile. 

The name lapis lazuli is a combination of the Latin word lapis (“stone”) and the Arabian name azul, meaning “blue.” Lapis is one of the few rocks considered to be a gem and is one of the first gemstones ever to be worn as jewelry. A lapis gemstone won’t fade in light and does not show wear normally but like many gemstones, it can be scratched and chipped. Clean it only with a soft, dry cloth to maintain its shine.

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Lapis Lazuli Sterling Silver Bracelet by Navajo artist Peterson JohnsonNBT456-lapis-7-johnson-4

The powers associated with lapis:

Many ancient cultures believed that lapis lazuli contained magical powers. In the Middle Ages, monks powdered the stone and kneaded it into dough with beeswax, resin and linseed oil, for use in illuminated manuscripts. Today, people around the world consider lapis lazuli to be a stone of awareness, able to impart knowledge and wisdom.  It is reputed to bring about harmony in relationships and to cleanse the mind bringing about self-acceptance.

The astrological sign of lapis lazuli is Sagittarius.

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Lapis Lazuli Sterling Silver Pendant by Peterson Johnson, Navajo

Lapis can also be a deep blue black, mysterious color such as this ring.

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Lapis Ring by Peterson Johnson

Denim lapis
Denim lapis is a light bluish-white form of lapis lazuli. This stone comes close to the color of faded denim material, hence the name.

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Denim Lapis Sterling Silver Bracelet by Peterson Johnson, Navajo

This pendant looks like stone washed denim, doesn’t it?

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Denim Lapis Sterling Silver Pendant by Navajo artist Peterson Johnson

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SODALITE

Lapis and Denim lapis are sometimes confused with sodalite

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Two sides of a sodalite bear fetish by Zuni carver Emery Eriachosodabear-off

Sodalite
Sodalite is a rich royal blue mineral that together with hauyne, nosean and lazurite is a common constituent of lapis lazuli. A light, relatively hard yet fragile (due to the inherent cracks) mineral, sodalite is named after its sodium content. Well known for its blue color, sodalite may also be grey, yellow, green, or pink and is often mottled with white veins or patches. The more uniformly blue material is used in jewelry, where it is fashioned into cabochons and beads. That with more veining, patches and mottling is used in carving for interest. Although very similar to lazurite and lapis lazuli, sodalite is royal blue rather than ultramarine. Sodalite also rarely contains pyrite, a common inclusion in lapis. Sodalite’s poor cleavage may be seen as incipient cracks running through the stone.

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AND THEN THERE IS BLOCK LAPIS

Like many stones, there are imitation stones made and they are called block. Sometimes block stones are made from crushed real stones. Other times they are made from any kind of stone, then dyed. Here is an example of a block lapis ring. It is a pretty ring made with sterling silver and has the artist’s hallmark. Yet it is what it is – block denim lapis.

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Block lapis ring

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BACK TO REAL LAPIS

Besides being set as cabochons, lapis is also used to make beads which are used in Santo Domingo and Navajo necklaces.

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Vintage New Old Stock Lapis and Stamped Sterling Silver Bead Necklace

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Lapis Chip “rope style” necklace by the Teller family, Navajo.

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Santo Domingo Lapis Necklace by Irene Lovato

  5-strand-lovato-lapis-2Lapis is a beautiful stone and if you’re like me and love blue, it is a stone for you.

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To view our full list of articles or to ask a jewelry question, follow the instructions here

http://www.horsekeeping.com/native-american-jewelry-artifacts.htm

If you are selling your jewelry, read this

http://www.horsekeeping.com/jewelry/pawn-buying.htm

Visit our pawn shop for your research and shopping

 http://www.horsekeeping.com/jewelry/pawn/pawnshop-vin.htm

Temporarily Suspending the Jewelry Question Service

paula at desk 24 hours

Paula 24-7

Due to my super busy schedule and the fact that Christmas shopping has already begun, lately I have not been able to spend the time I would like on this blog.

Therefore, I am temporarily suspending the free service I provide whereby I answer questions about Native American jewelry.

I don’t want to give you false hopes that your question will be answered in short order.

I still have about 50 questions in the queue to answer so I will be working on those as I can fit it in.

Hopefully, I will resume the service after the first of next year when I can answer questions in a more timely manner.

So much to do, so little time !!

Paula

To view our full list of articles

http://www.horsekeeping.com/native-american-jewelry-artifacts.htm

If you are selling your jewelry, read this

http://www.horsekeeping.com/jewelry/pawn-buying.htm

Visit our pawn shop for your research and shopping

 http://www.horsekeeping.com/jewelry/pawn/pawnshop-vin.htm

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What is a Native American Hallmark?

What is a Native American Hallmark?

Native American jewelry is art and as such, it is often signed by the artist. This signature is called a hallmark.

A hallmark can be a stamp, that is, an impression made into the sterling silver (or other material) by holding a die on the silver and striking the die with a hammer. Depending on the temperature of the silver, the integrity of the die, the force of the blow, the steadiness of the hands, and other factors, the resulting stamped hallmark will range from faint to deep, from fuzzy to clear.

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Navajo Silversmith

Stamped hallmarks can be all types of letters in various fonts as well as pictures and symbols.

Another way Native American artists sign pieces is by using an engraver, also called and “electric pencil”.

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“Electric Pencil” or Engraving Pen

Zuni artists use this method to write out an entire name, or at least the last name, and often Zuni, NM too. Fetish carvers use an engraver to sign their mini sculptures and depending on the size of the base, they might be initials or a full name.

In addition to individual symbol hallmarks, Shop and Guild marks are used. Shop and Guild marks (and there are many) are usually an image such as a bell (Bell Trading for example) or a sunface (a Hopi mark).

When a piece has a shop mark it is hard to identify which specific artist did the work, and in many cases, it is a collaborative effort – one person does the silversmithing, one does stone setting, another inlays etc. With shop hallmarks, it is impossible to guarantee that the work has been done by a Native American artist as shops can employ anyone.

With Guilds, however, it is almost certain that the work is Native American because membership in the guild is usually based on tribal affiliation.

Why are Native American hallmarks important?

In many cases, the hallmark on a piece of Native American jewelry is the only definitive proof that a particular item was made by a particular person. But even this is not foolproof because counterfeiters copy hallmarks onto their foreign-made, faux Native American items. The very best way to use hallmarks is in conjunction with paperwork, provenance, point of purchase, quality of workmanship and materials, the artist’s style and other factors that an experienced eye will see.

Why is it Difficult to Identify Native American Hallmarks?

Native American hallmarks are not an exact science. A number of factors make hallmark identification difficult:

1.  Several artists might use the same hallmark. For example, over 20 Native American artists have used S for their hallmark.

2.  An artist might change his or her hallmark several times during a lifetime. The late Tommy Singer, for example, has used the following hallmarks (all stamped). Perhaps there are even more:

Thomas Singer hallmark

One of Tommy Singer’s hallmarks

T

S TC

T with a crescent moon

S with a crescent moon

S T and a crescent moon

THOMAS SINGER

T. SINGER

T. Singer

T. Singer (in cursive)

3.  Family members might use a (famous) father’s, mother’s, brother’s, uncle’s or cousin’s hallmark. As an example, you will see this in the Iule family (known for their crosses) and the Effie Calavaza family (known for Zuni Snake bracelets and other snake items).

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Iule cross

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EFFIE C. hallmark on a vintage bolo

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This contemporary ring also has the EFFIE C. hallmark but is likely made, at least in part, by the family of Effie Calavaza.

4.  Native Americans that sell jewelry at trade shows and fairs but do not make the jewelry themselves have told us that the associations hosting the event require that all items must be authentic Native American made and hallmarked. So when we asked about some of the hallmarks on the pieces we saw, we were told “Joe XXXX doesn’t used a hallmark on his jewelry. We just put something on his pieces because we were told we had to in order to sell it at the powwow so we used this hallmark “xyz”.” True story. Names changed.

5.  Depending how well the hallmark is placed onto the silver, it may or may not be readable and could be confused with another hallmark.

6. Sometimes a piece will inadvertently not get marked. We’ve often purchased 6 similar pendants directly from an artist only to get home to see that 5 have hallmarks and one does not.

When did hallmarks first appear?

Native American artists haven’t always used hallmarks.  Early items in the First Phase period usually had no hallmarks because the items were made for personal or family use, not for sale.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s the few hallmarks that appeared were made by chisel marks

In the 1950s, the Navajo Guild, among others, encouraged hallmark use by its members.

During the Native American jewelry boom of the 1970s, hallmarks kicked into full swing and their use continues to this day on the majority of jewelry items.

And yet the bottom line is:

Many authentic Native American made pieces have no hallmarks. The majority of stone necklaces (heishi, nugget etc) do not have hallmarks. The same goes for many silver bead necklaces. However, If silver beads are large enough, sometimes the artist will stamp the last bead up by the clasp with a hallmark.

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Hallmark of Virginia Tso on Navajo Pearls

Alternatively, silver and stone necklaces might have a signature plate.

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Signature plate on a stone necklace.

Items like twist bracelets, for example, just do not have a flat place to add a hallmark.

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Classic Navajo Sterling Silver Twist Bracelet AKA the Horse Whisperer bracelet

But what’s particularly bad is that some pieces with seemingly authentic hallmarks are on pieces that are not NA made.

How can you learn about the hallmark on your piece?

BOOKS – A number of books have been written identifying stamped hallmarks. You can purchase the books or look for them in your library. Here are a few:

Native American and Southwestern Silver Hallmarks

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Hallmarks of the Southwest (A Schiffer Book for Collectors)

bartonAmerican Indian Jewelry I, II, III by Gregory and Angie Schaaf

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Hopi Silver: The History and Hallmarks of Hopi Silversmithing

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WEBSITES – There are also some websites that list hallmarks.  Here is one to get you started, but you can search on the internet to find more.

Indian Native American Jewelry Artists  & South West Shop Hallmarks

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Hallmark samples from a website

You can browse our website and use the search link at the top of most pages to search for your hallmark. If we have or have had an item with that hallmark you will be able to find it on our site.

Once you have exhausted all sources and still can not find the hallmark on your piece, you could submit it as a question through our website. In addition to the resources above, we can sift through our memories and look through our hand compiled lists to see if we can help. But, we receive quite a few questions every week so it will likely be 30-60 days before your question is answered.

Paula

To view our full list of articles or to ask a jewelry question, follow the instructions here

http://www.horsekeeping.com/native-american-jewelry-artifacts.htm

If you are selling your jewelry, read this

http://www.horsekeeping.com/jewelry/pawn-buying.htm

Visit our pawn shop for your research and shopping

http://www.horsekeeping.com/jewelry/pawn/pawnshop-vin.htm

Squash Blossom Necklace with Hearts

Hi Paula,

I have a squash blossom necklace made with hearts. I have searched your blog and the internet and have not found this shape. Can you help me determine if this is in fact a rare-type shape? Also, can you help me determine the type of turquoise? And, my clasp is broken, do regular jewelers repair the clasps, and the way they repair, does it make a difference or lessen the value? Like soldering vs. wiring vs.gluing?

Thank you,
Catherine
20140709_143636 20140709_143651Hi Catherine,
I would interpret the design element as clouds rather than hearts.
Possibly this could be King’s Manassa turquoise but it is hard to say for certain.
As far as repairs, I would recommend that you have any repairs done by an experienced, knowledgeable jeweler that as worked on vintage Native American jewelry so that the repair would be consistent with the original piece.
We don’t do repairs here but we recommend this business for Native American jewelry repairs. They do all of the repairs for our store and we are thoroughly satisfied with their work.
Repair Contact:
Diane Radeke
Old Town Trading Co. / Jewels of the West
4009 N. Brown Ave.
Scottsdale, AZ  85251
480-970-8065
info@oldtowntradingco.com
Paula
To view our full list of article or to ask a jewelry question, follow the instructions here
If you are selling your jewelry, read this
Visit our pawn shop for your research and shopping
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Vintage Navajo – Sterling Silver and Turquoise Squash Blossom Necklace

Tips on Choosing Mens Watch Tips Please !

Good afternoon Paula.  I’ve been looking for a nice set of tips for my Invicta watch (which is a bit glunky, but not obnoxious like some of the new watches out today):

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The case is 1 ½ inches wide at its widest point, and the band size is 18mm.

Until I saw these turquoise tips, I had my heart set on solid silver with a nice pattern.

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Arlene Yazzie – Navajo Sterling Silver and Turquoise Inlay Mens Watch Tips

2 questions…

1) those tips are so clean and bright, I think they would look “wrong” against the stainless case…thoughts?

2)  is the bandwidth/lug distance important for fit and “look”?

John

Hi John,

Thanks for your interest in our Native American watch tips.

Whether you choose all sterling silver tips or tips with turquoise or other stones is up to you. We do not advise on fashion.

That said, a brushed or satin sterling silver would more closely match the finish of your stainless steel watch, like these by Calvin Peterson:

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Calvin Peterson Navajo Sterling Silver Mens Bear Paw Watch

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Calvin Peterson Navajo Sterling Silver Mens Kokopelli Watch

The spacing between the lugs should be at least 1mm more that the width of the tips where they attach to the watch. That makes for a neat fit without a lot of sliding around and still leaves enough room to remove the pins should you want to.

The watch tips mentioned above and the turquoise ones you like all measure 17mm at the attachment, so they should work fine with your watch (this is a fairly standard size for men’s watch tips).

Paula

To view our full list of article or to ask a jewelry question, follow the instructions here

http://www.horsekeeping.com/native-american-jewelry-artifacts.htm

If you are selling your jewelry, read this

http://www.horsekeeping.com/jewelry/pawn-buying.htm

Visit our pawn shop for your research and shopping

http://www.horsekeeping.com/jewelry/pawn/pawnshop-vin.htm

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Elaine Sam – Navajo Sterling Silver Bear Claw Turquoise Watch Tips

 

Little info in Canada on Hopi hallmarks – can you help?

June 26. 2014

Hi Paula.  I hope you can help me.  I have spent hours and hours and hours trying to identify some Hopi jewellery that i bought in the 70’s. I live in Canada, and there is little help up here  identifying  South West Jewellery.  I have two silver overlay Hopi  pins, both with the same ‘signature’ on the back.  The signature is sort of like a ‘W’ .  I have searched available sites on line that list signatures, but have not found anything.  I also tried searching the images of pieces that seemed similar, and I came up with a definite similarity to a pin/pendant by Victor Coochwytewa (I should be so lucky!)

Could your recommend someone who might be able to help me with signed pottery?  I have small items by Marie G. Romero from Jemez, Gloria Gachupin from the Zia Pueblo, and a beautiful pot by Rondina Huma, Tewa.
Thank you for any help.
elain genser

Hopi kachina hallmark Hopi kachina pin (2) hopi kachina pin Hopi RoadRunner Roadrunner markHi Elain,

Thank you for your patience. As you can see, due to the volume of questions we receive, it takes about a month for a question to work its way to the top of the queue.

I know nothing about pottery, so perhaps another reader might reply to that.

Elain, you also sent photos of a bracelet. If you want to resubmit that as a separate question like you did with this pin question, I’ll put it in the queue.

Now to the hallmark on these wonderful collectible Hopi pins.

The W hallmark is actually that of a lightning bolt with two arrowheads, one on each end. There is a bit of patina there occluding the hallmark. That hallmark is of McBride Lomayestewa, a Hopi artist of the Snow Clan from the village of Shungopavi who was born in 1932.  He began work in 1956 and died in 2002.

He learned his craft at the Hopi Guild. He is brother of Mark and Clarence.

Now that you know the artist’s name you can do a search and learn more about him and see other examples of his work.

Enjoy your treasures !

Paula

To view our full list of article or to ask a jewelry question, follow the instructions here

http://www.horsekeeping.com/native-american-jewelry-artifacts.htm

If you are selling your jewelry, read this

http://www.horsekeeping.com/jewelry/pawn-buying.htm

Visit our pawn shop for your research and shopping

http://www.horsekeeping.com/jewelry/pawn/pawnshop-vin.htmN229-disc-2712-hopi-3