The term “First Phase” is a historical term that refers to the early experimentation and development in jewelry by the southwestern Native American Indians.
It is generally though to be a period from approximately 1860-1900.
First Phase jewelery was made for personal use or for family or friends – it was not driven by commercial influences.
Sometimes First Phase is used to refer to the design styles from that era, so a bracelet made to look like a First Phase bracelet would be “First Phase Style” but not First Phase itself. This is an important distinction that should be used when describing items.
Between 1900-1930, tourism grew and Native American jewelry began being influenced by commercialism – what would sell. This is sometimes referred to as the Transitional Period.
To see more views of the items pictured and learn more about their estimated age, click on the photos.
This is the first in a series of repair articles that I am writing in conjunction with Diane from Old Town Trading Co. in Scottsdale, AZ. See contact information at the end of this article. We appreciate OTTC’s help and expertise in this series.
Is it possible to repair or restore Native American jewelry?
Yes, we have Native American Silversmiths working for us here on premises, who are accomplished artisans and expert repair people. We service repairs for customers and jewelers all over the United States.
How can we find out what you can do and how much it will cost?
You can photograph or scan your jewelry and email the picture to us. We can usually give you an idea of the repair needed and a ballpark estimate from your photo. If you decide to proceed, you then mail your jewelry to us. Once we receive the item and have a chance to thoroughly inspect it we call you with a firm price for the repairs.
Can you outline the procedure for this inlay buckle repair?
Inlay buckle showing missing pieces.
From the customer’s picture, we saw that 7 pieces of coral and shell were missing. An estimate for this repair was $85.00 plus $15 to return ship and insure. However, once we received the buckle, we found that the back of the buckle had serious cracks forming in the silver at two edges. It looked like the buckle had flexed back at that point, causing the tearing to begin. All of the missing stones were right on top of the bend – that’s no doubt why they popped out.
Back of buckle showing stress cracks from bending.
What do you do at that point?
Simply replacing the missing stones was still an option. However, once metal has bent, it “wants” to bend in that very same spot again, causing further damage to the piece. We suggested to the owner that our silversmith could solder a thicker sheet of silver to the back of the buckle, making it much stronger and resistant to any further flexing.
How is that done?
Our silversmith removes all of the stones from the front, as well as all of the pieces from the back (the buckle bar, pin, and Massie’s signature plate). He hot solders a piece of sterling silver, cut exactly to size, to the back of the buckle to add stability, and then reattaches everything the way it was. The end result is that the buckle looks exactly the same as it did, just a little heftier in weight.
Was there an additional charge for that?
Yes. The charge for restoring the buckle in this fashion was $200, instead of $85. The customer decided to have us restore his buckle, as he was looking forward to wearing it frequently.
Repaired buckle back
Repaired buckle front.
Old Town Trading Company has been in business in Scottsdale, AZ for 26 years and has 2 Native American artists who perform expert repairs and renovations to new and vintage pieces.
I wonder if you know anything about this old buckle. Tony
It is chip inlay.
Chip inlay is a method where cavities in jewelry are filled with a mixture of crushed stone, typically turquoise and coral, and epoxy resin. The piece is then polished smooth after the resin has hardened. Navajo Tommy Singer is credited for first using chip inlay in Native American jewelry.
The snake in some Native American cultures represents speed and swiftness, the same properties as lightning or the lightning arrow and they often have a similar visual form. The snake does not symbolize anything negative or treacherous. Rather, the snake represents abundant rainfall, fertility and healing. Snake symbols are rarely seen in Navajo jewelry and art but are often used by Zuni.
We here in northern Colorado live with snakes on a seasonal basis – they are part of the landscape and ecosystem. Since our climate is semi-arid, we welcome the abundant rainfall the snake might bring.
What a diverse group of belts I’ve been researching this week. Here are a few samples from the White Buffalo Collection.
Irene Chiquito, Navajo
Navajo Blanket Design Overlay by DB
Tommy Singer, Navajo
R & G Daye, Navajo
The word concho comes from the Spanish “concha” which actually means “conch” or “seashell” but has come to mean round or oval disks (occasionally rectangles) of silver used to decorate saddles, bridles, clothing, used as jewelry such as for pendants and bolo ties and for adorning or making belts.
Concho belts are a long-time Navajo tradition yet it has been suggested that the Navajo borrowed conchos from Mexican tack items or from the Plains Indians.
The earliest conchos were silver dollars that were hammered, then stamped and edged, then slotted and strung together on a piece of leather.
Later in the evolution of concho belts, copper loops were added to the back of the conchos so that the conchos could be slipped onto a leather belt.
These are the photos of the Whirling Logs turquoise silver belt buckle I had e-mailed you about. The buckle is approx. 3 and 3/4 inches wide by 2 and 1/2 inches tall. The second photo — of the bear claw hallmark on the back — isn’t great, but I have no photo tweaking programs and I am about as computer illiterate as a person can be. I hope it will do. I don’t know what the black pen mark “135—” means on the back of the buckle; I inherited these items from my father and don’t know if that’s what he paid for it back in the 60s or 70s or what.
I would like to know more about the piece: its age, what the hallmark means, et al.
Thank you so much. Leigh
First of all, what a nice treasure to inherit from your father. I’ll mention some things I can tell from the photos and some things I can’t determine from photos.
First of all, whether or not this is sterling silver or a lesser silver (such as coin silver) or another metal can be determined by a simple acid test. Any jeweler can do this for you. Knowing the metal content will impact the value of the piece, so it is always good to know what you have that way. Reference “Not All Silver is Created Equal”.
As far as the stones, they appear to be natural turquoise stones set in smooth bezels. As far as what mine they would be from, I’d be guessing just using this one photo, but they are full of matrix and character and nicely placed. References “Types of Bezels” and “Turquoise Mines in the US” and “Green Turquoise”.
The magic marker number on the back is indeed the price. I’ve always thought that it is an odd way to mark a piece of art, but that has been the tradition with much Native American jewelry. So that is likely what the asking price was for the buckle back when your father purchased it. Whether or not he paid that much, we don’t know because negotiating prices on Native American jewelry is common with many buyers – almost a hobby with them.
The piece seems consistent with the era you suggest – 1960s to 1970s..
I’d say it is a Navajo made belt buckle.
The hallmark is similar to many Navajo and Hopi badger or bear track hallmarks I have seen yet I don’t know of one that is exactly like this one, so I am afraid I have come up empty on the artist.
The whirling log design is described in my article on that topic here on this blog. “Whirling Logs”
I just found your site & it is fascinating. I’ve been trying to do some research for my mother-in-law on a belt she has. In 1976, she purchased a concha belt from a pawn shop in Arizona. They had had thebelt in their safe for about three years, the person who pawned it never came back for it. At the time she was told that it was a Tommy Singer piece. I have been in touch with a gallery that does business with Tommy Singer and he says that he doesn’t recognize the belt. I sent them photos. I have had little to no luck in finding out who the artist is going by the hallmark on the back of the buckle, a deeply stamped capitol “T”. There is also a fainter capitol “A” a little ways away. It is a beautiful piece, swooping birds (swallows, or maybe water birds?) on the buckle and each concha, inlaid with turquoise and red coral chips. We were just wondering how else to discover who the artist is, since it is not who she was told it is, so that she has some knowledge about it when/if she decides to sell it. Any help is greatly appreciated. Thanks, Karyn
The chip inlay figures on the belt are peyote birds or water birds. Some call it one – some the other. Here is an article on that figure. Peyote Bird, Water Bird
From what I can see in your photo of the back of the belt buckle, as you say the prominent hallmark is a T and there is a faint A that seems to be separate. Also engraved on the back with what the Navajo artists call an “electric pencil” is what looks like “T 28306 Colo”. There might possibly be one more number after the 6 but nevertheless, I don’t know what that number stands for as it doesn’t seem like it could be a date. Colo certainly could indicate Colorado yet I’m not sure what that would indicate.
Tommy Singer has used several hallmarks over the years, the earlier one being variations on a T. Sometimes the variation is a peaked figure that looks something like an A. If I could see that portion more clearly on your buckle, that might help.
Tommy Singer’s contemporary hallmarks are gothic caps:
There is a TA hallmark attributed to Thomas Atsitty first used as chisel cut in 1974, later as gothic letter as on your buckle. I’m not saying this is by Thomas Atsitty, because the two letters are so far apart on your belt buckle……..yet that is the only other lead I have at this point.
It is too bad that Tommy Singer told the gallery you contacted that he doesn’t recognize the piece as his because as soon as I saw it, I thought it very well could have been a Tommy Singer piece.
I’m posting this in case other readers might shed some light on this.
I was given a very unique turquoise, coral and – not sure what the large center stone is (have been told different things including petrified wood) belt buckle years ago. The shape and silver work are highly unusual. The hallmark on the back is MT with something after the T that looks like a small crescent. Can I send a photo of front and back? Would love to identify artist!
That is a very unique buckle ! If it is stone, I’m thinking a jasper, perhaps picture jasper, but that’s just a guess.
I know of several MT hallmarks, and two have a rocker UNDER the MT but I don’t know of any with a crescent or rocker off to the side.
I thought I’d post this in case another reader might have some ideas.