Robert and Bernice Leekya – Nugget Jewelry since 1953

Zuni husband and wife Robert and Bernice Leekya are known for their bold turquoise (usually Kingman) nugget jewelry. They have been making it since 1953.

Here I will showcase some examples of their work……….

Zuni Cluster bracelet by Robert and Bernice Leekya

NBT483-634-turq-cluster-leekya-3NBT483-634-turq-cluster-leekya-4 Zuni Cluster bracelet by Robert and Bernice Leekya

Born in 1934, Robert was taught by his father, a master Zuni jeweler Leekya Deyuse.  Here are some examples of Leekya Deyuse’s work – he is often just referred to as Leekya. Born in 1889, he remained active in his craft until his passing in 1966.

Leekya Deyuse 1 Leekya Deyuse 2Bernice Leekya, born in the 1930s, was formerly a maker of cluster work.


NR472-712-petit-turq-leekya-1NR472-712-petit-turq-leekya-2 Cluster Ring by Robert and Bernice Leekya

After her marriage to Robert, she worked with him on the nugget jewelry also. WL-398-turq-leekya-4








S421-turq-buckle-bolo-watch-4A-2 Leekya bolo tie detailsS421-turq-buckle-bolo-watch-4B

BU132-WB-turq-leekya-1 CB50-kingman-leekya-13

Robert shares the RLB stamp with his wife Bernice Leekya. The larger L extends below the B.


Raven Crow Medicine

Lakota Kangi Pejuta Medicine Bag

Lakota Kangi Pejuta Medicine Bag. Kangi Pejuta means Medicine Crow.

RAVEN/CROW –  Raven and Crow are very similar in their strengths: both carry great responsibility to Spirit and are the messengers of magic and healing from the universe where all knowledge waits for us.

Raven Crow Feather Necklace by Apache artist Cynthia Whitehawk

NP574-feather-raven-whitehawk-2 Raven Crow Feather Necklace by Apache artist Cynthia Whitehawk

They also symbolize changes in consciousness, levels of awareness and perception.

Zuni Raven Fetishes

FF306-raven-pooacha-1 Zuni Raven Fetishes

Shamans, Spiritualists and Healers using Raven/Crow Medicine are able to use their gifts with deeper clarity, understanding and insight, developing greater power and skill in their abilities and their means to help one move forward in life.

Kangi Pejuta Smudge Kit

Kangi Pejuta Smudge Kit

Raven Crow Medicine Smudge Feather

Raven Crow Spirit Smudge fan by Apache artist Cynthia Whitehawk

Raven Crow Spirit Smudge fan by Apache artist Cynthia Whitehawk

Raven Crow Medicine Pouch

Raven Crow Medicine Pouch with hand carved and painted buffalo bone raven feather. Cynthia Whitehawk


Zuni Buffalo Fetish Carving
Raven – Crow – A symbol of Magic, Mystery, and a Shift in Consciousness
(from our conversations with Lakota and Apache healers)

I want to get a ring like I saw in the movie Thunderheart

Hello Paula,

I want to get a ring like I saw in Thunderheart, the movie with Val Kilmer. Can you help?


Hi Brad,

There were actually 4 rings prominently featured in Thunderheart.

Three were worn by Ted Thin Elk who played Grandpa Sam Reaches, the elder who lived in the remote trailer house.

His wore two Navajo rings. One was a turquoise stone and one was a white buffalo stone. He also wore a  Zuni ring made by Effie Calavaza that had coral and turquoise and a snake winding between the stones.

Here are examples of the 3 rings Ted Thin Elk wore.


PR161-turq-11-lee-2 Navajo Turquoise and Sterling Silver ring by Larson Lee



Vintage NOS (New Old Stock) Navajo Turquoise and Sterling Silver ring PR157-WB-turq-1034-FB-2



NR490-10-wbuffalo-2 Navajo Sterling Silver and White Buffalo Stone ring with cigar band by Stanley Parker




NR382-snake-turq-coral-effie-3 Zuni Sterling Silver Turquoise and Coral snake ring by Effie Calavaza


Graham Greene, who played the tribal police officer Walter Crow Horse, wore a Navajo ring with a rectangular turquoise stone like these.


NR442-A-E-turq-calladito-D Navajo Turquoise and Sterling Silver Ring by Michael Calladito



Why is copper used for belt loops, pin backs and more in Native American jewelry?

Copper was the first metal discovered by man and has been used for thousands of years by craftsmen around the world for tools, artifacts and jewelry.

Copper was considered sacred by some Native American cultures and it continued to be used extensively even after the introduction of silver, steel, and metal alloys.


Vintage copper bracelet with Native American symbols

Copper was abundant in the Southwest, with Arizona having one of the largest copper deposits in the world. In some areas native copper could be found just laying on the ground without the need to smelt it from ore.

Raw Copper

Raw Copper

Copper’s was and is much less expensive than silver.  Unlike steel and most other metals, copper can be easily shaped without heating.

Soldering or “sweating” is joining two pieces of metal together, using a medium called solder (pronounced “sodder”).  The metals that are being joined might be the same such as copper to copper or sterling silver to sterling silver. That type of soldering is relatively simple for an experienced metal smith.

It is when soldering two different metals together that things can get tricky in terms of the amount of heat necessary and the type of solder required.

Examples of dissimilar metal-to-metal soldering common in Native American jewelry is copper to sterling silver and steel to sterling silver.

Copper Soldered to Sterling Silver

Copper Soldered to Sterling Silver

Copper requires much less heat to solder to sterling silver than it would take to solder steel to sterling silver. Also with copper, there isn’t a specialized solder needed.

That’s why copper is the metal of choice for belt loops on concho belts and is also seen as pin backs, for example, on vintage Native American pins and pin pendants. 

Copper pin soldered to vintage sterling silver pin

Copper pin soldered to vintage sterling silver pin

Sterling silver concho belt with copper belt loops.

Sterling silver concho belt with copper belt loops.


Suspending the Jewelry Question Service

Originally posted on Native American Jewelry Tips:

paula at desk 24 hours Paula 24-7

Due to my super busy schedule, I am suspending the free service I have provided in the past whereby I answer questions about your Native American jewelry.

I have found that 95% of your questions are either “What is this hallmark” or “What is this worth?”.

Since I don’t do appraisals from photos and identifying a hallmark often only helps you, I have suspended the Q&A service and instead have been using my blog time to post articles of information.

Be sure to search this blog for the answer to your question. It is possible I have posted some information that will help you answer your own question.


To view our full list of articles

If you are selling your jewelry, read this

Visit our pawn shop for your research and shopping


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When was the STERLING stamp first used on Native American jewelry?

An exact date is not available for when the stamp STERLING was first used on Native American jewelry.

According to the book “Fred Harvey Jewelry 1900-1955” by Dennis June, the STERLING stamp appeared after 1932.

Fred Harvey bookMost Native American made items from the 1930s and before would not have a STERLING stamp nor any artist hallmark for that matter. But there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to hallmarks – there are always exceptions.

Some items made in the 1940s to 1950s might have the STERLING stamp, most notably, those made by Bell Traders during that time period.


But in general, Native American artists began using the STERLING stamp in the 1950s and 1960s. Since then, the STERLING or Sterling or 925 stamps are quite common as are artists’ hallmarks.



Sterling stamp

Sterling stamp

.925 or 925 indicate that the item is 92.5% silver which is the requirement for something to be called sterling silver.

.925 stamp

.925 stamp

In the vast majority of cases, if a piece of Native American jewelry is stamped with one of the above marks, the item is made from Sterling Silver.

If an item is not stamped with one of the above, this does not necessarily mean the item is not made from sterling silver. Most vintage sterling silver Native American items do not have the STERLING mark.

The only definitive way to know is to perform an acid test.


Pin Clasps on Native American Jewelry and how they help date the piece

A safety clasp on the back of a pin is the one you are probably most familiar with as it is commonly used today. It is sometimes called a locking pin finding.


Safety clasp or locking pin finding. On the left securely locked. On the right, the open position.

Hand made safety clasps appeared on non-Native American jewelry since the 1900s.  The modern safety clasp began being manufactured in the 1930s.

Vintage or antique clasp or hinge3

But it wasn’t until about the mid 1940’s that safety clasps became readily available to Native American silversmiths and started to show up on pins and pin-pendants.


1940s-1950s Navajo butterfly pin with early safety clasp


1940s – 1950s Navajo butterfly pin showing an early safety clasp

Prior to that time, the simple C clasp was used, which was a curled piece of silver on which to hook the pin – simple. If well made, it would be very secure; if not well made, the pin could bend or otherwise come unfastened.


1930s Navajo pin


Hand made C clasp


Hand made C clasp