Split Shank, Pretty Girl and Wire Bracelets

All three of these types of bracelets – split shank, Pretty Girl, and wire bracelets, are traditional Navajo and Zuni bracelet forms and all are open and airy making for comfortable summer wearing. The open spaces allow for ventilation, thus making the bracelets more comfortable to wear in hot and humid weather. Anyone who has worn a wide solid cuff in hot weather knows that it can make your wrist perspire. Perspiration can cause the copper in the sterling silver to tarnish more quickly.

A split shank bracelet is made by splitting the center portion of a solid metal strip (shank) with a saw, chisel or other tool to open it and make it wider. This makes a larger base to attach decorative elements.

Split Shank bracelet

Split Shank bracelet

The center is split into two, three, four, or five branches, most commonly three. Part of the sides and the terminal ends of the bracelet are left solid like the original metal plate – the sides can be stamped or adorned all the way to the ends.
Stamped side pieces of a split shank bracelet

Stamped side pieces of a split shank bracelet

The splits were originally made by hand with a saw or a cold chisel and a hammer. They are still done that way today but in some cases the splits are made using a hydraulic drop cutter.

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A Pretty Girl bracelet is a lightweight split shank Native American souvenir bracelet from the Fred Harvey era.  The decorations added to a Pretty Girl bracelet were set on a platform and usually were a combination of hand made and cast elements such as medallions, buttons, braids, wire and raindrops.
Split Shank Pretty Girl Bracelet

Split Shank Pretty Girl Bracelet

Pre-cut turquoise gemstones set into preformed bezel cups were the most common adornments – set onto a platform.  There were a variety of handmade and preformed platforms used  – from simple to ornate.

Split Shank Pretty Girl Bracelet

Split Shank Pretty Girl Bracelet

The edges of the bracelets were often scalloped. The side panels were often stamped with geometric designs, whirling logs, dogs, thunderbirds, arrows and more.

Five Wire bracelet, sometimes called spreadwire, made in copper by Bell Trading

The split shank bracelet, sometimes called spreadwire, made in copper by Bell Trading

Decorative stamping on the side pieces

Decorative stamping on the side pieces

border 2Whereas a split plate bracelet is is made from one piece of flat stock, a similar style bracelet, the “wire” bracelet is made from 2-10 or more separate bands of flat stock or round or triangular wire that are joined together at the ends.

Three “wire” bracelet made from three separate metal strips joined together at the terminal ends.

Three Wire bracelet made with round wire.

Three wire bracelet made with triangular wire.

Paula

Why do Navajo Pearls have hook and eye closures?

Dear Paula,

My concern is about the hook and eye closures on the silver beads (Navajo Pearls).  Are these secure?  I would think that they could fall off easily and do not understand why they do not come with a lobster claw or more secure closure.  Have most customers been satisfied with this kind of closure or do they tend to lose their jewelry? Is there anything that can be done to make this closure more secure?

Thank you.

MM

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Hello MM,

The hook and eye is traditional as the early Navajo artists did not have access to lobster claw clasps or other mechanical style clasps.

N227-squash-turq-27-5I’ve never had a necklace come undone. If you are worried you can squeeze the hook together which will make it more secure but also a little harder to hook.  Once on, I have found hook and eye closures to be quite secure.

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You could purchase a necklace extender with a lobster claw clasp. We offer both kinds but the hook and eye extenders sell 8:1 to the lobster claw clasps. It is a matter of tradition and personal preference.

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Paula

What does Coin Silver mean in relation to vintage Native American jewelry ?

Silver is 99.9% pure elemental silver.
Sterling Silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals, usually copper.

What is Coin Silver?

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In the US, the coin silver standard was established in the 1820s to be 90% silver and 10% copper and all dimes, quarters, half dollars and dollars until the end of 1964 were made of those metals.

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Coin Silver, when used in association with vintage Native American jewelry, is a term used to refer to the alloy that resulted when pre-1965 US silver coins were melted down to reuse in jewelry making.

This 1930’s bracelet was hand forged from a coin silver ingot. Coins were melted down and poured into a mold. The bracelet was then forged from the coin silver block or bar.

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Paula

 

Petrified Wood, Picture Jasper or Agate?

Some vintage Native American jewelry features beautiful “stones” that almost seem to show a scene or tell a story. Such stones could be Petrified Wood, Picture Jasper, or Agate.

(In all these photos, please ignore the reflection from the lights – although these bracelets are over 50-60 years old, the stones are as bright and shiny as the day they were made and really reflect the light.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPetrified wood is result of fossilization, the transformation of wood into agate through the process of absorption of the minerals into the cells of the wood. The resulting agate can be harder than steel.

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Petrified wood can contain a wide variety of materials and minerals but most commonly agate, jasper and opalized wood.
The colors that appear depend on what minerals are present. Iron oxides show reds and browns while manganese results in pink. Copper, cobalt, and chromium will exhibit as greens and blues. Carbon is black and silica is white or gray.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPicture Jasper is similarly formed when quartz-rich mud is fossilized.
With all those colors from unique layers of various minerals, the specific chemical environment (pH, moisture, temperature etc.) surrounding the wood or mud along with the factor of time, some beautiful scenes and symbols can appear in petrified wood, picture jasper and agate.

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What is Birdseye Turquoise?

Birdseye Turquoise is a term that describes turquoise that is somewhat similar to spiderweb turquoise in that it is made of an aggregate of many small nuggets but instead of a dark matrix like spiderweb, Birdseye Turquoise is light blue turquoise with a darker blue turquoise matrix.

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Natural Kingman Birdseye Turquoise Pendant by Navajo silversmith Cecil Atencio

 

The result when the stones are polished or cross cut and polished is that there are many small areas of lighter blue stone encircled by darker blue matrix like a bird’s eye, thus birdseye turquoise. Sometimes it is referred to as “water web” turquoise.

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Natural Kingman Birdseye Turquoise bracelet by Navajo artist, Albert Jake

 

Although the term refers to turquoise from any mine that looks like this, there are only a handful of mines that produce birdseye turquoise – namely Turquoise Mountain, Kingman, and Morenci. Turquoise Mountain (closed in the late 1980s) is loacated near the Kingman mine in northwestern Arizona.

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Natural Kingman Birdseye Turquoise Bracelet by Navajo artist Bennie Ration

Paula

What is Spiderweb Turquoise?

Spiderweb Turquoise is a term used to describe turquoise that looks like a spiderweb. It is not associated with any one mine, but many mines, some of the most notable being Kingman, Number 8, Lander Blue, Lone Mountain, Candelaria and others.

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Natural Kingman Spiderweb Turquoise pendant by Navajo silversmith Phillip Sanchez

 

As described below from the book “Turquoise The Gem of the Centuries” by Oscar R. Branson, spiderweb turquoise can be thought of as small pieces of turquoise cemented together with the mother rock (matrix). It is when these pieces are polished or cross cut that the spider web design emerges.

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When other materials appear within turquoise, those materials which often look like veins, are referred to as matrix or part of the “mother rock”. Matrix can range in color from honey gold (rhyolite, a volcanic rock) or brown (iron oxide) to jet black (iron pyrite aka iron sulfide) and many other color variations.

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The matrix can be in large random blotches or it can appear as uniform lines around evenly spaced cubicles, almost pattern-like, which brings to mind a net or a spiderweb, thus the name.

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Natural Kingman Spiderweb Turquoise pendant by Navajo artist Bennie Ration

 

In some parts of the world, turquoise stones with matrix are considered imperfect and clear turquoise stones are most desired but in the US, spiderweb turquoise has much more appeal and value.

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Spiderweb Turquoise bracelet by Navajo artist Peterson Johnson

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Spiderweb Turquoise bracelet by Navajo artist Peterson Johnson

Paula

Lawrence Saufkie carried on the Hopi Tradition of Overlay

Lawrence Saufkie (1935-2011), Hopi Pueblo, Bear Clan, was the son of Paul Saufkie Sr. and Ruby Saufkie and brother of Andrew Saufkie, Paul Saufkie, Jr., Vaughn Saufkie; husband of Griselda Saufkie; father of Wilmer Saufkie Lomayaoma; uncle of Bob Sekakuku.

Lawrence_SaufkieLawrence learned silverwork, particularly overlay, from his father Paul Saufkie Sr. His father and Fred Kaboutie began perfecting this style in the 1930s and when Hopi soldiers returned from World War II, they began teaching them the method.

What is Overlay?

With silver overlay, there are two layers of silver. The top layer is a scene, figures, or symbols meticulously cut out and then place on a solid silver layer.

The bottom layer is the background behind the cutouts and is traditionally darkened (oxidized) for contrast. In addition the same areas are usually etched with hashmarks.

The two layers are “sweated” together – that is, the silver is heated so that the two layers meld.

The result is a 3-D picture with great depth and interest.

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Throughout his life, Lawrence was a great ambassador of Hopi jewelry and a teacher to many.

His hallmark is a bear and SAUFKIE like this

Hallmark of Lawrence Saufkie, Hopi

Hallmark of Lawrence Saufkie, Hopi

Lawrence Saufkie was a Hopi silversmith for more than 60 years. In 1998, he was recognized by the American Museum of Natural History for his contributions to this art form and was the recipient of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts Lifetime Achievement Award.

Lawrence Saufkie was designated an Arizona Living Treasure in 2002. He has been featured in numerous magazines and books and his work has been collected by museums such as the Heard Museum, the Museum of Northern Arizona, the Peabody Museum, and Harvard University.

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