Native American Jewelry Methods – Sterling Silver Stamped Bracelet

One of the first types of bracelets made by Navajo silversmiths was a Die Stamped Bracelet.

Stamped Sterling Silver Cuff Bracelet by Navajo Silversmith Mary Bill

Stamped Sterling Silver Cuff Bracelet by Navajo Silversmith Mary Bill

Worn by both men and women, the die stamp bracelet is a simple design that requires few tools to make.

First the silversmith cuts a strip of 16 gauge sterling silver to fit the intended wrist size. Since cuff bracelets often have a 1” gap give or take a ½” or so, when making bracelets for a 7” wrist, the smith would start with a 6” long strip of sterling silver and as wide as desired.

Sterling Silver Stamped Wide Cuff by Navajo Silversmith Ken Bill

Sterling Silver Stamped Wide Cuff by Navajo Silversmith Ken Bill

The strip is either left a uniform width (see wide cuff above)

OR is shaped so that the front of the bracelet (the center of the strip) is the widest portion and the bracelet tapers to narrower ends

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OR the ends are widened to form fish-tail ends, for comfort, such as on the large, heavy bracelet below by Mary and Kenneth Bill.

Then the edges might be further shaped into scallops or other edge contours (cut and filed). Then while stamping close to the edge, the stamp design and edging are blended harmoniously.

Navajo Sterling Silver Stamped Bracelet with Detailed Edging by Wilbert Benally

Navajo Sterling Silver Stamped Bracelet with Detailed Edging by Wilbert Benally

Next the design is chosen. Then the appropriate dies (hardened steel tools with design stamps on one end and a striking surface on the other) are used to create the figures and patterns on the silver blank. When the die is held in one hand and a hammer (with a steel head) is held in the other, it is referred to as hand stamping.

Detailed Stamped Sterling Silver Cuff by Navajo Silversmith Vincent Platero

Detailed Hand Stamped Sterling Silver Cuff by Navajo Silversmith Vincent Platero

Some modern artists use a machine to apply stamped designs.

If a hallmark is going to be stamped on the inside, it is done so now, along with any metal designation such as Sterling or 14K. We intentionally don’t show photos of the hallmarks of Native American artists because counterfeiters often copy the hallmarks onto the fake jewelry they make. Out of respect to the artists whose work we represent, we try never to reveal the hallmarks.

Finally the bracelet is formed over a mandrel using a rawhide, wooden or leather mallet.. A mandrel is a hardened steel “arm” that tapers from a small size to a large size. The mandrel might be part of an anvil or a separate piece clamped onto a work bench. Where and how the bracelet is shaped on the mandrel will determine its finished overall shape and gap dimension.

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4 thoughts on “Native American Jewelry Methods – Sterling Silver Stamped Bracelet

  1. This was such an instructive article. Thank you.

    I see bracelets, made this way, quite often. The simple ones, without much decoration, can be so elegant. I am continually impressed with the fine eye for detail that Native American jewelers possess.

    That was an interesting comment on concealing the hallmark to reduce counterfeit work. Too bad you have to do this, but it is necessary.

    Kathleen

    • It is a big knock-off world out there with jewelry, designer hand bags and more. You should see the emails I get to our main website http://www.horsekeeping.com from Asian retailers trying to sell us Native American jewelry – it is pathetic. I wish there was somewhere I could report them but them being out of US, I think it is very hard to enforce. Here is some reading on Authenticity.

      You hit the nail on the head when you said you are continually impressed with the fine eye for detail that Native American jewelers possess – and add to that, from one year to the next it is always something new – each item is unique and they are always reinventing their designs and what they create. Certainly never boring for us ! The only downside to that is if someone asks us to try and get them Bracelet XYZ that is marked sold on our site, it is next to impossible to do since these things are not mass produced and change from year to year. Each buying trip is like a treasure hunt.

  2. Hello, I found a bracelet that looks really old. But it is stamped sterling 925 I belive maybe 926.
    It is like your article 16 gauge with two different marks going around it. A scaley fish Ithink and then 5 ball like objects. Its very warrped but not broke.
    Didnt know if I sent you a couple pics you could take a look? Thank you..

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