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