Native American Jewelry Authentication Resources – Buyer Beware

This necklace fooled a lot of people, including the savvy collector who bought it years ago as well as several dealers in the business for over 40 years. It is not Native American made – it was made in the Philippines.

 

BUYERS

If you are thinking of purchasing a piece of vintage or contemporary jewelry and you assume or are told by the seller that it is Native American made, before you plunk down the cash, I encourage you to read through this article to find ways to authenticate the piece.

ebay has some very good sellers and can be a great place to shop but it is also loaded with counterfeit items and misrepresented pieces. BUYER BEWARE !

This is especially important if you are considering purchasing on eBay, etsy or one of the Native American warehouse type sites. While there are many educated, experienced, honest sellers on the internet, there are also those who either  A. don’t know or B. intentionally misrepresent. The latter type of seller really confuses things for everybody. So buying Native American jewelry on eBay or other auction sites is definitely a case of Buyer Beware.

SELLERS

I know there are many long-term, experienced and honest sellers of Native American jewelry around. So this information is not directed at you. The intent is to help new and inexperienced sellers of Native American jewelry.

If you are new to the Native American jewelry arena, know that if you are describing a piece as Native American made, you have a legal responsibility to be sure that it is authentic. These resources are provided to both serve your customers AND protect you as the seller.

Your reputation depends on satisfied customers and honest transactions. It doesn’t take long for word to get around if you are trying to pull a fast one to make a bigger sale through misrepresentation. And using “I didn’t know” doesn’t cut it. As a seller you are legally obligated to accurately represent the authenticity of an item. If you don’t know, take a deep breath, say you know don’t know and most importantly, don’t call it Native American.

NATIVE AMERICAN MADE OR NATIVE AMERICAN STYLE?

There is

A. authentic Native American made jewelry

B. counterfeit jewelry sold as Native American made (see next section)

C. Native American style jewelry that is not Native American made.

The latter type is also sometimes referred to as southwest jewelry since it copies many of the materials and designs of the southwest tribes.

I got into a funny back and forth discussion once with a customer who was trying to sell us her jewelry collection, mostly non NA made. They were nice sterling silver inlay pieces very typical of the southwest style. I said we weren’t interested as they were not authentic NA made. But she kept insisting that they were “real”, I think referring to the materials. Yes, real in the sense that you can touch and see the sterling and stone but they still were not made by NA hands, so they were not authentic NA made.

A perfect example of this type of “real” southwest jewelry (but not authentic Native American made jewelry) is Carolyn Pollack jewelry. Some of the pieces from that company are sterling silver and some also have real stones. People that like it love it.

Carolyn Pollack Southwest Style -Sterling Silver-YES …………………….. Real Turquoise – PROBABLY NOT ……………………………………………Pretty- YES ………………………………………………………………………….. Native American made – NO

There is a place for all type of items in the marketplace – as long as they are described accurately. Call a spade a spade.  You can read a little bit more about southwest style jewelry in my article “Info please on this pendant necklace with a crescent moon and a R”.

To qualify as Native American made, the piece must be made by a recognized, enrolled member of a Native American tribe.

Sterling Silver Wedding Basket Pendant by Navajo artist R.H. Begay

Read about the rules and regulations at the website of The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 where it states that “it is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian tribe.”

Below is an excellent article about a historic authentication group UITA.

Quest for Authenticity – The United Indian Traders Association: Better Quality, Greater Sales by Bille Hougart

FAKE NATIVE AMERICAN JEWELRY

There is a lot of counterfeit jewelry around – it is being sold as Native American made but is NOT. This is a distressing fact of life. What is even sadder is that the counterfeiters even copy the known hallmarks of legitimate NA artists, cutting sharply into the profits of the authentic artists and making it hard for even seasoned retailers to know the difference. Grrrrrrrr………..

Some of the counterfeit jewelry seized in a recent raid

Much of this type of counterfeit jewelry comes from overseas and is blatantly sold right in the heart of Indian country such as Gallup, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and the like.

To read about this problem and the latest sting operation, read  Biggest Fake Native American Art Conspiracy Revealed

HALLMARKS

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hallmarks are a great aid in linking an artist to a work but they are only one piece of the puzzle. It is just as important to know materials and design style of an artist. And due to the counterfeiting of the hallmarks themselves, some hallmarks are faked!

Authentic Native American items may or may not be hallmarked. Hallmarks are much more common since the 1970s but even today, many artists do not sign their work. This is especially true of stone necklaces, Navajo Pearls and earrings where there isn’t a convenient place to put a a hallmark. Hallmark tags are sometimes used on necklaces.

For more on hallmarks, read my articles:

What is a Native American Hallmark?

Native American Hallmark Books

Book Review – Native American and Southwestern Silver Hallmarks by Bille Hougart

Here is another great article from a favorite blogger of mine Kim Messier Reassessing Native American Hallmark Books

There is also an extensive hallmark list on this website

BOOKS

Besides hallmark books, there are many other books and published materials related to vintage and contemporary Native American jewelry. Look through the list of books in our reference library by clicking the link below:

Native American Reference Library at Horsekeeping LLC

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

BUY DIRECT FROM THE ARTIST OR FROM TRUSTED SELLERS

The best way to know you are buying authentic items, is to buy directly from the artist or from trusted galleries and sellers.

Horsekeeping LLC

Most artists are not set up to sell retail – they do not have stores or websites. Some artists do. But most sell to gallery or store owners that want to carry their work.  For example, read our authenticity policy at our webstore horsekeeping.com.

Authenticity of Native American Jewelry Policy at Horsekeeping

Vintage Shop at Horsekeeping LLC

Our MO (Method of Operation) is that if we have not purchased the item directly from the artist (which occurs frequently when we purchase estate lots) we try to authenticate the origin definitively. If we can not, then we do not call it Native American, we do not call it Navajo, Zuni or Hopi. We just sell it as-is even though it might show all the characteristics of being Native American made. This is important to us, to our customers and to Native American artists.

If an item is of unknown origin and/or materials and does not show design or workmanship characteristics of Native American jewelry, it goes into the Bargain Barn. We have made a few mistakes over the years and put some valuable things in there just because we couldn’t authenticate them. But better to err on the safe side.

Bargain Barn for items of unknown origin

 

CERTIFICATE OF AUTHENTICITY

Unless filled out by the artist, a COA is not worth the paper it is printed on………..

Legally, only the artist who makes a piece can fill out a Certificate of Authenticity (COA). Otherwise IMHO, a COA is not worth the paper it is printed on. Therefore, for a seller to send you a generic certificate or one that the seller signs serves no purpose. Most artists sign their work with a hallmark.  Of those that do not sign, very few provide COAs.

NATIVE AMERICAN JEWELRY GROUPS

So what to do in the case of unsigned vintage or contemporary pieces? One route it to find Native American jewelry “experts”. The internet makes this possible through groups.

There are many groups on the internet that are devoted to Native American jewelry,. Some have great educational and sharing atmospheres! Others are negative and combative and some members give answers and opinions that are self-aggrandizing and self-serving. As with any group, the cream will rise to the top.  I’ll list a few of my favorite groups below. After you successfully join the group, ask for comments on the piece you are considering buying or are getting ready to sell.

Here are some group tips:

  1. When you post to a group, give as much information as possible: dimensions, weight, type of materials, where you got it, any other provenance you might have.
  2. Include a lot of photos with your question. They should be large, clear and show all aspects of the piece, including closeups of key features and hallmarks. Even with all this it is sometimes hard to tell for sure if something is authentic from photos. There is nothing like having the piece in hand. But in many cases, photos do the trick because certain aspects are easily recognizable.
  3. Everyone has an opinion. Some opinions are better than others. And some opinions are just not right ! Once you join a group you will soon learn which members not only have an opinion but back it up with experience, facts, information and research. Those members are gold.
  4. Some comments might sting because not all members filter their thoughts. Your 1970s bracelet might be called rough or ugly even if it IS NA made. So brace yourself for some honest opinions. Also be ready for people to make inappropriate comments when they haven’t even taken the time to thoroughly look at your photos, read your description or read previous comments. Some just leap before they look. Or look but do not see. So take all comments with a grain of salt.
  5. Be polite and grateful and contribute when you can – that’s what makes a community work !
  6. Don’t use the group space for personal chatter and silliness. Most groups prefer to stick to the topics at hand. Post a serious inquiry, you are likely to get a serious answer. After all, that is what you want, right?

Here are some of my favorite groups – please let me know of others that you think should be added to the list.

Navajo Jewelry: Antique, Mid-Century, & Contemporary

Historic Navajo Jewelry

Let’s Talk Turquoise

Historic Hopi and Pueblo Jewelry

Contemporary Zuni Jewelry

Historic Zuni Jewelry

Zuni Jewelry – Let the Buyer Beware

Paula

12 thoughts on “Native American Jewelry Authentication Resources – Buyer Beware

  1. I enjoy reading your very informative articles. For that, I thank you. On another note, I was a member of the FB group Navajo Jewelry: Antique, Mid-century, Contemporary. For some reason, I can no longer access it. Has it been dismantled? Maybe I was deleted? It was one of my all time favorite go to groups for wonderful insight. I would love to be readded!

    Thanks, Paula!

  2. Great post. my family has been in the jewlery business in Arizona since the late 40s. My grandfather started a school of Horology (watchmaker school)after WW2 as well as a fine jewelry store in downtown Phoenix so of course my mother loved Indian jewlery, as it was called at the time. My mother and stepfather started in the Indian jewlery business in 1975. To make a long story longer we knew a bit about the business.

    We sold mostly work by Navajo artists since that is what we personally liked. Like any good store at the time we carried it all. We only went to the reservation and Gallup once after that they found us. All the buying took place in the store and the customers loved that. they could meet the artist and have their picture taken with them if their timing was good.
    When the customer would ask questions about the jewelry we told them the truth. we had a little old Navajo lady that would come in with her grandkids to sell their work and she would bring hers. she only strung jewelry and most of the time the stones were fake but she liked the colors. we had tables with all our strung jewelry out so people could try it on. a few times when I would put out the little lady’s necklaces after we bought people would ask us that real…it didnt look real.
    I would say are the stones real? no. is it made by an indian artist? yes.
    sometimes the little lady was still out in front of our store so I would point her out. She usually had on the traditional Navajo velvet dress in purple with all her jewelry on, long dark hair tied back with grey roots. I would tell them it may not have real stones but it is made by a Navajo woman who is 92 years old. she cant afford to buy expensive beads so she does what she can. we usually bought everything she had and never tried to get a better price so she lived us and that little lady’s work would usually sell before she left town.

    so that was my first story. second one
    The imitation jewelry first started coming in to the US, it came mostly from the Philippines at the start. The artist would buy the block stone inlay cabs and even jewelry from traders and were told it was made in shops in Gallup. they took shortcuts and were fooled. the shops that employed many artists used those things as well. they still do but it is made by native American artists so it’s a very fine line that is crossed many times. it has been a very grey area for years. many artists will buy the feathers, animals, leaves and flowers from large companies that have shops over seas casting the silver. a large portion of the turquoise out there is from China mountain a company that carries Chinese turquoise. The turquoise that is mined here in the states is sent to China to be stabilised, heat color processed and cut. The EPA has made it so difficult and costly to process any of it here in the USA. the idea that most people still have in their head as to what all is handmade on the item they purchase is very far from the truth. At least when you are talking about the average piece of new jewelry they buy under $100.00, most of that is made in a shop and basically assembled by a N.A. artist.

    we had our stores for 24 years, we sold our last one in November of 2000. I still miss it, my mom…not so much. we had shops in Carefree az, Scottsdale az, west Yellowstone mt, Bozeman mt and Jackson Wyoming. At 80 my mother (and I part time) is still working in the jewlery business only now managing a store for a custom fine jewelry/ repair shop in carefree. we have many pieces of old native American jewelry that we originally sold in the 70s and 80s

    sorry so long I just love talking jewelry. thanks
    kathy

    • Kathy !! What a great post. Thank you so much for sharing your family’s experience. As you say, it does help to put things in perspective and is revealing in terms of the realities. Thanks so much for writing – I’m sure a lot of people will enjoy your stories ! Paula

  3. Fantatic work, Paula. Not only should people not in the know thank you, those of us (supposedly) in the know should as well. it’s easy to get fooled even if you think you’re experienced. Please continue to educate us.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s