All About Link Bracelets – Native American and Otherwise

A variety of link bracelets

A variety of link bracelets, most Native American made with a few vintage costume jewelry and a few Mexican bracelets.

The traditional southwestern Native American bracelet is a cuff bracelet.

BP202-OS-634-turq-CTE-1

Vintage 9 Stone Kingman Turquoise and Sterling Silver Cuff Bracelet – C.T.E. Sterling. Raymond Etsitty, Navajo

BP202-OS-634-turq-CTE-5

 

 

But a cuff is not for everyone and especially some women, so in response to market demand, along the way, Navajo, Hopi and Zuni artists began making link bracelets.

Link bracelets are a great alternative to cuff bracelet – they are light, loose, airy and have a nice movement and feel to them. They are great for summer.

And if you are like me and want to wear more than one bracelet at a time, link bracelets make a nice addition on the same wrist as a watch, cuff bracelet or bangle bracelet.

Ken and Mary Bill - Navajo

12 K G.F. and Sterling Silver by Ken and Mary Bill – Navajo

Shirley Tso - Navajo

Rhodochrosite, Mother of Pearl and Opal Inlay by Shirley Tso – Navajo

Southwest Native Americans learned the art of silversmithing from plateros, Mexican silversmiths. Therefore I am including some Mexican link bracelets in this group to show various features.

Two Mexican-made bracelets stamped MEXICO 925

Two Mexican-made bracelets stamped MEXICO 925

The first Native American link bracelets started appearing in the Fred Harvey era and were made of copper.

Copper Thunderbird Link Bracelet - Fred Harvey Era but no markings

Copper Thunderbird Link Bracelet – Fred Harvey Era but no markings

Not all link bracelets are created equal. They take a lot of work to put together. Because they are somewhat “mechanical”, i.e. they have moving parts, either they work well or they don’t. That aim of this article is to point out some of the variables so you can choose the perfect link bracelet.

First of all, these are the main styles with materials most commonly used in Native American Link bracelets.

Sterling Silver Stamped Bead Link Bracelet by Navajo Marie Yazzie.

SILVER – Sterling Silver Stamped Bead Link Bracelet by Navajo Marie Yazzie.

 

Larry Lincoln Navajo Sterling Silver and Gold Storyteller Link Bracelet

STORYTELLER – Larry Lincoln, Navajo Sterling Silver and Gold Storyteller Link Bracelet

12 K G.F. and STERLING link bracelet with decorative box latch.

SILVER AND GOLD – 12 K G.F. and STERLING link bracelet with decorative box latch.

Lambert Perry, Navajo sterling silver concha style link bracelet

CONCHA STYLE – Lambert Perry, Navajo sterling silver concha style link bracelet

Rhodochrosite Inlay by Navajo Shirley Tso

INLAY – Rhodochrosite Inlay by Navajo Shirley Tso

Turquoise and Sterling Silver Cluster

STONE – Turquoise and Sterling Silver Cluster

LEATHER – Concha Belt Style by Navajo Danny Martinez

Next, how are the various panels attached to each other?

HINGES

HINGES

RINGS

RINGS

How do the ends fasten?

ADJUSTABLE WITH TOGGLE AND RINGS

ADJUSTABLE WITH TOGGLE AND RINGS – Lambert Perry, Navajo

BOX CLASP WITH TAB INSERT

BOX CLASP WITH TAB INSERT – Alonzo Mariano, Navajo

LOBSTER CLAW CLASP THAT ATTACHES TO RINGS - Navajo Scott Skeets

LOBSTER CLAW CLASP THAT ATTACHES TO RINGS – Navajo Scott Skeets

SPRING RING CLASP - Marie Yazzie, Navajo

SPRING RING CLASP – Marie Yazzie, Navajo

Sister (Scissor) Clasp on vintage copper Thunderbird Link Bracelet

SISTER CLASP – Sister (Scissor) Clasp on vintage copper Thunderbird Link Bracelet

BUCKLE - Concha belt style - Danny Martinez, Navajo

BUCKLE – Concha belt style – Danny Martinez, Navajo

Fold Over Clasp

FOLD OVER CLASP – OPEN on Sterling Silver Marcasite Bracelet stamped 925

Fold Over Clasp closed on Sterling Silver Marcasite Bracelet stamped 925

FOLD OVER CLASP – CLOSED on Sterling Silver Marcasite Bracelet stamped 925

Peg With Keeper

PEG WITH LATCH (KEEPER)

Vintage Topaz link bracelet with hidden latch

HIDDEN – Vintage Topaz link bracelet (from my mother’s jeweler box) with hidden latch

What are some  other features?

Tillie Jon, Navajo Storyteller Overlay Link Bracelet with Safety Chain, Spring Ring Clasp

SAFETY CHAIN WITH SPRING RING CLASP – Tillie Jon, Navajo Storyteller Overlay Link Bracelet with Box Latch and Safety Chain

Stephen Haloo, Zuni Snake Eye Link Bracelet with safety chain and lobster claw clasp

SAFETY CHAIN WITH LOBSTER CLAW CLASP – Stephen Haloo, Zuni Snake Eye Link Bracelet with box latch and safety chain

Lapis Link Bracelet stamped 950 (greater silver content than Sterling) with box latch and safety clasp.

SAFETY LATCH (KEEPER) – Lapis Link Bracelet stamped 950 (greater silver content than Sterling) with box latch and safety clasp (keeper).

Box Latch with Keeper on top edge

SAFETY LATCH – Box Latch with Keeper on top edge

HERE ARE TWO UNIQUE HINGED CUFFS

Yazzie Navajo Link Cuff Bracelet with Amber

HINGED CUFF – Yazzie Navajo Link Cuff Bracelet with Amber

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HINGED LINK CUFF – Jay Boyd Inlay Bracelet

Jay Boyd Hinged Link Cuff Bracelet

HINGED LINK CUFF – Jay Boyd Inlay Bracelet

Remember, you will be putting a link bracelet on with one hand, so choose one that has a fastener you can easily operate.

Although many link bracelets are adjustable, be sure to choose a length that will allow the bracelet to fit like you want – snug in place, loose, or actively moving.

I hope that this article has helped you find the missing link in your jewelry collection !

Paula

 

 

To Polish or Not to Polish, That is the Question……….

We sell many used and vintage pieces that have from light to heavy patina and tarnish on them. We leave the choice of whether to polish or not to the customer.

Patina is the overall uniform darkening that occurs from aging. Patina adds a richness to vintage pieces. How much patina you like is personal preference, there is no right or wrong.

Tarnish, on the other hand, is a thin dirty film that appears on silver as it oxidizes. Tarnish, in my opinion, should be remove regularly using a mild method, such as with a buffing cloth.  Each of these pieces took about one minute to fully polish with a cloth.

Here is one of my favorite contemporary Hopi Man in a Maze bracelets (by Cyrus Josytewa) before buffing. Basically a dirty bracelet !

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BEFORE

30 seconds later - half done

30 seconds later – half done

DONE One minute of polishing

DONE One minute of polishing

Tarnish on polishing cloth

Tarnish on polishing cloth

Hubby’s favorite buckle (Stanley Gene, Navajo) has some nice patina and also has tarnish. I’m on the fence with this piece – I actually think I prefer the overall patina but he volunteered it for an example. A buckle makes contact with a lot of surfaces so even after the tarnish is removed, the buckles still has its character scratches.

BEFORE

BEFORE

Midway

Midway

AFTER

AFTER

Here are some more articles related to jewelry care:

Are you supposed to polish Navajo Pearls?

Cleaning Vintage Native American Jewelry

A reminder about jewelry polishing cloths

Paula

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.

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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

NR507-11-nugget-turq-leekya-1

WL-399-turq-leekya-3

NR508-1114-nugget-turq-leekya-1

WM180-turq-leekya-3

NR509-11-nugget-turq-leekya-1

WM-189-turq-leekya-5

S421-turq-buckle-bolo-watch-4A

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.

Paula

What does INGOT mean in relation to Native American jewelry?

Early Native American jewelry (pre-1930’s) was hand forged from hand made ingots. An ingot is a simply a bar or block of metal. The blocks can be any shape but are traditionally rectangles.

ingots

The metals most commonly used in Native American jewelry are sterling silver or coin silver. You can read about coin silver in a previous post. It should be noted that some vintage ingots are “blends”, that is mostly Mexican coins with a few US coins thrown in OR vice versa. Also beginning the 1930’s the blend could be sterling silver with a few US coins thrown in or any variation thereof. That’s why the exact silver content will vary widely in vintage jewelry.

Silver-Ingots-Coins-02

The beauty of silver is that it can be flattened, stretched, shaped and twisted using hand tools.

hand toolsTo make an ingot, the chosen metal is melted, then poured into block forms.

pouring metal cropped

Once cooled to the perfect working temperature the blocks can be hammered into sheets, wires or other shapes needed for the piece. Silver, sterling silver and coin silver are all malleable, that is they are soft enough to be worked with hand tools – the silver is often reheated in a fire pit or forge several times before the piece is finished.

Jewelry that was hand forged and hand hammered is now rare, collectible and expensive because modern jewelry is no longer hand-hammered from ingots. Rather it is made from machine-rolled sterling silver sheet and wire and pre-made elements like leaves, flowers and buttons.

One way to tell that jewelry has been hand hammered from an ingot is the evidence of folding and layering that is seen on the back side such as here on this early bracelet.

BP256-BC-row-turq-634-4 BP256-BC-row-turq-634-5

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?

JUNKQTRS
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.

12-19-11-silver-dimes

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. Coin silver made from US coins has less silver than sterling silver (90% compared to 92.5% in sterling silver) but that doesn’t necessarily make coin silver jewelry less desirable. In fact, because coin silver jewelry is usually older and hand hammered, it might be more valuable than if it were made of sterling silver.

Vintage Mexican coins often had a silver content above that of US coins, therefore was softer and easier to hand hammer and preferred by some old-time silversmiths. Some Mexican coin silver jewelry will test as high as sterling silver.

Early Native American craftsmen made jewelry directly from the coins, heating the coins in a fire pit or forge and hammering them into shape. Items like this often have some faint residual impressions from the coin design remaining.

They also made ingots by melting coins and pouring the liquid metal into molds to form ingots (blocks or bars). They then would hand forge, or hammer, an ingot into the shape of a bracelet or other item. It should be noted that some vintage ingots are “blends”, that is mostly Mexican coins with a few US coins thrown in OR mostly sterling silver with a few US coins thrown in or any variation thereof. That’s why the exact silver content will vary widely in the vintage jewelry.

This 1930’s bracelet was hand forged and tests at least as high as sterling silver, so is one of those “blends”.

 

Paula

What is the history on this bracelet I bought at an antique shop?

Hi Paula,

I recently acquired a stunning, signed turquoise and silver bracelet and don’t know anything about its origin. Purchased at a local antique shop, the owner didn’t have any information on it but I simply liked the looks of the piece and my husband purchased it for me. How could I better research this item?

I attempted to post my pictures and questions to your blog, but I couldn’t find where to post it on WordPress. Did you mean for me to send you an email with the photos and information? See attached photos and description below. I will be checking the blog for your response.

Thanks,

Frani

DSC_0106 DSC_0109 HI Frani,

Yes a stunning bracelet, that is for sure. It seems to be a vintage Navajo cuff made with a gorgeous piece of turquoise. I see it has a stable crack.

You sent the signature as if it were MS but when I flipped the photo so that it read SW, it seemed more like a natural flow of the signature.

DSC_0109 right side upNone of my vintage hallmark books show an SW hallmark. We have purchased some contemporary pieces by a Navajo artist Steve Wallace but he stamps the initials in Gothic SW and wouldn’t have been around to make this vintage piece.

Perhaps someone else might have an idea.

Regardless, it is very pretty, vintage Navajo cuff bracelet !

Paula

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BST470-SF-turq-leaves-65-1

Could this be a bracelet by Navajo artist Rose Draper?

Hi Paula

I have a HUGE unsigned bracelet which looks very much in the style of Rose Draper’s stuff. The turquoise is the size of the palm of my hand. I have the following questions:

Did she sign all of her pieces?

Is she (or her family)still alive and if so how could I contact her?

Do you know the source (mine) of the turquoise she used.

I’m trying to identify the turquoise for the purpose of my will.

It weighs 155g. The top measures 97 x 62mm. The Turquoise is 69 x 58mm.

Each side has a different design. The pictures are scanned not photographed.

I know this is not your job but any help in answering my questions would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you in advance….

Joan

!cid_image002_jpg@01CE50B6 !cid_image004_jpg@01CE50B6 !cid_image006_jpg@01CE50B6Hi Joan,

After handling  a good number of Rose Draper’s pieces, I would say probably not by her. I base this on the following:

All pieces we have by her are hallmarked.

I have never seen one by her that is even remotely this big and heavy.

The design elements are quite different from the ones she used.

You have a beautiful bracelet and it certainly seems to be made by a Navajo silversmith. I’d be guessing at the mine from this one scan. It could be Fox Mountain – I own several pieces myself that are from that mine and look very similar to this stone. But there are stone experts out there that might read this post and give another opinion.

Paula