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
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.
The splits were originally made by hand with a saw or a cold chisel and a hammer.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.
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.
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.
The edges of the bracelets were often scalloped. The side panels were often stamped with geometric designs, whirling logs, dogs, thunderbirds, arrows and more.
The split shank bracelet, sometimes called spreadwire, made in copper by Bell Trading
Decorative stamping on the side pieces
Whereas 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.