Southwest Native American Rings

A few years back a woman wrote me saying:

“I am looking for one of those turquoise indian rings.”

I thought, “Gee……..where do I start”……….?? So I asked her to describe the one she was looking for and she said “like a wedding band”. I immediately thought of the Zuni inlay rings that have been popular for many years and sold all over the southwest. I sent her this photo and she said – “Exactly”.

Phew, that was an easy one.

Shortly after that a man wrote asking for a ring like he saw in Thunderheart (the movie)

Now there I had a better idea of what he was looking for since I have watched that movie a dozen times and even got my husband a ring like the big turquoise oval one in the movie.

1 3/8″ turquoise ring by the late M. NARANJO, Tewa

However, there were at least 4 different types of rings in the movie, so I devoted a blog article to answer his question in detail – to see examples of the 4 rings in the movie, click the link below.

I want to get a ring like I saw in the movie Thunderheart

Over the years I have helped a number of people find the ring of their dreams. But I thought one way to further help would be to categorize, describe and show photos of some of the more commonly made types of Native American rings, thus creating a vocabulary of sorts to allow a dialogue to get started.

MATERIALS

In most cases, Native American rings are made from sterling silver – you can read about silver by clicking the link below to my blog post:

Jewelry Silver – Not All Silver is Created Equal

Some rings are solely made of sterling. But the vast majority also feature stones, shells and other materials.

Here is a list of commonly used materials in Native American rings: (I have written articles about some of the materials, so you can click on those that are hyperlinks to learn more). To read about other materials, look in the right hand column of the home page of this blog and you’ll see an outline of article topics – scroll to Materials – there are plenty more materials listed there.

Acoma Jet
Bear Claws and other claws
Coral
Gaspeite
Jasper
Lapis Lazuli
Mother of Pearl
Onyx
Opal (natural and imitation)
Malachite
Petrified Wood
Spiny Oyster (orange and purple)
Tiger Eye
Turquoise
White Buffalo Stone

TRIBAL STYLES

Generally southwest Native American rings are made by Navajo, Zuni or Hopi jewelers.

In VERY general terms, I’ll first describe the types of rings associated with each tribe but I’ll provide much more detail throughout this article.

Navajo rings are typically a sterling silver band, often heavy and/or elaborate. The band can be silver only or have stones that are set with various types of bezels.  For more information on bezels, read my article  Types of Bezels  If a Navajo ring is inlaid, the inlay pieces are usually separated by silver channels.

Zuni rings are usually either stone-on-stone inlays (no silver channels in between the pieces), snake rings, snake eyepetit point or needlepoint. 

Hopi rings are most often sterling silver overlays with contrasting (oxidized) and textured backgrounds.

NAVAJO RINGS

There are a number of ring styles that are associated with Navajo silversmiths. I’ll mention some of the most common and popular.

Storyteller

One traditional style of Navajo silver ring is a storyteller. Individual scenes depicting daily life are cut out of a sheet of silver and layed over an oxidized background.

Storyteller bracelets show Navajo life. The home (hogan) and the activities around the home such as cooking, weaving, tending livestock, driving a wagon to town. The scenery of the area such as buttes, trees and shrubs and sometimes clouds are also depicted.

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Silver

There is nothing better for everyday wear than a well-made silver Navajo ring. Below is a slide show depicting some popular silver Navajo ring styles including stamped, repousse, overlay and more. Click here to see more silver rings.

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Sandcast

Sand cast and tufa cast items are made using a mold into which molten silver is poured. Click to read more about Cast Jewelry, To see more cast rings, click here

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Single Stone Turquoise

Possibly the most iconic Navajo ring is the single turquoise stone. Put one on and you feel like a million dollars. Below is a wonderful array of single stone turquoise rings, both polished cabochons and nuggets. To see more turquoise rings, click here.

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Single Stone Other

When you need a Jet or Mother of Pearl or Lapis ring to go with your outfit, you will likely be able to find a beautiful Navajo single stone ring to fit the bill. To see more single stone rings, click here

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Cluster

Cluster refers to a group of stones usually set in a circular or oval pattern. While often associated with Zuni artists, there are a number of Navajo smiths that have made cluster rings over the years. To see the cluster rings we have for sale, click here 

Turquoise and Coral

A very popular color combination is coral and turquoise together. Turquoise is a happy stone by itself – add a dash of coral and you’ll just be giddy ! Very classic and classy. To see the turquoise and coral rings we have to offer, click here

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MOP and Other Shell

Mother of Pearl, Pink Shell, Abalone, Paua Shell and other shells add a bit of gleam and glitter to a ring. To see more examples, click here.  

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Claw

Claw rings are a popular design, especially with men, The claws can be real or faux claws and traditionally are bear but can also be from smaller animals like coyotes. To see more examples of bear claw rings, click here.

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Silver Channel Inlay

Navajo inlay usually features silver channels between pieces of stone. Click here to see more.

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Inlay

Although pictorial inlay is more commonly associated with Zuni artists, there are a number of Navajo that make beautiful and unique inlay rings. Click here to see vintage Navajo rings. 

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Corn Row, Cobblestone and Mosaic Inlay

Three types of inlay that are somewhat similar are Mosaic Inlay (click the link to go to a separate article), Corn Row and Cobblestone inlay. They are a more 3 dimensional type of inlay than the flat inlay of Zuni artists.

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Shadowbox

The shadowbox technique consists of a cutout top layer that is usually (but not always) domed and that is soldered to a solid bottom layer with or without a dark contrasting background. The shadowbox might be all silver or incorporate stones.

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Leaf and Feather

A very popular design style for Navajo rings, especially those made for the tourist trade, is the incorporation of a leaf or feather along with the other silver work or stones. The leaves and feather might be hand made or the could be ready-made cast pieces that the silversmith purchases from a trading post and adds onto the ring. Some wrap around rings are made of a single feather. To see many examples of leaf and feather rings, click here.

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Cigar Band

Cigar band style refers to a wide band with stamping. To read more about this style, click on my post- What is a Cigar Band Ring? 

Here is an example of a cigar band ring using White Buffalo Stone. It was made by Tony Garcia. 

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ZUNI RINGS

Zuni rings are usually one of 4 types: Inlay, Petit Point, Needlepoint and Snake Eye.

Inlay

Zuni inlay is usually stone-on-stone inlay, that is, the stone or shell pieces touch each other, there is no silver channel work in between. However, just as I say that, you will see below some examples of Zuni inlay that does incorporate silver channels. There are no hard and fast rules – just generalizations.

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Petit Point

Petit Point is comprised of long, narrow teardrop-shaped stones and possibly round dots.

Needlepoint 

Needlepoint is comprised of straight, long, narrow stones that are pointed on both ends. Here are examples of needlepoint rings:

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Snake Eye

Snake Eye rings are comprised of many tiny spherical cabochons of turquoise (usually). You can read more about Snake Eye in my article

Here is a 100 stone snake eye ring by April and Peter Halloo, Zuni

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Here are more examples of snake eye rings:

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Snake Rings

Some Zuni families, most notably that of Effie Calavaza, make snake motif rings.

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HOPI RINGS

Hopi rings are traditionally overlay with contrasting (oxidized) and texturized backgrounds. Sometimes the designs are easily recognizable animal and other natural elements, other times they are abstracts.

Here is an example of a Hopi overlay ring by Raymond Kyasyousie.

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More hopi ring examples:

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To read more about rings, here is an interesting book that I reviewed here on this blog:

Book Look: Southwestern Indian Rings by Paula A. Baxter

 

Paula

Knifewing – Native American Diety

Who is Knifewing?

Knifewing, also Knife Wing, is a half man – half eagle Zuni spirit or god with razor sharp feathers made of flint. He is the ultimate warrior.

Unmarked vintage knifewing pin

Anthropologist Frank Hamilton Cushing, who lived with the Zunis from 1879-1884 described knifewing this way:

“This curious god is the hero of hundreds of folklore tales, the tutelary deity of several societies of Zuni. He is represented as possessing a human form, furnished with flint knife-feathered pinions, and tail. His dress consists of the conventional terraced cap (representative of his dwelling place among the clouds). His weapons are the Great Flint-Knife of War, the Bow of the Skies (the Rainbow), and the Arrow of Lightning. His guardians or warriors are the Great Mountain Lion of the North and that of the upper regions. He was doubtless the original War God of the Zunis.”

From the Encyclopedia of Native American Jewelry by Paula Baxter:

Baxter

Baxter

From North American Indian Jewelry and Adornment by Dubin

Dubin

Dubin

Horace Iule (also known for his crosses) is credited with creating the first knifewing design in the late 1920s, cut and filed out of hand-wrought silver.

Read more about Horace Iule in The Navajo and Pueblo Silversmiths by Adair

Adair

Adair

Adair

Afterwards, other Zuni, Navajo and Pueblo began producing knifewing designs.

The knifewing became one of the first designs that the Zuni inlaid with stones. An interesting excerpt from Zuni – a Village of Silversmiths

Zuni – a Village of Silversmiths

In this slide show, there are three vintage kinfewing inlay bracelet examples. To see more details on them, visit our Vintage Bracelet section. 

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Below is a slide show of a Sterling silver box with inlay knifewing by Suzie James Navajo

Paula

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Meet Monty Claw and his Unique Jewelry

Monty Claw

We are so happy to have met Monty Claw and feature some of his unique jewelry in our webstore.

Navajo artist Monty Claw is largely self-taught although he did study at The Institute of American Indian Arts.

He has worked in many mediums including leather and beadwork, making feather fans, painting and silversmithing.       

See two of Monty’s fans below in this slide show   – for more details, see Fans on our website. 

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Monty Claw and his work have been featured in a number of publications including The Smithsonian Magazine and Native Peoples Magazine.

Monty’s pieces appear in museum quality collections such as Nelson Atkins, The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Denver Art Museum, The Sam Noble Museum, and Musée Du Quai Branly in Paris, France. Watch the slide show below to see some of his museum quality pieces. 

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Although he has only been a full time jeweler since 2011 he has already started accumulating awards: SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market, The Heard Museum Indian Market, and Cherokee Art Market in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Today Monty focuses mainly on jewelry and metalsmithing and specializes in tufa cast pieces. He creates amazing works of silver and gold occasionally set with precious gems like turquoise, coral, and diamonds. But truth be told, he really prefers to work in all metal.

He enjoys creating sculptural pieces that look like they are going to walk or fly off a ring or bracelet and come to life.

His pieces are unique, with singularly creative details. His ideas range from traditional to beyond modern, from beautiful to edgy, from simple classics to groundbreaking creations. He creates many pieces related to animal and spiritual beings. Click on the photos below to see more views and dimensions.

First People

Yei Bi Chei

Apache Crown Dancer

Raven Spirit

Dragonfly Spirit

Wolf Spirit

 

His work is highly sought after by major collectors, museum board members, major curators and Native American jewelry enthusiasts who just love to wear his pieces.

Monty Claw tells us stories with his jewelry as he continues on his creative path.

Paula – I’m closing with a photo of the first of my many Monty Claw pieces – a treasured buffalo inlay buckle………..

Paula’s inlay buffalo belt buckle by Monty Claw

The Eagle Has Landed – Inlay Repair by My Favorite Silversmith

Carlene Leekity Inlay Eagle Necklace – do you see the missing inlay?

When this Carlene Leekity eagle inlay necklace came into the store in an estate lot, I didn’t even notice there was a piece of inlay missing because the backing material was black just like the shell inlay.

Henry and Diane to the rescue !

I’ve been working with Diane Radeke and Henry Yazzie for at least 6 years. Their team has done repairs on many vintage items that have arrived as part of estate lots but needed TLC before we could offer them in our Vintage Shop. Diane is the point person but I think of her more as a shepherdess who guides the project masterfully from start to finish. She determines what needs to be done, what the customer wants, and then confers with her partner, Henry Yazzie, to determine what supplies are needed and what the cost will be. Henry creates wonderful custom jewelry and also does careful, creative, excellent repairs. You can read about other projects we have worked on over the years by simply searching “Repairs” in the search box on this blog. Contact information for Diane and Henry is at the end of this article and at My Favorite Silversmith.

Henry graciously supplied us with some photos and explained the steps he follows to repair missing inlaid shell or stone pieces in jewelry:

He first examines the missing stone area.  There may be material in the opening that raised the stone or shell to the correct height.  This material may be clear epoxy, which turns brown or yellow over time, Dev-con, which is generally gray, or JB Weld, which is often black.  The base material can stay in place if it is still tight and in good shape. Otherwise it will need to be removed and replaced.

Henry then selects a stone or shell that will be the correct height and size for the opening.  The pen shell for this repair (see photos below) was procured for me by a good friend D. Robert Smith who is an excellent lapidarist at his Dancing Raven Stoneworks LLC.

Pen shell for inlay repair

Some shells and stones cannot be ground down from the face side, so careful sizing is important. Henry cuts a piece of replacement material that is a bit larger than the opening.

Henry then moves to the grinder, which is typical lapidary equipment that uses a water drip feed to keep the stone cool and reduce dust,. There he shapes the first edge of the replacement piece.

.

He then checks the fit to the missing inlay opening. Working back and forth, he continues to grind bit by bit until the replacement piece is a perfect fit for the opening (see the slide show below).

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Jewelers glue is used to secure the new shell piece in place.

With Zuni inlay, there is no bezel adjustment as found in traditional Navajo jewelry.  The piece must fit perfectly. If it does, it will maintain its fit for many years.

Henry reminds us ! “As with any bezel set jewelry, it is important to not let inlaid jewelry stay wet for any length of time – this could allow backing materials to swell and/or pop the inlay.  And it is particularly important to not bend the jewelry, as that would change the size of the opening and cause stone loss.”

and I add “That’s why we always caution our customers to not try and resize an inlay bracelet! If you do, when bending, the stones could go pop, pop, pop !”

For this eagle necklace, Henry also matched the feather etching on the wings using a Dremel tool.  A final polish removes any rough spots or bits of glue.

What a wonderful repair job !

Repair completed and necklace ready to enjoy for many years to come !

To contact Diane and Henry at My Favorite Silversmith for your repairs:

Diane Radeke
602-354-5028
P. O. Box 55935
Phoenix, AZ  85078
                                                                   Thank you Diane and Henry !
                                                                                                                         Paula

Woody Crumbo

The Flute Dance (722) by Woody Crumbo

Woodrow “Woody” Crumbo, Potawatomi
1912-1989
Woody Crumbo was an artist, Native American flute player, and dancer who lived and worked mostly in the West of the United States.

His paintings are in the Smithsonian Institution, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Thomas Gilcrease Institute in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Woody Crumbo was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1978 for his paintings. He served as an “ambassador of good will” for Oklahoma, appointed in 1982 by Governor George Nigh.

Peace Offering (812) by Woody Crumbo

While studying art in Kansas and Oklahoma during the 1930s, Crumbo supported himself as a Native American dancer, performing on reservations across the United States. He was a conduit – collecting and exhibiting traditional dances.

To see more detail about the dances that are shown in the slide show below, click here.

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He became the Director of Art at the Bacone College in Muskogee, Oklahoma from 1938-1941, succeeding Acee Blue Eagle.

The Shield Dance by Acee Blue Eagle

In 1939, the U. S. Department of the Interior commissioned him to paint murals on the walls of its building in Washington D. C. His “peyote bird” design became the logo for the Gilcrease Museum.

Peyote Bird by Woody Crumbo

From 1948 to 1960, Woody Crumbo lived in Taos, New Mexico. It is there he began making multiple “originals” using engraving, printing, silkscreen.

Paula

The Three Stone Navajo Bracelet

One very traditional Navajo bracelet layout is the three stone bracelet.

#8 Turquoise 3 Stone Shadowbox bracelet by Navajo Wilbur Muskett

This layout is usually used when there are wonderful stones to showcase.

Vintage 3 Stone Bracelet with chisel mark E

The Three Stone layout works best if the stones match.

Vintage unsigned Royston Turquoise 3 Stone bracelet

Often the central stone is larger and the two sides stones are smaller.

Vintage unsigned 3 Stone bracelet

Sometimes the central stone is smaller and the two side stones are larger.

Vintage unsigned 3 stone bracelet

 

It is equally suitable to use the layout on a wire bracelet or a cuff.

Read about wire bracelets here – Wire Bracelets

Vintage unsigned 3 stone Bisbee turquoise bracelet on heavy 3 wire frame

 

Three stone White Buffalo Stone cuff bracelet by Joe Piaso

Read about White Buffalo Stone.

 

Vintage 3 stone bracelet with partial hallmark of P. This is a cross between a wire and a cuff bracelet. There is a heavy 4 wire framework and a solid sterling faceplate under the stones.Paula

What is a sweater bracelet?

Early on in my collecting of Native American bracelets, I was handed a contemporary Zuni needlepoint bracelet by the maker and was told “this is a sweater bracelet”.

Zuni needlepoint sweater bracelet by Jenny Eustace

I had never heard that term before and am a firm believer in “if you don’t know, ask”, so I asked and was told it is a style of bracelet where a design element has a “drop” – that is, it drops down so it lays on the back of the wearer’s hand and can peek out of the lower edge of a long-sleeved sweater cuff. Well that made perfect sense so I have used the term ever since.

A more subtle sweater bracelet by Jenny Eustace

Here is another example of a sweater bracelet by a Navajo artist.

Petit Point sweater bracelet by Navajo Betty Etisitty

Some sweater bracelets can be quite dramatic in how much silver and stone is “dropped” onto the back of the hand.

Unmarked NOS (New Old Stock) sweater bracelet

Unmarked vintage sterling silver and turquoise sweater bracelet

Here is a versatile sweater bracelet – you can decide which color you want to peek out.

Unmarked vintage petit point sweater bracelet in turquoise and coral

Some bracelets made a gentle downward sweep at the cuff.

Tommy Jackson, Navajo

Silver sweater bracelets often come to a point as they drop.

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Paula