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

Tommy Singer’s brother William also used the Chip Inlay technique

William Singer, the brother of Charlie, Jackie and the late Tommy Singer, has used various hallmarks since 1972: SD (both side by side and offset as below), SDX, SDXX, SDV, S/D, all variations of the Singer-Dodge family shop hallmark.

BU130-BG-inlay-buffalo-singer-3Here is an example of William Singer’s chip inlay – a buffalo belt buckle.

BU130-BG-inlay-buffalo-singer-1

Tommy Singer has been credited with first using chip inlay in 1970. His brother began using the technique in 1972.

What is Chip Inlay?

Chip inlay is a method where cavities in jewelry are filled with a mixture of crushed stone, typically turquoise and coral, and epoxy resin. The piece is then polished smooth after the resin has hardened

Paula

Chip Inlay Peyote Bird Necklace with TED hallmark

June 3, 2014
Hi Paula,
I recently inherited a squash blossom necklace that has turquoise and coral chips inlaid in peyote birds. There is one large bird at the bottom and five that go up each side of the necklace.

My question is in regards to the hallmark. The piece is stamped twice. Once with the name/initials “TED” in a vertical position so that the T is closest to the floor. The other mark is much fainter and says “TED” horizontally over a tomahawk. Have you ever come across this hallmark, and if so can you tell me anything about the artist?

Thanks for your time,

Walter

!cid_8A2F545E-F9B3-48A6-AC7C-1526C8A3FCBB!cid_E7621763-A6AB-438B-86EC-6F36CABD1D1A!cid_340B511D-FD13-4EC2-BB17-29B8C14E4CA3
Hi Walter,
I wish I could help but I do not know this hallmark, nor do I see it in any of my references. Perhaps another reader has seen it.
Great necklace !
Paula
To view our full list of article or to ask a jewelry question, follow the instructions here

http://www.horsekeeping.com/native-american-jewelry-artifacts.htm

If you are selling your jewelry, read this

http://www.horsekeeping.com/jewelry/pawn-buying.htm

Visit our pawn shop for your research and shopping

http://www.horsekeeping.com/jewelry/pawn/pawnshop-vin.htm

squash1

Hallmark on Peyote Bird Chip Inlay Buckle

hello, i have found this belt buckle it seems to be silver with turquoise chip inlay of a peyote bird. it has a makers mark on the back of what seems to be a face and i believe the letters rfi beside it. if you could help me identify the hallmard that would be great. I can send pictures if you need thank you again
buckle cropped hallmarkHello,
I am not familiar with that hallmark but have posted it here in case someone else does.
Nice vintage peyote bird chip inlay belt buckle though !
Paula
To view our full list of article or to ask a jewelry question, follow the instructions here
http://www.horsekeeping.com/native-american-jewelry-artifacts.htmIf you are selling your jewelry, read this
http://www.horsekeeping.com/jewelry/pawn-buying.htmVisit our pawn shop for your research and shopping
http://www.horsekeeping.com/jewelry/pawn/pawnshop-vin.htm

BU116-turq-cluster-moore-1

More information on my new buckle please

Dear Paula,
 
I just got this buckle and would like to get more informations about it, if possible.It is not signed anywhere.Thanks in advance,
Albert from Austria 😉
 
DSC05499 DSC05501Hi Albert,
Your beautiful buckle is a handmade chip inlay buckle.

What is Chip Inlay?

Chip inlay is a method where cavities in jewelry are filled with a mixture of crushed stone, typically turquoise and coral, and epoxy resin. The piece is then polished smooth after the resin has hardened. Navajo Tommy Singer is often credited for first using chip inlay in Native American jewelry although others have also been associated with it and many have used and still use the technique.

I say handmade because it does not look like it was made from a “buckle blank” – all looks hand crafted. I’d guess maybe 20-30 years old.
 
The symbols are interesting – really more indicative of Plains tribes with the tipi and peyote bird. These would be symbols that would be associated with Oglala Lakota and yet the work looks to be Navajo.
Here is a similar buckle we had in our pawn shop.
BBU39-chip-peyotebird-1If you have any other questions, let me know ! Paula
 
Linda, an avid and knowledgeable merchant of vintage Native American jewelry, and a reader and frequent contributor to this blog, sent these photos of authenticated early Tommy Singer pieces, showing the use of similar symbols but in Tommy Singer’s style. Thank you Linda. Beautiful pieces !!
!cid_6310FC3E-5121-4BA7-B0C5-CA2D33A387B7@earthlink !cid_32380FDD-FF01-438F-9DC4-6F8390986C8E@earthlink!cid_D6813D51-54ED-47E8-B8B4-F0E3DDD214B1@earthlink !cid_DE97E975-C6B0-41B5-98CA-A03824FD0906@earthlink

Paula, Can you help identify this brass bracelet?

Hello Paula,
We have recently come across a Native American cuff bracelet that we
would like to see if you or any of your blog followers could help with
identifying it.It is brass inlayed with turquoise and red coral. The
inside is marked with HB and with the second leg of the H and the
upright of the B being shared. Also above the HB are two symbols that
look very much like a pair of human eyelashes. 🙂 The design of the
inlay looks like water or waves. We do have pics available if you
would like to see them. Thanks so much.
Kim and Joe

BrassCuffBraceletFrontRC BrassCuffBraceletMark lightenedHi Kim and Joe,

This copper cuff bracelet is decorated with chip inlay.

Copper is a pure elemental metal that has been and is being used by Native American artists. Read all about copper here. 

Brass is an alloy made of copper and zinc. I have never seen Native American Jewelry made from Brass.

What is Chip Inlay?

Chip inlay is a method where cavities in jewelry are filled with a mixture of crushed stone, typically turquoise and coral, and epoxy resin. The piece is then polished smooth after the resin has hardened.

The cojoined initials HB have been used by several artists, Hispanic and Navajo. One celebrated (deceased) Navajo artist used a cojoined HB but verified versions of his hallmark look different than the hallmark on your bracelet so I hesitate to suggest his name lest it be associated wrongly. I do see many items on eBay with all variations of HB and other hallmarks being attributed to this noted artists yet none of the hallmarks are the same !

As far as the eyelashes – they are made with a common stamping tool that is used to decorate metal pieces, perhaps to represent rays of the sun (or possibly rain) such as is on the front of your bracelet and on this barrette.

BAR807-ABC--silver-C crop

The rays could be a shop mark in addition to the artist’s mark.

Or they could be an intentional part of the artist’s personal hallmark. One artist put fringe-like-rays around his initials, but usually it was an entire box, not just a topper.

However, I don’t recognize these particular lashes/rays nor do they appear in any of my hallmark references.

Therefore at this point, all I can say is probably Navajo copper bracelet with chip inlay.

Paula

Chisel Cut FK or KF Hallmark on Vintage Chip Inlay Bracelet

Paula,
Found your blog and am so glad that I did.
I have a large silver, turquoise and coral cuff bracelet that I purchased in Santa Fe a little over 40 years ago.
The bracelet is 1 5/8 inches wide and has a rather unique double badger claw design on each side.
Inside is a hallmark that is a backward F joined to a K.
I have been unable to find any reference to this hallmark and am hopeful that you or one of your readers can help.
Many thanks,
Ron
Dcp00399 Dcp00400 Dcp00401HI Ron,
What a unique chip inlay design on your bracelet ! I’m not sure I would have seen badger paws.
I don’t recognize the hallmark so looked up chisel cut initials FK and KF and really came up empty.
So perhaps someone else might know.
I did find a Blackfoot jeweler who chisel cut his initials in a very similar fashion but I couldn’t make the combination of letters work.
But Santa Fe + chip inlay, we’d be looking for a Navajo artist anyway.
Does anyone have ideas?
Paula