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

Authentic Native American Indian Fetish Necklaces

To begin talking about Native American fetish necklaces, first a little bit about fetishes.

A Native American fetish is a stone or shell carving and sometimes antler or wood, usually in the image of an animal.

Zuni Horse Fetish made of Acoma Jet

Indian fetishes can be carried or displayed. Those that are carried are often called pocket fetishes.

Lakota Pipestone Buffalo Fetish – makes a great pocket fetish because of its smooth surface and sturdy construction.

Those that are displayed are called table fetishes.

Zuni Deer Fetish carved from Antler

Zuni artists are the traditional fetish carvers but there are many talented Navajo carvers as well.

Pig by Stanton Hannaweeke – Zuni

Bobcat by Navajo Herbert Davis

To read more about fetishes, see my other blog posts:

Native American Fetish Carvings – What are they used for?

Animal Fetish Powers

Types of Native American Fetishes

Serpentine used in Native American Fetish Carvings

Native American Terms – Fetish, Totem, Amulet, Talisman

How Do I Display Zuni Native American Fetish Carvings?

Native American Fetishes – Zuni Carving Families

The Power of Native American Fetish Carvings – Story of the Midnight Bear

Native American Stone Fetish Carvings – Six Directions

How Zuni Navajo Native American Fetishes Are Made

 

FETISH NECKLACES

Vintage Fetish Necklace – origin unknown

Native American fetish necklaces are made with small fetishes that are drilled and strung like beads with fine shell, turquoise or jet heishi in between. Just like with pocket and table fetishes, fetish necklaces are made by both Navajo and Zuni artists.

AND BEWARE !! There are many NON- Native American fetish necklaces. They are usually made overseas and sold as Native American. BAD !!! Below is a slide show of 3 common imported, faux Native American necklaces. When we get items like this in an estate lot, we sell them in our Bargain Barn.

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Like any Native American item, buy directly from the maker or from a trusted seller.

Navajo horse fetish necklace

 

The animals can vary but often include birds, bears, horses, mountain lions, turtles, foxes, wolves and many others.

Zuni fetish necklace with many animals

The stones and shells usually used include turquoise, mother of pearl, pink shell, acoma jet, serpentine, pipestone and many others.

Navajo Fetish Necklace

Here are some more of my blog posts that relate to fetish necklaces:

What is a stacked necklace? More on Navajo and Zuni Fetish Necklaces

Are these Bird Fetish Necklaces Authentic Native American made?

44 Bird Fetish Necklace – is it Native American made?

Stacked Fetish Necklace – is it authentic Native American made?

Wanted – A Six Directions Fetish Necklace Set

Native American Fetish Necklace – Signed by Artist?

Native American Wearable Art – Stacked Fetish Necklace

Hector Goodluck Monument Valley Fetish Necklace

Native American Fetish Necklace – Mother or Grandmother Necklace

Bird Fetish Necklace from Goodwill

Paula

Book Look: Southwestern Indian Rings by Paula A. Baxter

Like Paula Baxter states in her Dedication, I never feel “fully dressed without wearing at least one Navajo or Pueblo ring.”

In my case, sometimes I just have to wear more !  Being a Native American ring aficionado, I found this book an interesting reference.

In over 350 color photographs (taken by her husband Barry Katzen), Paula shows historic and contemporary rings made by Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Santo Domingo artists and more.  The photos here in my article are not from Paula Baxter’s book – they are photos of my personal rings and some from the store where I work.

Unmarked vintage turquoise – likely Navajo

 

 

 

 

Coral by Rose Castillo Draper, Navajo

 

 

Larry Pooyouma, Hopi

Sidney Sekakuku Jr. – Hopi

Richard and Geneva Terrazas, Zuni

Morris and Sadie Laahte, Zuni

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contents of the Book

The Design and Appeal of Southwestern Indian Rings

Materials and Methods of Ring Construction

Historical Rings: Pre-Contact to 1930

Vintage Rings, 1930-1979: The Age of Experimentation

Master Innovator

Artistic Adornment: 1980 to Present

It is in the Master Innovator section that she shows and discusses work by Dan Simplicio, Fred Peshlakai, Lee Yazzie, Charles Loloma, Jesse Monongya, Kenneth Begay and others.

Contemporary artists include Sonwai and Arland Ben to mention just a few.

Besides displaying rings in the customary silver and turquoise, there are a number of rings showing other materials including variscite, pink coral, sugilite, petrified wood, ironwood, fossilized ivory, opal, jade, azurite, fire agate as well as many other agates, jasper, tortoise shell and more.

Jasper

White Buffalo Stone by Freddy Charley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother of Pearl by Rose Castillo Draper, Navajo

Lapis by Navajo Bennie Ration

 

Natural Royston Turquoise by Navajo Walter Vandever

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paula

 

 

 

 

Native American Chiclet (Chicklet) Necklaces

Santo Domingo Chiclet Necklace

In 1899, US gum manufacturers formed a conglomerate, The American Chicle Company.

In 1906 Frank Fleer (does his name ring a bell, bubble gum lovers?) began making a hard-shelled, candy-coated white peppermint gum called Chiclets.

Chicle is the English version of the word tzikiti (“sticky stuff”), the Nahuatl word for the resin that makes chewing gum. Oddly enough though, Chiclets are made from a different gum base!

By 1920, Chiclets were available in bright colors: yellow, green, orange, red, white, and pink. The small shiny rectangles each had a different flavor – mostly fruits; the white was still peppermint.

Chiclets Gum

Native Americans, most specifically Santo Domingo artists, began calling their colorful, multi-stone necklaces “Chiclet Necklaces” and it is easy to see why.

Santo Domingo Chiclet Necklace

Some Santo Domingo artists add small treasures among the chiclets and call the necklaces Treasure Necklaces.

Santo Domingo Treasure Necklace with Fetish Bear

Santo Domingo Treasure Necklace with Pipestone Hummingbird Fetish


Native American Fetish Necklace – Signed by Artist?

Hi Paula,

I was interested in purchasing a fetish necklace made by Corrine Ramirez and wanted to know if this was signed by her, or had any kind of certificate by the artist?  Thank you!

Melissa

Fetish Necklace by Corrine Ramirez, Navajo

Hi Melissa,

I don’t know of any fetish necklace makers that sign their necklaces – they do so by “style” – that is, the pieces are recognizably by a certain artist.

We purchase directly from Corrine. That’s the best certification.

As far as a Certificate of Authenticity (COA), the only legal certificate is one signed by the artist. In other words, if a store owner gives you one that says “This is authentic Native American made by so-and-so” it is not valid. It is worthless.

With that said, only about 1% of the artists that we deal with issue signed certificates for each piece. We indicate on the item page if there is a COA.

Only one Navajo artist gives us certificates with her pieces. And we represent the work of hundreds of artists from many tribes.

However, aside from fetish necklaces, the majority of Native American pieces today are signed with some sort of hallmark.

So I’ve made a short answer long, just to give you more background.

Hope this helps.

Paula

It does Paula. Thank you for getting back with me.  I wasn’t sure if a necklace could actually be signed, but thought I’d check.

I want to be certain before I make such a big purchase.  Thanks again! Melissa

Native American Fetishes – Zuni Carving Families

All tribes in the Southwest US make small stone carvings. Sacred ones are called fetishes. The Pueblo Indians have developed the use of these carvings and it is the Zuni that are the most skillful stone carvers of the Pueblos. Evidence of fetish use has been documented to pre-Columbian times. Columbian times refer to those that occurred after European influence, or after Columbus landed in the Americas in 1492.

While there were only a few dozen Zuni carvers as recent as 20 or 30 years ago, today there may be as many as 300 Zuni carvers that belong to a dozen or more noted Zuni artist families.

Here are some of the Zuni carvers’ family names:

©  2010 Horsekeeping   © Copyright Information

BooneZuni Horse Fetish Carving
BooquaHand made Native American Indian Pig fetish carving
BowannieZuni penguin Fetish Carving
Cachini Hand made Native American Indian Fox fetish carving
CooeyateHand made Native American Indian Fox fetish carving
DavisHand made Native American Indian Ram fetish carving
DeyuseHand made Native American Indian horse fetish carving
GasperZuni wolf Fetish Carving
HalateZuni turtle Fetish Carving
HalooZuni owl Fetish Carving
LaateZuni coyote Fetish Carving
LaiwaketeZuni Horse Fetish Carving
LasilooZuni Horse Fetish Carving
LeekyaZuni Horse Fetish Carving
LementinoHand made Native American Indian sheep fetish carving

LonaseeZuni bear Fetish Carving
LucioHand made Native American Indian Buffalo fetish carving
LunaseeZuni tutrle Fetish Carving
MacHand made Native American Indian Ram fetish carving
MahootyZuni bear Fetish Carving
NatewaZuni horse Fetish Carving
PanteahZuni ram Fetish Carving
PintoZuni ram Fetish Carving
Poncho Hand made Native American Indian Rabbit fetish carving
PonchuellaHand made Native American Indian Pig fetish carving
QuamZuni Horse Fetish Carving
QuandelacyZuni bear Fetish Carving
ShackAuthentic Native American Indian  horse carving fetish
TsikewaZuni bear Fetish Carving
WallaceHand made Native American Indian Ram fetish carving

For more detailed information on Zuni carving families, refer to Zuni Fetishes & Carvings by Kent McManis.

Zuni Fetishes and Carvings by Kent McManis

Zuni Fetishes and Carvings by Kent McManis

A Native American fetish is a carving from rock, shell, antler, wood or other material that depicts an animal or other spirit. The carving captures the spirit and the essence of the animal, not necessarily its exact detailed conformation. When a carving has been blessed during a Zuni Medicine ceremony at the winter solstice, it becomes a fetish and is considered sacred. Fetishes are either kept by the carvers or given away to members of their tribe or other people.

Carvings that are very old may have been handed down for generations or have been tribal possessions for hundreds of years. It is believed that these carvings were actually live animals at one time and were petrified into stone beings by a magic bolt of lightning during the drying of the world. There were many such beings all over the earth’s surface which have been found over the years. It is said that whosever is of the good fortune to see such beings should treasure them for the sake of their sacred power which was given to them during the earth’s creation.

Today what we sell and most of what is sold elsewhere as a fetish is actually a rock carving, but it is very common to refer to them as fetishes, so we describe these wonderful stone animals as fetish carvings.

When one believes that a spirit resides in an inanimate object, that is called animism. When an inanimate object, such as a carving reminds one of the spirit of a being, that is a different matter. The difference between the two words is primarily a matter of belief. But in respect to the Zuni tradition, these carvings are not fetishes. However choosing one of these carvings is a very personal matter. If a carving speaks to you and makes you feel a certain way when you look at it, perhaps it is what you have been looking for to put on your desk or carry in your pocket. Similarly, if you are on a walk and you happen upon a stone that is already shaped like a buffalo and you pick it up and make it yours, that is powerful.

According to Zuni traditions, animals are divided up into 3 categories:

1. Game animals are those the furnish flesh to man. Today these animals are often referred to as prey animals because they are the prey of meat-eating predators. This would include deer, elk and rabbit, to name a few.

2. Water animals are those associated sacredly with water, not necessarily just animals who live in the water. This would include the dolphin, frog and the turtle.

3. Prey beings are those animals who hunt other animals to eat. Today these animals are often referred to as predators who prey upon game animals. This would include bear, wolf, and mountain lion.

Traditional carvings, sometimes referred to as “reservation fetishes”, tend to be of the “old style” with few details and are most commonly Prey Beings. Old style carvings are basically rectangular pieces of stone that have been shaped into animal forms. Often it is difficult to differentiate between a bear and wolf, for example, or a wolf and a mountain lion. They all look similar, kind of hunkered to the ground. The old style carvings make one think that the Native American artist saw an animal in a stone and just coaxed it out with a few simple lines. These are often referred to as “concretion fetishes”, stones that require very little carving to bring out or release the animal in the stone.

For hundreds of years, other tribes procured fetishes from the Zuni. While it is not customary for a Zuni to carve domestic animals, such as horses, sheep, cattle and goats, for personal use, they do so for Navajo herdsmen to protect their animals. That is why it is possible to purchase a wide variety of Zuni horse carvings today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Modern Native American stone carvings can be quite ornate and detailed and very beautiful. They often have much intricate work and various types of inlay. Also, the posture of the animal might be different from that of traditional carving. Modern carvers might depict an animal running, rearing, sitting or standing up on its hind legs. Some carvers give a bear a fish to eat, so the carving becomes a miniature sculpture with a story.

 

Native American Materials – Abalone and Mother of Pearl

Native American Materials:

Abalone and Mother of Pearl

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Some Mother of Pearl can be from Abalone but not all Abalone is Mother of Pearl.

An abalone is a mollusk whose shell is irridescent on the inside. The shells are used whole as smudge bowls.

Abalone Shell for Native American Smudge Bowl

Abalone Shell for Native American Smudge Bowl

Portions of the shells are used as buttons and decorations on medicine bags.

Abalone shell disc used on Apache Medicine Bag

Abalone shell disc used on Apache Medicine Bag

The ABALONE represents solace, the greatness of the oceans, a life of beauty, gentleness, caring, comfort, peacefulness, and delight. Abalone shell discs are an age old object that has been traded tribally for centuries. It is a symbol of power and protection and symbolizes ancient travels.

Mother of Pearl (MOP), also called nacre, is the inner layer of some shells. It is made by when the mollusk (the organism inhabiting the shell) makes crystals – this is an oversimplification, but think of it like an oyster making pearls – very similar.

MOP is a blend of minerals that are secreted by oysters, abalone, and other mollusks and deposited inside their shells, coating and protecting their bodies from parasites and foreign objects.

Mother-of-Pearl is said to stimulate intuition, sensitivity, imagination, and adaptability and help with clarity in decision making. Mother of Pearl stirs and awakens the primordial memory of your origin in the infinite ocean of divine love and stirs this memory in every cell of your physical body thereby producing an overall calming effect as it gently stirs the life energy of your cells. Like waves lapping the shore, this stirring is steady, relaxing, and rhythmical.

Mother of Pearl Turtle Fetish by Zuni Cheryl Beyuka

Mother of Pearl Turtle Fetish by Zuni Cheryl Beyuka

Mother of Pearl has a beautiful glow and can range from a pearly white, clear or with some striation, to iridescent multicolored blues, greens, golds, pinks, whites, and purples.

Vintage Native American Pawn Mother of Pearl Ring

Vintage Native American Pawn Mother of Pearl Ring

So…some Mother of Pearl can come from Abalone but it can also be from a variety of other fresh-water and salt-water mollusks including the pearl oyster.

Mother of Pearl Zuni Inlay Sunface by Abel Soseeah

Mother of Pearl Zuni Inlay Sunface by Abel Soseeah

See Wikipedia for more information on Abalone and Mother of Pearl