Examining a Tab Necklace – Is it Kewa, Santo Domingo or Other?

This post is designed to describe the process I go through when I am trying to authenticate whether an item is Native American made or not.

Here is a very pretty necklace that may or may not be Native American made. In this particular case, I’m going to say guilty until proven innocent, in other words, not Native American made unless I can find some solid proof that it is.

Paula's Tab Necklace

Paula’s Tab Necklace

But coming to a verdict is harder than one might think because there are far fewer definitive references for Santo Domingo, Kewa and Pueblo stone necklaces than there are for silver and stone jewelry.

Add to that, the fact that very few stone necklaces have hallmarks of any kind. And finally, tab necklaces are much more uncommon than other Native American jewelry. In fact, this is the first of its kind to arrive here.

First of all, what it it? It is a Tab Necklace – the three inlaid pendants suspended from the heishi choker put it in the Tab Necklace category.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABecause it measures 17 inches, I would categorize it as a choker as opposed to a necklace which is typically 24-32 inches long.

What is it made of?

The very finely turned and graduated heishi is made from brown shell which varies from a deep amber, dark honey to a very dark brown.

The heishi is very smooth and expertly produced. Heishi is made by stringing shell or stone, then grinding, sanding and polishing it into smooth edged circles. Each of the heishi discs in this choker are only 1mm thick. The graduation is very well done.


This choker is strung on string and finished off with sterling silver cones and a hook and eye fastener. The fastener seems hand made. There is sunburst stamping on the cones.


Now to the tabs. The base is made of a very dark wood. It is possibly iron wood or cocobolo wood which some Navajo artists use in conjunction with their inlay work.




southwest design border669


Cocobolo wood used in conjunction with inlay knife handles by Navajo Doris Yazzie.


southwest design border669

The inlay on the tabs of my necklace is made with some very interesting turquoise with matrix and a white material that has the hardness of stone. There are no visible pores in the white material and, because of its density, it has been polished to a very smooth surface. It could be ivory, alabaster, stone composite ??


The channels between the turquoise and cream pieces are baffling since they have a distinct gold cast to them. They could be brass, jeweler’s gold or some variation.


Each tab has a thinner channel of metal at the bottom position. On the middle tab, that thin channel almost looks like is has leaked something which could be a metal residue or a metallic colored resin or adhesive.


As far as age, this necklace was probably made at least 15 years ago and it could be much older.

What do authentic Native American Tab Necklaces look like?

I’m including information on early tab necklaces for historical interest, not to suggest the choker I am researching is one.

from Skystone and Silver, Stacey, Santo Domingo Mosaic Necklace

from Skystone and Silver, Stacey, Santo Domingo Mosaic Necklace

Depression era tab necklaces (made beginning in the 1930’s up to the 1960’s) were constructed from various discarded materials such as 78 rpm records, car battery cases, red plastic dinnerware and Dairy Queen spoons.

scan0248 caption


Jewelry by Southwest American Indian: Evolving Designs, Schiffer p 122

The backing for the inlay on vintage tab necklaces was usually black – from records or car batteries.

The heishi used was usually quite thick and made from white clam shell.

Fine Indian Jewelry of the Southwest; The Millicent Rogers Museum Collection p149. ca 1940

Fine Indian Jewelry of the Southwest; The Millicent Rogers Museum Collection p149. ca 1940

Most of the examples I have been able to find are necklace length, approximately 26-30″.

Generations, the Helen Cox Kersting Collection, Santo Domingo Tab Necklaces 1940-1059

Generations, the Helen Cox Kersting Collection, Santo Domingo Tab Necklaces 1940-1059

The ends were finished off with either a squaw wrap or with cones and hook and eye closures.

What does all of this mean about MY necklace?

I love it. It is beautiful.

Who made it? I don’t know.

Is it Native American made? Possibly but not likely……………here are the Pros and Cons:

Pros – String, cones and clasp, very fine heishi work, nice turquoise.

Cons – Wood backing for the inlay, undetermined material in the channels of the inlay.

If you have comments please leave them at the bottom of this post.

Be sure to read all of the comments as they come in because that is part of the process of learning about these pieces.

Bottom line. Although this is most probably an imported choker from the 1970’s, it is very well made, pretty and looks great on. So even though not a Native American made necklace, it still is a nice vintage item. It is what it is.



“Jeweler’s Gold” – What is it?

As you know from reading this blog, German Silver has no silver in it. (If you missed that post, read more about it in Not All Silver is Created Equal.)

Navajo Sterling Silver Repousse Wide Cuff Bracelet

Navajo Sterling Silver Repousse Wide Cuff Bracelet

Similarly, depending on who is using the term,  “Jeweler’s Gold” might have a lot of gold in it or no gold at all !!

According to professional metallurgists and Webster’s Dictionary:

“Jeweler’s Gold” is a gold alloy made of 3 parts Gold + 1 part Copper.

I recently saw a large “Jeweler’s Gold Native American Concho Belt” for sale on the internet for less than $180. What??!! Impossible !!! At $1325.00 per ounce for gold, there would be no way there was that much gold in this big heavy belt !!!

Australian Gold Nugget

Australian Gold Nugget

So when someone borrows the term “Jeweler’s Gold” to loosely describe a gold colored alloy that has NO gold in it at all, as far as I am concerned that’s a big NO NO. It just misleads and confuses buyers. Some people say “in jeweler’s circles” it is OK. But it is not OK when a buyer thinks they are getting gold and in reality, they are getting an alloy that contains NO gold.

Such an alloy, wrongly called Jeweler’s Gold, would be more correctly called Red Brass or Jeweler’s Brass or by one of the commercial names such as NuGold.

Nu Gold (Red Brass)

Nu Gold (Red Brass)

NUGOLD sells for less than $30 for a 12″ x 12″ sheet or 200 feet of wire. The same material in gold would cost upwards of $2000.

It is not uncommon for a merchant to advertise an item of jewelry as

“Jewelers Gold (Red Brass)”

as if they were the same. They ARE NOT.

That would be akin to advertising a pair of boots like this

“Leather (vinyl)”

or a GoldTone chain and pendant as Gold.

See what I mean?

Venezuelan Gold Nugget

Venezuelan Gold Nugget

Jeweler’s Gold and Red Brass are not the same, they are not synonymous…….using the two terms together is confusing at the least and misleading or downright dishonest. Red Brass is NOT Jewelers Gold – far from it.

Now I’m not saying that Red Brass or NuGold don’t have a place in jewelry making, Native American or otherwise. But one should call a spade a spade.

Is it Jeweler’s Gold Or Red Brass?

As previously state, Jeweler’s Gold is 3 parts gold to one part copper.

The recipes for Red Brass or NuGold vary but here are three.

NuGold is 85% copper and 15% zinc.

Nu Gold (Red Brass)

Nu Gold (Red Brass)

Red Brass = 3 parts Copper + one part Zinc + one part Block Tin.

IT IS SAID………that if these metals are pure and melted per the prescribed method, the best jeweler could not tell the difference between it and pure gold without doing an analysis.

Red Brass

Red Brass

Another recipe for Red Brass is similar but contains some lead as well.

85% Copper + 5% Tin + 5% Lead + 5% Zinc.

Now some of you might want to stay away from alloys that contain lead, zinc or tin…..if so you would like to know if what you are buying is really Jewelers Gold or if it is the gold colored alloy Red Brass, wouldn’t you?

Since Jeweler’s Gold costs many time that of Red Brass, from a value standpoint, you would want to know if you are indeed buying a gold alloy or a golden colored alloy.

The moral of the story? If you want to know what you are buying and you are not sure, ask.

So I did just that.

I wrote a number of eBay sellers who were advertising their Native American items items as made of Jewelers Gold. (It was obvious from the photos and pricing that they were all made from Red Brass.)

One listed it as “Jewelers Gold”.

Another listed it as “Jewelers Gold (Red Brass).”

Yet another listed it as “Jewelers Gold – 3 parts gold, 1 part copper.”


I also wrote several webstores that advertise their Native American items as made of Jewelers Gold.

One said

“…..all hand made from Jeweler’s Gold, it is also known as Red Brass.”

The others just list the items as made of Jeweler’s Gold.

I got a variety of replies to my standard query:

“Is this item Jeweler’s Gold or Red Brass? As far as I know, Jeweler’s Gold is 3 parts gold to 1 part copper. Would you let me know what metals this contains?”

Here are some of the replies:

“Jeweler’s Gold and Red Brass are the same.” (no change in the listing)

“In jeweler’s circles, Jeweler’s Gold is used for Red Brass.” (no change in the listing)

“Oh my god, I’ll have to check and make changes !” (a change was made in the listing from “Jeweler’s Gold – 3 parts gold and 1 part copper” to “Jeweler’s Gold (aka Red Brass) )”

“There is a thin layer of gold on it.” (no change in listing)

As far as I am concerned, none of the sellers stepped up to the plate and told it like it is.

Be aware. Ask.