Why is copper used for belt loops, pin backs and more in Native American jewelry?

Copper was the first metal discovered by man and has been used for thousands of years by craftsmen around the world for tools, artifacts and jewelry.

Copper was considered sacred by some Native American cultures and it continued to be used extensively even after the introduction of silver, steel, and metal alloys.

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Vintage copper bracelet with Native American symbols

Copper was abundant in the Southwest, with Arizona having one of the largest copper deposits in the world. In some areas native copper could be found just laying on the ground without the need to smelt it from ore.

Raw Copper

Raw Copper

Copper’s was and is much less expensive than silver.  Unlike steel and most other metals, copper can be easily shaped without heating.

Soldering or “sweating” is joining two pieces of metal together, using a medium called solder (pronounced “sodder”).  The metals that are being joined might be the same such as copper to copper or sterling silver to sterling silver. That type of soldering is relatively simple for an experienced metal smith.

It is when soldering two different metals together that things can get tricky in terms of the amount of heat necessary and the type of solder required.

Examples of dissimilar metal-to-metal soldering common in Native American jewelry is copper to sterling silver and steel to sterling silver.

Copper Soldered to Sterling Silver

Copper Soldered to Sterling Silver

Copper requires much less heat to solder to sterling silver than it would take to solder steel to sterling silver. Also with copper, there isn’t a specialized solder needed.

That’s why copper is the metal of choice for belt loops on concho belts and is also seen as pin backs, for example, on vintage Native American pins and pin pendants. 

Copper pin soldered to vintage sterling silver pin

Copper pin soldered to vintage sterling silver pin

Sterling silver concho belt with copper belt loops.

Sterling silver concho belt with copper belt loops.

Paula

What are the buckle backs made of?

Hi Paula

Are the belt buckle back parts also silver, or something else like nickle? I know your buckle is solid silver, but thought that the back parts might need to be something less bendy than silver?

Thanks~

Joan

koko belt buckle M510-buckle-kokopelli-gene-2Hi Joan,

On most Native American made buckles:
The bar hinge mechanism is nickel silver.
The bar is nickel silver.
The prong is nickel silver.
You can read more here
The entire buckle plate is sterling silver and just to clarify, that is sterling silver not 100% pure silver. Read about nickel silver and sterling silver here All Silver is Not Created Equal
As you say, the working portion of the buckle needs to be something “less bendy”  than silver-  especially if the belt is worn tight as the prong could straighten out or the bar could bend if made from a soft metal.
Good question !  We wear buckles all the time and this is the normal way they are made and work fine for many many years.
Paula