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.
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.
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. It reminds me of tortoise shell in its variegation. The only piece I have for reference that I KNOW is tortoise shell is my beloved Chester Mahooty bracelet shown here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Most of the examples I have been able to find are necklace length, approximately 26-30″.
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.