What is a Slave Bracelet and is it Native American?

The term slave bracelet refers to a style of jewelry that has a chain or other attachment from the bracelet to one or more finger rings. Commonly there is a central piece (island or hand connector) between the ring and bracelet that rests on the back of the hand. 

 

This fashion originated in Africa and is associated with India – harems, belly dancers and the like. The design was likely adopted by Native Americans for tourists after the bracelets became popular in the 1920s American flapper culture.

In spite of the negative connotation of the word slave and its various meanings, the style continues to be popular and has no other name that I am aware of.

Paula

 

Old Bee Stamp on Vintage Navajo Jewelry

This bracelet, likely from 1920s- 1940s (per some learned colleagues) has a distinctive bee stamp on it.

This stamp has been linked to some very old jewelry but so far I have not been able to pin down who might have made this stamp or who used it.

If you have any information on the bee stamp, I’d love to know.

Thanks, Paula

Knifewing – Native American Diety

Who is Knifewing?

Knifewing, also Knife Wing, is a half man – half eagle Zuni spirit or god with razor sharp feathers made of flint. He is the ultimate warrior.

Unmarked vintage knifewing pin

Anthropologist Frank Hamilton Cushing, who lived with the Zunis from 1879-1884 described knifewing this way:

“This curious god is the hero of hundreds of folklore tales, the tutelary deity of several societies of Zuni. He is represented as possessing a human form, furnished with flint knife-feathered pinions, and tail. His dress consists of the conventional terraced cap (representative of his dwelling place among the clouds). His weapons are the Great Flint-Knife of War, the Bow of the Skies (the Rainbow), and the Arrow of Lightning. His guardians or warriors are the Great Mountain Lion of the North and that of the upper regions. He was doubtless the original War God of the Zunis.”

From the Encyclopedia of Native American Jewelry by Paula Baxter:

Baxter

Baxter

From North American Indian Jewelry and Adornment by Dubin

Dubin

Dubin

Horace Iule (also known for his crosses) is credited with creating the first knifewing design in the late 1920s, cut and filed out of hand-wrought silver.

Read more about Horace Iule in The Navajo and Pueblo Silversmiths by Adair

Adair

Adair

Adair

Afterwards, other Zuni, Navajo and Pueblo began producing knifewing designs.

The knifewing became one of the first designs that the Zuni inlaid with stones. An interesting excerpt from Zuni – a Village of Silversmiths

Zuni – a Village of Silversmiths

In this slide show, there are three vintage kinfewing inlay bracelet examples. To see more details on them, visit our Vintage Bracelet section. 

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Below is a slide show of a Sterling silver box with inlay knifewing by Suzie James Navajo

Paula

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The Three Stone Navajo Bracelet

One very traditional Navajo bracelet layout is the three stone bracelet.

#8 Turquoise 3 Stone Shadowbox bracelet by Navajo Wilbur Muskett

This layout is usually used when there are wonderful stones to showcase.

Vintage 3 Stone Bracelet with chisel mark E

The Three Stone layout works best if the stones match.

Vintage unsigned Royston Turquoise 3 Stone bracelet

Often the central stone is larger and the two sides stones are smaller.

Vintage unsigned 3 Stone bracelet

Sometimes the central stone is smaller and the two side stones are larger.

Vintage unsigned 3 stone bracelet

 

It is equally suitable to use the layout on a wire bracelet or a cuff.

Read about wire bracelets here – Wire Bracelets

Vintage unsigned 3 stone Bisbee turquoise bracelet on heavy 3 wire frame

 

Three stone White Buffalo Stone cuff bracelet by Joe Piaso

Read about White Buffalo Stone.

 

Vintage 3 stone bracelet with partial hallmark of P. This is a cross between a wire and a cuff bracelet. There is a heavy 4 wire framework and a solid sterling faceplate under the stones.Paula

What is a sweater bracelet?

Early on in my collecting of Native American bracelets, I was handed a contemporary Zuni needlepoint bracelet by the maker and was told “this is a sweater bracelet”.

Zuni needlepoint sweater bracelet by Jenny Eustace

I had never heard that term before and am a firm believer in “if you don’t know, ask”, so I asked and was told it is a style of bracelet where a design element has a “drop” – that is, it drops down so it lays on the back of the wearer’s hand and can peek out of the lower edge of a long-sleeved sweater cuff. Well that made perfect sense so I have used the term ever since.

A more subtle sweater bracelet by Jenny Eustace

Here is another example of a sweater bracelet by a Navajo artist.

Petit Point sweater bracelet by Navajo Betty Etisitty

Some sweater bracelets can be quite dramatic in how much silver and stone is “dropped” onto the back of the hand.

Unmarked NOS (New Old Stock) sweater bracelet

Unmarked vintage sterling silver and turquoise sweater bracelet

Here is a versatile sweater bracelet – you can decide which color you want to peek out.

Unmarked vintage petit point sweater bracelet in turquoise and coral

Some bracelets made a gentle downward sweep at the cuff.

Tommy Jackson, Navajo

Silver sweater bracelets often come to a point as they drop.

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Paula

What is a Shadowbox?

Recently a customer ordered a shadowbox item from our store and when she received it, she was shocked saying “but it is hollow, it is not solid !!” We used the term shadowbox in the description and showed all kinds of views revealing the construction but perhaps if  a person has never seen a shadowbox, he or she might not know what they are looking at and what to expect.

Shadowbox Belt Buckle - Wilbur Musket, Navajo

Shadowbox Belt Buckle – Wilbur Musket, Navajo

A common jewelry technique used by Navajo and other Native American silversmiths to add interest and layering to a piece is a shadowbox.

The shadowbox technique consists of a cutout top layer that is usually domed and that is soldered to a solid bottom layer.

Vintage Shadowbox Ring

Vintage Shadowbox Ring

The cutout design on the top can vary from paw prints to kokopelli to blanket designs – limited only by the designer’s imagination.

Shadowbox Bolo Tie with Paw Prints

Shadowbox Bolo Tie with Paw Print Cutouts

The bottom layer might be left bright silver or oxidized to give a dark contrast to the cutout design.

Shadowbox Bracelet by Pauline Benally, Navajo

Shadowbox Bracelet by Pauline Benally, Navajo —-the underlayer has a darkened (oxidized) background for a contrasting accent.

Stones are often set into the shadowbox – some artists let the stones protrude somewhat out of the top of the shadowbox and others use stones that when set are flush with the cutout layer.

Shadowbox ring showing one flush (turquoise) and one protruding (coral) piece

Shadowbox ring showing one flush (turquoise) and one protruding (coral) piece

Paula

Save

Save

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New Life for a Cracked Turquoise Stone Bracelet

The estate lots we purchase commonly contain at least a couple of damaged vintage pieces. We have the choice of selling them AS-IS, with extensive tarnish or soil, silver damage, a missing stone, a loose stone, a cracked stone……OR we can have the item repaired so the piece can be used again ! When I see a beautifully crafted necklace, ring or bracelet that would otherwise be tossed in a box to be forgotten, I do whatever I can to help revive the piece.

This beautiful bracelet hallmarked LESTER ORTIZ  and STERLING

weighs 89 grams and is 2 3/8″ tall at the front.

The gorgeous green turquoise stone (I’ll let you ponder the mine – please put your guesses in the comments below) was too good to toss.

I sent this bracelet to Diane at Old Town (see contact information below) who coordinates the work for the Navajo silversmiths there. Henry waved his magic wand over this one and turned it from trash to treasure !  Thank you Henry !!!!

BEFORE

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DAMAGED LESTER ORTIZ BRACELET

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AFTER

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REPAIRED AND REVIVED BRACELET

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The repair service we use:

Diane Radeke
602-354-5028
P. O. Box 55935
Phoenix, AZ  85078

Paula