Early Native American jewelry (pre-1930’s) was usually hand forged from hand-made, hand-poured ingots. An ingot is a simply a bar or block of metal. The blocks can be any shape but are traditionally rectangles.
The metals most commonly used in Native American jewelry are sterling silver or coin silver. You can read about coin silver in a previous post. It should be noted that some vintage ingots are “blends”, that is mostly Mexican coins with a few US coins thrown in OR vice versa. Also beginning the 1930’s the blend could be sterling silver with a few US coins thrown in or any variation thereof. That’s why the exact silver content will vary widely in vintage jewelry.
The beauty of silver is that it can be flattened, stretched, shaped and twisted using hand tools.
Once cooled to the perfect working temperature the blocks can be hammered into sheets, wires or other shapes needed for the piece. Silver, sterling silver and coin silver are all malleable, that is they are soft enough to be worked with hand tools – the silver is often reheated in a fire pit or forge several times before the piece is finished.
Silver is hammered while it is still hot because it’s much softer than when it’s cold. It stretches and spreads faster when hot. It needs to be reheated after only a few hammer blows because if hammered too long it will crack. It takes a lot of experience to hammer an ingot without it cracking. If it is not hammered on all sides before reheating for the next round, it will crack……..which means back to square one, remelting and making another ingot !!
Jewelry that was hand forged and hand hammered is now rare, collectible and expensive because most modern jewelry is no longer hand-hammered from ingots except by master smiths preserving the tradition. A large amount of contemporary Native American jewelry is made from machine-rolled sterling silver sheet and wire and pre-made elements like leaves, flowers and buttons.
One way to tell that jewelry has been hand hammered is the impression of tool marks.
The early bracelet below was made from an ingot – the surface wrinkling is a telltale sign. Although the wrinkling shows that this bracelet was made from an ingot, had the smith sanded or filed through the wrinkles and made the surface smooth, it would no longer show any signs of being made from an ingot, but it still would be ingot jewelry.
Thanks to Mike Schmaltz for his help with this information.
Do We Buy Used Native American Jewelry?
I have a lot of very old Native American jewelry, in these difficult economic times I feel I might need to sell some of them even though it breaks my heart. I would not ever have thought I would contact someone about these. I also have a huge collection of baskets, carvings, and original artist’s drawings & paintings. The jewelry is: one very large turquoise stone bracelet over 150 years old, a necklace on string that has large chunks of turquoise separated by black tubes of a stone the turquoise gets smaller as it gets closer to your neck, handmade silver beads held together with old silver chain, many other sets of Indian jewelry, rings, and bracelets from the 1960- to 1979ish times. Are you interested in the newer pieces from the 60-late 70’s? Thank you for your time. J
Yes, we do buy used Native American jewelry for our Internet Pawn Shop, but read this entire article to understand a little bit more about older Native American jewelry.
What Do I Do with My Wife’s Jewelry? – We are often contacted by people who either have inherited a relative’s collection or who have been collectors themselves and need to downsize. In both cases, often a person’s perception of the value of an item or a collection is influenced by their emotions and what they “feel” something is worth. In the case of a widower dispersing his wife’s jewelry, it is easy to see that there could be emotional attachment to the pieces. And if a collector has certain memories associated with a piece, that piece is worth more to that person because of the emotional element.
Patina, the tarnish that forms on sterling silver, is not a problem, in fact, to many collectors it is an asset. So before you sell vintage pieces or get them appraised, don’t clean them up !
Cracks, broken stones, missing stones, loose stones, misshapen bracelets, missing fasteners and bent pieces are a different story – they all decrease the value of the piece. Repair of vintage Native American jewelry is an art. To replace a stone in an inlay bracelet or a squash blossom necklace from the 1940s and have it “blend” is difficult to do. As we appraise a damaged piece, we have to factor in whether it CAN be repaired and the repair costs.
Before you contact us about a piece you have for sale, please inspect it carefully with a magnifying glass for missing pieces, cracks, chips, and other defects. In the majority of lots we have purchased, although all might be said to be in undamaged condition, there are always a few pieces that have one piece of inlay missing or a couple of broken or replaced stones in a turquoise necklace or other such things. We assume they were just missed by the seller but the fact that they are damaged usually means that we value them very low or at zero when making an offer.
Establishing Value – Quite often a seller will contact us after they have taken the collection to a pawn shop or a precious metals buyer and learned that the only offer they will get there is scrap price (the value of the meltdown of sterling silver and gold) for their collection. They are heartbroken at the thought of seeing such fine and cherished work destroyed. In some cases like that we come to the rescue and find good homes for pieces in the collection!
In other cases, a seller will take their items to a knowledgeable person and learn that what they thought was sterling silver is not. Or that the items were made in Mexico or Asia and although they have a Native American look, they are not authentic Native American Made. Even if the seller does his or her homework, and in good faith sends what he thinks is a Native American collection, when we receive it, 20% of the items are either not authentic Native American made or have some damage that decreases their value. Those items usually go into our Bargain Barn which is like a garage sale on the internet –a place where things go where the origin is unknown or the item is in rough shape.
Have you ever watched Pawn Stars? Rick Harrison will call in an expert and that expert will authenticate a piece and give it a value in front of the seller. “You have a nice XYZ here and in a collectors auction, it could go for $2000” so then Rick will turn to the customer and ask, “So what do you want for it?” and the seller says “How about $2000?” Then we get Rick’s endearing laugh and he says, “How about $500?”
Don’t expect to get retail or close to it when you sell a collection or even a single piece. It just doesn’t work that way. As Mike Wolfe often says on American Pickers, “There has to be some meat left on the bone” for us to handle the piece and find a buyer.
We do not do appraisals for estates or insurance purposes. We do not make offers based on photos. We evaluate items and collections that are sent to us following the process outlined below. That is how we arrive at an offer.
The Buying and Selling Process – In a nutshell, here is how the process goes:
Send us an email. (visit our website to contact us) briefly outlining what you have. Do not send unsolicited photos, they will go to SPAM and we will not see them.
If it sounds like something we might be interested in purchasing, we will ask for one or two group photos and your asking price. Please only send a few photos. We will ask for more if we need them.
If it seems like the items would be of interest to us and are within our budget, we outline the following procedure:
Because of the above detailed process and the fact that we offer fair prices, in all the years we have been doing this, we have come to an agreement with all but one seller – we have only had to return one collection. As they say: a win-win situation.
“I can see why you were recommended to me concerning my [bear claw] necklace. You are very, very thorough! I believe you are trustworthy and I will take your offer as fair so that the necklace is yours. I know if [you find] they are real bear claws, you will send me another payment. Thanks so much for taking the time and making the effort and being fair and honest.
“Received the second payment and the transaction is done and the necklace is yours. Thank you again for your help, honesty and fairness in working with me.” – Deb
“My check arrived in the mail today! Thank you so much!! You have been great to do business with! I appreciate you sending the money out so quickly, and for also answering my emails in a very timely manner!” – Alice
“I received the check today and thank you. It has been a pleasure working with you.” – PN
“Thank you and I really wasn’t sure about any of the items. You sent a nice informant letter about them. If you would like to send a check to me for the items that would be fine. I do not know how to use PayPal. Thank you again for sorting thru the jewelry. You were very good to work with.” – Pat
“I wanted to sell a Navajo Pearl necklace I no longer wore and contacted Paula at Horsekeeping LLC. She responded right away and sent me the protocol to follow for sending a picture and then the necklace itself. She offered me my asking price for the necklace and promptly sent me payment. I was so happy I contacted her. Paula commented that they were fair in their offers, and I found this to be true. And I was particularly pleased with how prompt, friendly and professional she was. Thank you.”
“I am beyond satisfied with the professionalism of Paula and Horsekeeping.com. Paula’s ongoing communication and expertise is unmatched and I couldn’t be happier with the result- the sale of my mother’s entire collection of Indian Jewelry. The process of sending the collection, Paula’s confirmation of receipt of the packages and the offering of a quote to purchase was seamless. I would highly recommend buying or selling with their company as they are honest and completely trustworthy.” – Alisa
“I can’t say enough good things about my satisfaction with your company. I didn’t know a thing about your business when I made contact and asked if you were interested in buying my collection of turquoise jewelry. But after making contact with your helpful staff, I felt at ease to send the items to you for consideration. I suggested a price that I thought was “workable” for both of us – and you agreed! I would recommend Horsekeeping.Com to anyone who’s searching the Internet for a trustworthy buyer for turquoise jewelry. The process is fast and worry-free! – John
“I accept your offer. This evaluation (of my pawn jewelry lot) is wonderfully thorough. No wonder you have so many happy customers! Thanks!” – Deb
“I had a great experience with Paula from Horsekeeping. She worked with me quickly and professionally to evaluate my items and paid me right away for them. Now they are on their way to happy homes! I would highly recommend working with Horsekeeping for buying and selling Native American jewelry.” – Jaime
“Regarding vintage jewelry lot [you recently purchased from me]: Honest appraisal and deep passion for their work! A wonderful and knowledgeable experience. Service was : fast, reliable and integrity was excellent! My items will now enrich and reward someone else’s life.” – Kristie
“Yes, all went well (with selling you my jewelry collection). Thanks for following up. You have been ever so nice.” – Jane
“Thank you for the offer on my jewelry. I accept it. It’s been a pleasure dealing with you.” – Pat
I received a beautiful old bracelet years ago and sadly one day a piece of inlay disappeared. I was nervous about shipping the bracelet to someone to fix………that is until I met Diane Radeke (see contact info at the end of the article.)
Here is my personal repair story with a happy happy ending.
I have a special inlay bracelet that is missing one piece of inlay which I think might be ivory – cream colored, not white. What do you think? What would it cost to repair this one? Paula
You’re bracelet is so unusual – I just love it! We usually charge about $20 to replace 1 missing stone. But there are many factors that affect that price:
size – a big stone costs more
type – rare stones like red coral or Bisbee turquoise cost more
number of stones being replaced – 10 needlepoint stones in the same piece might cost only $15 per stone
whether the customer still has the original stone – that might only be $10 for resetting
whether or not any additional work needs to be done in order to repair the setting.
That’s why we always like to examine a piece before giving a firm quote. Of course there is also the shipping charges back and forth that a customer needs to pay.
For your piece, we don’t have ivory, and I’m not sure we could get it. There are, however, some shells that have a creamy appearance and might work nicely in this instance. I believe we also have a white coral that has that creamier appearance, without going into the orange tones. If you can get a piece of ivory, we can cut it and set it. I can see that your center coral has a little issue, too. If it’s not uneven on the surface, it might not be a problem, but if you’d want us to replace that, it would be $25 (red coral is expensive, but we do use the real thing – not dyed).
Hi again Diane,
The bracelet is a 1960s or early 1970s Zuni inlay cuff by the late Chester Mahooty.
On the bracelet, the only thing I want done is to have the one cream piece of missing inlay replaced. Maybe it was ivory (I think ivory was still available at the time he made this as was the tortoise shell that is also in the piece). Since ivory isn’t an option, you suggested using a similar ivory colored shell to match the piece on the opposite side? You’ll see he used cream and white inlay but it is the cream piece that is missing.
I do not want the chipped red coral circle at the top of his tail repaired– just leave it as is. And please don’t buff or polish the piece. I want to keep the patina as is. (See my recent post about cleaning vintage jewelry.)
Your bracelet arrived here safe and sound.
First, I feel very clear on what you want for your bracelet, which is a beauty! I love the stamped sides. We will do our best to match with something. The guys are willing to look through their personal stashes to see what they can come up with. Henry will do the inlay a little differently to avoid any errant polishing. They usually would grind the surface of the stone after setting it into the bracelet, but he will cut and finish the stone completely out of the setting, then glue it in. The stone will be a little thinner (depth-wise, but you won’t see it) than doing it the regular way, but this will ensure that the bracelet never gets near the grinder. I do need to mention that there is a crack in the bird’s head, kind of through his eye and cheek, another crack in the turquoise chest, the chip previously mentioned in the coral belly, and a couple of other teeny tiny chips and cracks. Nothing unusual nor in need of repair – I just like to mention these things before it goes back into the shop so you’re aware. I’ll have the guys alert me if they see any weak settings, but I don’t believe they will. The rest of the settings look very good to me.
Hi Diane !!!
I received my bracelet and I am so happy. Thank you so much for your good care and Henry’s excellent work ! I have more items to send you. Paula
Here is the contact for the silversmith that did the work on my bracelet and who we use for all the repairs in our store:
P. O. Box 55935
Phoenix, AZ 85078
In these tough economic times, we are receiving increasingly more offers to buy your Native American jewelry. While we like to help and respond to every query, we can’t buy it all !! So I thought I’d outline some options for turning your jewelry into cash.
To prevent disappointment, follow these tips before you price and offer your item for sale:
If it is a vintage piece, don’t clean it with silver polish before you show it for sale.
Examine it carefully for any signs of damage: missing stones, cracked stones, bent silver.
Know what you have. If you are going to advertise a pieces as sterling silver and turquoise, be sure it is sterling silver and made with real turquoise stones.
Do your homework on hallmarks and artists. Be prepared to supply receipts of purchase, certificates of authenticity or other verification if you are selling highly collectible and more expensive pieces.
Once you think you know what you have, you need to establish value.
To get an idea of what your jewelry will bring on the market, read “What is my Squash Blossom Necklace Worth”
Once you’ve established your asking price, write up an honest, detailed description with as much factual information as you have including metal, stones, size, weight, all dimensions, hallmarks, condition and anything else to help the buyer know what you have.
Now there are a number of sales avenues you can follow.
Private sale – Here is where you would be most likely to get the highest price for your item because you are selling directly to someone with no middle man. A private sale might take place by word of mouth or via a newspaper ad (either print or online).
Yard sale – If you or a friend or family member is having a yard sale, it might be a good place to offer your items for sale. Few associated selling costs and usually quick, cash transactions.
Local flea market – Some flea markets offer to sell things on consignment or they offer booths where you can sell them. But since many large markets are designed to have unattended booths, security is one of the main issues I see with this approach because the flea markets are often huge and don’t have staff monitoring the spaces. Flea Markets are great for that butter churn that nobody could sneak out under their T shirt but if you leave small jewelry items out on a table, they could disappear. If you lock them in a cabinet, the customer would have to find a market employee to open the cabinet in order to see the item. So not the best in my opinion.
Pawn Shop – When you sell Native American jewelry to a pawn shop, plan on being offered scrap value. Read about how scrap value is calculated in “What is my scrap sterling silver jewelry worth?”
Auction – There aren’t many auctions specifically devoted to Native American jewelry around the country and those that are, would be located in the southwest and probably would be comprised of major, more valuable pieces. Auction commissions run about 30% of the final value and there might be other fees tacked on such as a 10% buyer’s fee, a reserve fee, a withdrawal fee, shipping fees and others. Auctions are usually not suitable for the average Native American jewelry – only the highly collectible items and at targeted auctions. So a bracelet that brings $500 at auction will likely net you $250 to $350.
On line auction – Many auction houses hold the sale live at a particular location but also accept bids via internet, telephone and other means. With that said, there are also auctions that are solely held on line. eBay is a subtype of that which I will cover next, but there are a number of other on line auctions that would be suitable venues for selling Native American jewelry. I’d suggest typing “Native American jewelry auction” in your favorite search engine and browse through the results. Commissions and fees will be similar to those of conventional auctions. You will be responsible for providing information on the piece and shipping costs.
eBay is a self-serve auction format that is going on all the time. You take your own photographs, write up the item descriptions, set your asking price, buy-it-now price, reserve, and shipping costs. You are responsible for your claims, so if you say something is sterling silver, it must be, or the item could be returned to you. Once you get your account set up and listing ready, you basically wait to see if anyone is interested. If your item sells, you will pay eBay a 10% commission plus other fees including a listing fee and 2.9% fee for accepting payment through PayPal. So figure you’ll end up with 85% of the final price. So that $500 bracelet will net you $425 IF it sells. Be sure you read the article I refer to above where I suggest using eBay as a way to help you establish the market value of your item. If you list an item at a realistic price, it will sell more quickly. So if you see that very similar bracelets have sold between $300-425 on eBay and you ask $500 for yours, you might end up re-listing it several times, each time incurring more listing fees and not taking in any money. If you ask $300, it might sell quickly but then you’d only net $255 on that sale and you might wish you had asked more. There is usually a sweet spot, maybe $375 where you might have to wait a little longer but when you get your 85%, it will be $319, maybe a little closer to what you feel you can accept financially and emotionally to part with your piece. To get a close estimate as to what it will cost you to sell you item on eBay, you can use their fee calculator.
8. Sell at wholesale to a retail store. If you have inherited a large number of items or have been a collector yourself and need to sell a number of items, it might be most time and cost effective to sell the lot to a retail store, such as ours at www.horsekeeping.com . We have purchased jewelry in lots from 2 pieces to over 1000 pieces. We pay wholesale prices and pay immediately on an agreement on price. To read about our buying process you can read Do We Buy Native American Jewelry?
When people send us a lot, we appraise it and make an offer. 99% of the customers are very satisfied with our offer. On a few occasions, the customer says they would rather keep it than sell it. A few say they want to try to get more for their collection…….but then a month or so later, contact us again and say they will gladly take our offer. I’m thinking that the time and money needed to successfully market the items proved to be greater than they estimated.
I hope that this helps you find some avenues to sell your Native American jewelry when you need to, but if you don’t have to sell it, wear it !!
What determines that jewelry is scrap? It depends on whether something is worthwhile to fix, has sentimental value, whether it is collectible, hallmarked, and other factors.
When you are selling broken or otherwise unsalable sterling silver jewelry, you might be offered scrap price or melt value for the items.
And even if you have undamaged Native American jewelry and you take it to a pawn shop where the pawn broker isn’t interested in or knowledgeable about the value of Native American jewelry, you will likely be offered melt value.
Here’s how you can figure the melt value of your jewelry.
First be sure the items are sterling silver. If you don’t have an acid test kit yourself, you can take the items to a jeweler to test for you.
Next you’d weigh the items. If there are a lot of stones or materials other than the sterling silver, you could either remove those so you’d get a more accurate sterling silver weight OR you could estimate how much of the weight is stone. This will vary depending on the piece so you can make your guesstimate and likely the pawn shop owner will make his.
For an example, if a heavy silver bracelet that weighs 125 grams has stones estimated to be 30% of the weight of the bracelet, then you would have 70% of the weight as sterling silver or 87.5 grams.
125 gram bracelet x .7 = 87.5 grams
But sterling silver is only 92.5% silver, so of the 87.5 grams, only 80.9 grams are silver.
87.5 grams of sterling silver x .925 = 80.9 grams of silver
Silver is measured by troy ounces and there are 31.1 grams in a troy ounce. So in 80.9 grams of silver, you would have 2.6 troy ounces of silver.
80.9 grams divided by 31.1 grams per ounce = 2.6 troy ounces of silver
It costs to have sterling silver melted and purified, so if silver is running, say $30 an ounce, you might be offered $30 or less per ounce.
2.6 troy ounces of silver x $30 per troy ounce = $78.
Repairing Native American Jewelry
We receive many queries from customers and readers who have a Native American jewelry item that they want repaired.
There is a difference between repair and restoration.
If a bracelet has a break in one of the sterling silver wire bands and you want that break fixed so you can wear the bracelet, that is an example of a repair.
If you have inherited a vintage squash blossom necklace which has lost two stones and has several crushed blossoms, and you want it to be fixed so that it looks like it did originally, that would be an example of a restoration.
Repairing an adjustable chip inlay ring, that only cost $10 originally, could be cost prohibitive – unless the ring is so dear to you that cost is not an issue.
However, with a vintage belt buckle that your grandfather wore every day and passed along to your father and now he to you – that might be a different story. The restoration might be costly but could result in an irreplaceable heirloom.
Any repairs to Native American jewelry should be done by craftsmen experienced specifically in Native American jewelry techniques and who have access to materials commonly use in Native American jewelry.
To help you learn about repairs and restoration, I’m partnering with a friend in Arizona who heads up a top notch repair service (see contact information below). Watch for the first in our series of repair articles coming soon ! Paula
P. O. Box 55935
Phoenix, AZ 85078