Bracelet from the sale basket at the Heard Museum

April 28, 2014

Hello Paula,

About ten years ago (or perhaps a few years more than that) I purchased a silver bracelet from the “sale” basket at the Heard Museum. It was an old piece that I have come to love and for which I often receive compliments.

The piece had no visible identifying markings – until recently when the piece of turquoise fell out to show an engraved floral design at the base of the 2×3 cm oval that encased the stone. This is something that I had never seen and thought perhaps it could help provide information about the piece and who made it and increase my connection to the bracelet

The bracelet itself is fashioned from three double strands of open braided “rope” with the rough piece of turquoise set in the middle. On each side of the bracelet on top of the “rope” is a right facing arrow below that is a right facing eagle. There is a hammered finish to the entire piece.

Pictures are available of course. Can you help?  Thanks so much.


Bezel Front Inside_Back Side_1 Side_2Hi Jennifer,

First of all, thank you for your patience. This is the last question from April – I am trying to get caught up!

Second and more importantly, what a great bracelet ! I can see why you bought it !

For those not familiar with Heard Museum, you can read about it here.

About all I can say about your bracelet Jennifer is that it does show:

whirling logs


(and here’s another article about Thunderbird)

handmade arrows and a beautiful Turquoise stone.

As far as the pattern underneath the stone, rather than a hallmark, I think it is more an indication of re-purposing a piece of silver that had been used or started for another project.

Perhaps other readers have comments.


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Vintage Bell Trading Co. nickel bracelet.

Whirling Log Bracelet – What do the Jagged Ovals Mean?

Hi Paula,

I have a silver wrist cuff from my grandmother and I wanted to find out some info about it. I found out about the whirling logs on it, but I’m curious about these ovals with jagged interior edges on them and what they mean. How old would you estimate the cuff to be with the whirling logs? There’s also three turquoise stones on the cuff.
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Hi Kelsey,
The best way to find out how old something is would be to learn the provenance of the item. The provenance is the back-story, its history, its first known origin.  You ask me and I can guess but you have the best way to find out – your grandmother – or if she is no longer alive, you could ask your grandfather, your parents or a friend who might know when and where your grandmother obtained the bracelet.
Because of the intrigue of the whirling log symbol, some contemporary artists are using it on modern pieces.
Does the bracelet have a hallmark? You didn’t show a photo of the inside of the bracelet. That is often helpful.
As far as the stamp work, often the stamps are design elements, not symbols intended to stand for anything in particular.
The stones look like old style, deep set, smooth bezel.
A very interesting bracelet. It is very shiny so I expect that you have polished it? Otherwise it would have quite a patina on it if it is from pre 1940.

Whirling Logs Silver Turquoise Belt Buckle

Hi Paula,

These are the photos of the Whirling Logs turquoise silver belt buckle I had e-mailed you about.  The buckle is approx. 3 and 3/4 inches wide by 2 and 1/2 inches tall.  The second photo — of the bear claw hallmark on the back — isn’t great, but I have no photo tweaking programs and I am about as computer illiterate as a person can be.  I hope it will do. I don’t know what the black pen mark “135—” means on the back of the buckle; I inherited these items from my father and don’t know if that’s what he paid for it back in the 60s or 70s or what.

I would like to know more about the piece: its age, what the hallmark means, et al.

Thank you so much.  Leigh

Hi Leigh,

First of all, what a nice treasure to inherit from your father.  I’ll mention some things I can tell from the photos and some things I can’t determine from photos.

First of all, whether or not this is sterling silver or a lesser silver (such as coin silver) or another metal can be determined by a simple acid test. Any jeweler can do this for you. Knowing the metal content will impact the value of the piece, so it is always good to know what you have that way. Reference “Not All Silver is Created Equal”.

As far as the stones, they appear to be natural turquoise stones set in smooth bezels. As far as what mine they would be from, I’d be guessing just using this one photo, but they are full of matrix and character and nicely placed. References “Types of Bezels” and “Turquoise Mines in the US” and “Green Turquoise”.

The magic marker number on the back is indeed the price. I’ve always thought that it is an odd way to mark a piece of art, but that has been the tradition with much Native American jewelry.   So that is likely what the asking price was for the buckle back when your father purchased it. Whether or not he paid that much, we don’t know because negotiating prices on Native American jewelry is common with many buyers – almost a hobby with them.

The piece seems consistent with the era you suggest – 1960s to 1970s..

I’d say it is a Navajo made belt buckle.

The hallmark is similar to many Navajo and Hopi badger or bear track hallmarks I have seen yet I don’t know of one that is exactly like this one, so I am afraid I have come up empty on the artist.

The whirling log design is described in my article on that topic here on this blog. “Whirling Logs”

Enjoy that unique belt buckle !

Native American Terms – Fetish, Totem, Amulet, Talisman

I wondered why in your web store you describe some Indian animal carvings and jewelry pieces as fetishes and others amulets or totems. Are they all the same thing? – Stuart

The terms fetish, amulet, totem and talisman are often used interchangeably to describe an object that provides good fortune and protects from evil. The exact meaning of any of these terms depend on the culture and location in which it is used. Briefly, here is how I see them:


Alaskan Thunderbird Talisman by David Audette from Sitka, Alaska

A talisman is an object that is considered to possess supernatural or magical powers and is used especially to avert evils, disease, or death. A talisman is typically engraved or cut with figures or characters, constellations, planets, or other heavenly signs. It is often worn as an amulet or charm. From the Greek word “telein”, which means “to initiate into the mysteries”. The word talisman is often used synonymous with amulet.


Turquoise and Sterling Silver Lucky Horseshoe Amulet by Navajo artist Wilbur Muskett Jr.

An amulet is a protecting charm – any object worn to bring good luck and to ward off evil, illness, and harm from supernatural powers and from other people. Amulets are typically carvings, stones (especially with naturally occurring holes), plants (such as sage, 4-leaf clover, shamrock), coins, and jewelry (crosses, horseshoes, gemstones).


Horse Totem on Horse Spirit Medicine Bag by Apache artist Cynthia Whitehawk

A totem is an object that symbolizes a person’s or a tribe’s animal guide. This could be a totem pole, an emblem or a small figurine or carving. Native American tradition holds that different animal guides come in and out of a person’s life depending on the direction that person is headed and the challenges he faces. A totem animal is the one animal that acts as the main guardian spirit and is with a person for life, both in the physical and spiritual world. Traditionally, it is the totem animal, such as an eagle, wolf, bear, horse or dragonfly, that finds the person, not the other way around.


Bear Fetish by Zuni artist Emery Eriacho

A fetish is a sacred object used in religious ceremonies, for spiritual awakening and to communicate with and direct supernatural powers. A fetish can provide protection, promote healing and ensure success in ventures such as hunting or farming. A Native American fetish is most often a carving, usually of an animal, that has some sort of power, and is sometimes decorated with stones, shells, and feathers. A carving without power is merely a carving. A person’s own beliefs determine the difference between a fetish and a carving.

So, whether an object is a talisman, totem, amulet or fetish is up to you. Just as the beauty of an object is in the eye of the beholder, so the power of an object is in the belief of the seer or wearer.


Native American Symbol – Whirling Log (Swastika)


Native American Symbol Whirling Log

The design of the Whirling Logs is similar in appearance to the symbol of horror associated with the Nazis.

Both are swastikas.

Swastika is Sanskrit meaning “well-being”. Throughout most of history, it has been associated with order and stability. The unfortunate association of the swastika with Hitler understandably makes some people uncomfortable when they see a similar symbol on Native American baskets, rugs and jewelry.

To distinguish Whirling Logs from Hitler’s Swastika, some try to make a distinction between which direction the figure appears to rotate, clockwise or counter-clockwise. But if you look at a whirling log on the outside of a Native American basket and it is whirling counter-clockwise, that same design will be whirling clockwise on the inside. Similarly with a woven rug – each side of the rug would show the symbol whirling a different way. So that is not distinction.

Native American Basket with Whirling Log Symbol

The distinction is in the intent, the context, the long history of the symbol. Read more about the history of the swastika.

Wikipedia has an excellent article with illustrations with more about the history and use of the symbol of the swastika with a note

after learning of the Nazi association, the Navajo discontinued use of the symbol

^ Dottie Indyke. “The History of an Ancient Human Symbol.” April 4, 2005. originally from The Wingspread Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe, Taos, and Albuquerque, Volume 15.

Whirling Logs are used in Navajo sand paintings during a healing or other type of ceremony. A sand painting is supposed to be a temporary piece of art which is destroyed after the ceremony is over. However sand painting designs are also used in prints and framed paintings, rugs and on jewelry.

The Whirling Log symbol is associated with a narrative involving a man (sometimes called the Culture Hero) who takes a journey down the San Juan River in a hollowed out log canoe. During his adventure, he encounters whirlpools and a special event where the San Juan River meets the Colorado River.  There he comes upon a whirling cross with Yei figures seated on the cross. From the yeis he learns much knowledge which he takes back to his people.

(See a future post about Yeis)

Since World War II, the use of the Whirling Logs in Native American artifacts has been confined mainly to rugs. Jewelry with the symbol is usually from before 1940.

Vintage Native American Pawn Bracelet with Whirling Log

Be sure to read this excellent article on Kim & Pat Messier’s Blog

The Use of the Swastika Symbol in American Indian Art