Book Look: Southwestern Indian Rings by Paula A. Baxter

Like Paula Baxter states in her Dedication, I never feel “fully dressed without wearing at least one Navajo or Pueblo ring.”

In my case, sometimes I just have to wear more !  Being a Native American ring aficionado, I found this book an interesting reference.

In over 350 color photographs (taken by her husband Barry Katzen), Paula shows historic and contemporary rings made by Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Santo Domingo artists and more.  The photos here in my article are not from Paula Baxter’s book – they are photos of my personal rings and some from the store where I work.

Unmarked vintage turquoise – likely Navajo





Coral by Rose Castillo Draper, Navajo



Larry Pooyouma, Hopi

Sidney Sekakuku Jr. – Hopi

Richard and Geneva Terrazas, Zuni

Morris and Sadie Laahte, Zuni






















Contents of the Book

The Design and Appeal of Southwestern Indian Rings

Materials and Methods of Ring Construction

Historical Rings: Pre-Contact to 1930

Vintage Rings, 1930-1979: The Age of Experimentation

Master Innovator

Artistic Adornment: 1980 to Present

It is in the Master Innovator section that she shows and discusses work by Dan Simplicio, Fred Peshlakai, Lee Yazzie, Charles Loloma, Jesse Monongya, Kenneth Begay and others.

Contemporary artists include Sonwai and Arland Ben to mention just a few.

Besides displaying rings in the customary silver and turquoise, there are a number of rings showing other materials including variscite, pink coral, sugilite, petrified wood, ironwood, fossilized ivory, opal, jade, azurite, fire agate as well as many other agates, jasper, tortoise shell and more.


White Buffalo Stone by Freddy Charley









Mother of Pearl by Rose Castillo Draper, Navajo

Lapis by Navajo Bennie Ration


Natural Royston Turquoise by Navajo Walter Vandever






















Petrified Wood, Picture Jasper or Agate?

Some vintage Native American jewelry features beautiful “stones” that almost seem to show a scene or tell a story. Such stones could be Petrified Wood, Picture Jasper, or Agate.

(In all these photos, please ignore the reflection from the lights – although these bracelets are over 50-60 years old, the stones are as bright and shiny as the day they were made and really reflect the light.)

Petrified wood is result of fossilization, the transformation of wood into agate through the process of absorption of the minerals into the cells of the wood. The resulting agate can be harder than steel.


Petrified wood can contain a wide variety of materials and minerals but most commonly agate, jasper and opalized wood.
The colors that appear depend on what minerals are present. Iron oxides show reds and browns while manganese results in pink. Copper, cobalt, and chromium will exhibit as greens and blues. Carbon is black and silica is white or gray.

Picture Jasper is similarly formed when quartz-rich mud is fossilized.
With all those colors from unique layers of various minerals, the specific chemical environment (pH, moisture, temperature etc.) surrounding the wood or mud along with the factor of time, some beautiful scenes and symbols can appear in petrified wood, picture jasper and agate.


Native American Materials – Fossilized Coral

What is fossilized coral?

Over time coral is replaced by agate, which cuts easily and takes a high polish. The fossilized coral stone shows small flowers on and within the stone. Colors range from cream to caramel to deep brown, various shades of gray, black, white and occasionally red.

Fossilized coral is used in Native American inlay bracelets, most notably Navajo. Here are a few examples.

Fossilized coral inlay bracelet by Thomas Francisco, Navajo

Fossilized coral inlay bracelet by Thomas Francisco, Navajo

Fossilized Coral Inlay Bracelet by Thomas Francisco, Navajo

Fossilized Coral Inlay Bracelet by Thomas Francisco, Navajo

Fossilized Coral Inlay Bracelet by Thomas Francisco, Navajo

Fossilized Coral Inlay Bracelet by Thomas Francisco, Navajo