Giant one pound turquoise buckle by Mary Livingston – what’s it worth?

Hi Paula,
I have a piece by Mary Livingston that measures about 4 x 6 x 5/8″. It’s one solid piece of turquoise with red veining carved into an indian chief face with a full feather headdress. It’s setup to be a belt buckle, backed and bordered by silver. It weighs 1lb 2 oz.
I’m interested in selling it and I’d like to know what it’s value is. Let me know if you’d like a picture.

Turquoise Buckle 001 (Large) Turquoise Buckle 002 (Large)

Hi John,
Thank you for your query about selling your Native American jewelry. We receive many e-mails each day and we don’t know who has read the information on our website about selling jewelry. So that is why I ask………Have you had a chance to read this article?
If so, please send a photo of your item with your asking price. I’ll let you know if your expectations are within our budget and if we should proceed. We don’t make any offers via photos but they help us determine whether the items are appropriate for our store and whether you should ship them to us for a formal appraisal.
To help you determine the market value of your item, read this helpful article.
“Paula – What is my Squash Blossom Necklace worth?”
Hi Paula,
Attached are the requested photos.
Re my “asking price”, I haven’t a clue and my inquiry to you is an attempt to figure that out. Per your suggestion, I combed Ebay extensively and there’s simply nothing comparable to this piece, sold or not sold. I found a site that gives ballpark pricing per carat on various grades of turquoise, but other than the top grades that mine is obviously not, it’s hard for me to determine where mine falls. So any light that you can shed on that will help move me toward figuring out fair pricing for making a deal with you, if you are interested.
That is truly a unique buckle John. I can see why you couldn’t find comps !!
I took a 4 x 6 tablet I have here and held it over my belt buckle and WOW, that is a big daddy, and as you say, heavy.
I’m not sure it would ever be worn, so it would be something someone would purchase to “collect” and admire more as a piece of art rather than a functional belt buckle.
It seems to be made for the non-native buying public as the Indian heads are not a traditional design that NA artists would make for themselves or their families. It would be made for sale I would guess and probably was a special order.
Mary Livingston, a Navajo, usually does Zuni style inlay so this is quite a departure for her. Did she make it for you? Or did you purchase it second hand? Sometime the provenance helps a bit too.
I’m at a loss as to its worth too, although your photos are good, it is hard to tell the quality of turquoise from a photo.
If you come up with a price, let me know.
Best of luck with it !! I could post it on my blog to see if anyone has any comments or knowledge on its value.
By all means, post it on your blog. I’d love to find out more about it.
I thought it was kind of an odd choice of subject for a NA artist to take on. And the shear size of the thing didn’t look like anything I’d ever seen in NA turquoise jewelry.
My mom’s husband bought this and when my mom died, I ended up with it. A website called Turquoise Sky in California lists 5 grades and the 4th from the top is called:

4. Average grade

A good to average grade are with proper color, matrix balance, etc, cost about $2 to $5 per carat.

So the buckle weighs 500gm. At $2/ct x 5ct/gram x 500gm = $5000
Is this way out of whack?
Hi John,
Figuring there is give or take one pound of turquoise…..
1 Pound = 2267.96185 Carats
Let’s see what others say………..I know $5000 is out of our price range !
October 10, 2013
I now have the buckle here in person.
After all of us here at horsekeeping examined the buckle closely and I showed the buckle to a number of my colleagues…… are some thoughts.
Mary Livingston is a Navajo that does work in a Zuni style.
The consensus is that it is a hand carved Navajo buckle made from stabilized turquoise OR compressed and fracture sealed stone. Most felt it was from one piece of turquoise that had been treated in some way.
Most stabilizing is done with epoxy base and heat added to the turquoise to harden and enhance it so that it will not crack or chip or break when carved. This changes the color and consistency of the stone making it hard to identify what mine it was originally was from although one expert suggested it could possibly be Kingman.
All of the heishi and fetish necklaces we sell are made from stabilized stones – otherwise they would crack when drilled or carved. Also stabilizing turquoise preserves its color. It keeps a blue buckle like this from becoming green. But many bracelets and other set stones are made with very hard high grade natural turquoise which is preferred and garners the highest prices.
Compressed refers to a treatment that uses pressure to harden the stone and Fracture Sealed refers to a stone that is treated with a fracture sealer product (epoxy) which hardens the matrix in it. Value wise, compressed, fracture sealed stone is worth more than block but less than stabilized. And stabilized is worth less than natural. (By the way, block turquoise is turquoise that has been pulverized and then reconstituted, so is a manufactured product, USUALLY using turquoise.)
So from highest to lowest value, turquoise goes something like this: high grade natural, stabilized, compressed/fracture sealed, block.
So this buckle is not natural untouched turquoise, it is not a block (or manufactured) turquoise product but it some type of treated turquoise in between those two extremes.
The highly shiny areas on the face and in between the feather tips show where there is more epoxy in that particular area of the stone.
The very clean cut edges, especially along the sides and the edges of the feathers are so smooth that it tells the stone is most likely compressed, fracture sealed stone because even stabilized stone would not have that strong, thick linear edge – it would have a gap or flaking somewhere – but it is very smooth and slick……which means it has been “filled in” or treated quite a bit in one or more methods. It would have to be in order to be carved in such detail and not crack.
Bottom line – it is a beautiful, unique buckle and it would HAVE to be made of one of the treated turquoise products so it would withstand carving and use as a belt buckle !!!
As far as value, there have been a variety of values attributed to a well made piece of this size. One that mentioned a figure was the man who has been a Native American jewelry retailer and wholesaler for over 40 years. He said
“Best guess $300-400 retail. Maybe more..”

Other knowledgeable and experienced people in Native American discussion groups have suggested values from $1000-5000 due to the size of the stone.

As always, I welcome comments.


Are these Bird Fetish Necklaces Authentic Native American made?

Paula, we have bird fetish necklace and earrings to go with it (3 sets). The birds appear to be hand craved and detailed. We have done some research but are unable to find another necklace like this one instead of colored beads between the birds there are silver beads. Just trying to find out who made it and if it is authentic. It is in excellent condition as it has been stored away for years. Thank for your help. Tom

Is this authentic Native American made?

Close-up of bird necklace - Native American made??

Hi Tom,

I’ve never seen a Zuni or Navajo fetish necklace made with silver beads between the birds. And I’ve not seen birds carved in this particular shape before. With both of those things being said, it is possible that these could be an exception. However, from what I can see, I’m thinking they are not Native American made. I’m posting the photos so that if another reader has seen something like this from perhaps Mexico or the Philippines, you might get some feedback on these necklaces.

As your research has shown you, typically there is heishi made of penn shell, olive shell, turquoise, coral or other shell or stone material in between the carved animals. And in the case of birds, the two most common and traditional bird shapes are a longer general “song bird” or a hummingbird, some examples below.

Coral birds with coral heishi by Navajo Hector Goodluck

Turquoise Birds with turquoise heishi by Hector Goodluck, Navajo

Mixed Stone Hummingbirds with Penn Shell and Turqoise Heishi by Corrine Ramirez, Navajo

Orange Tip Olive Shell Birds with Olive Shell heishi and turquoise nuggets by James and Doris Coriz, Santo Domingo


Amber in Native American Jewerly and Fetish Carvings


Amber Bear Fetish Carving by Zuni artist Joanne Cheama

Amber is……
fossilized tree sap. Although amber is not a mineral, it is classified as a gemstone. Most of the world’s amber is 30-90 million years old. It can contain insects, small vertebrates and other particulate matter both plant and animal. Amber is commonly a clear golden color, but it may have greenish to goldish inclusions.

Amber is sometimes used in Santo Domingo necklaces for the beads or for adornments added to the necklace.

Amber necklace with Fetish Bear by Santo Domingo artists James and Doris Coriz

Amber Hummingbird Fetish on a Treasure Necklace by Santo Domingo Artists James and Doris Coriz

90% of the world’s extractable amber is located in the Baltic Sea off the coasts of Poland and Russia.

Bee seeing you……….


Native American Jewelry and Carving Materials – Jet


One store owner here in Arizona calls jet a gemstone but I’m almost sure that isn’t correct – can you tell me if I am right or not?

Thanx, Jess

Hi Jess,

Good question ! Here’s my official answer.

Jet also known as Acoma Jet

Jet is an organic fossil – a solid, durable type of lignite coal that originated from wood.

Raw Jet

The term coal means the fossilized remains of ancient organic matter that ranges from bog materials to peat to wood. Jet, however, is the fossilized remains of araucaria (coniferous evergreen) wood specifically.

Therefore jet is not a stone or a mineral. It is fossilized wood.

You’d think jet is black……as in jet black……but actually it is very very dark brown but it appears black.

It is mined around the Acoma Pueblo region of New Mexico, among other places, thus the name Acoma Jet, or Jet for short.

Polished Jet

It can be highly polished. Therefore, it is very popular for carving fetishes. Here are some examples of Zuni Fetish carvings from jet.

Jet  is also used for inlaying but not usually used in large pieces for stone sets – if you see large black “stones”, they are usually black onyx.
Here are some examples of Zuni inlay pieces using jet.


Native American Pipes – The Sacred Pipe

The Sacred Pipe
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The pipe figures into Native American culture in many ways and for each culture there are different uses and traditions. The intent of this article is not to provide a comprehensive explanation of the sacred significance of the pipe in Native American cultures, but to just offer a brief idea of how pipes have been and are used by Native Americans.

On first contact with Native Americans, the French used the word “calumet” [from the Latin “calamus”, for reed] to refer to the sacred pipe. Early pipes of the Miami and Illinois were hollow canes decorated with feathers.

The Lakota sacred pipe, the chanunpa, is an important part of healing ceremonies conducted by medicine men. Once a pipe is made, it must be blessed in a special ceremony that connects it to the original sacred pipe that was brought to the Lakota by the White Buffalo Calf Woman. This is to ensure that a good spirit resides in the pipe.

Lakota Catlinite T Pipe

The Sacred Calf Pipe bundle is the most sacred object of the Sioux. It was brought to them by a messenger (White Buffalo Calf Woman) from wakan tanka (the holy being, the great mystery, the source of all healing).

The sacred pipe of the Osage is the Niniba.

Pipes currently in use by the Plains Indians are made of a catlinite bowl and a separate wooden stem, usually made of alder or ash.

Ash Pipe Stem

The bowl can be a simple L shape or a T shape or can be a carving of an effigy or other symbol.

Catlinite L Shaped Bowl

The primary source of Catlinite is in Minnesota along Pipestone Creek which is a tributary of the Big Sioux River. This area under control of the US National Park Service is now named Pipestone National Monument. Native Americans can apply for a permit to quarry catlinite there. Catlinite is named for the New York artist George Catlin (1796-1872), who was the first white person to visit the Minnesota quarry from which it was obtained.

Catlinite, a very deep red stone, is symbolic of blood of the ancient people and the buffalo.

Catlinite Double Eagle Pipe by Alan Monroe, Oglala Lakota

Although the words catlinite and pipestone are often used interchangeably, there can be a great difference in the two stones. Catlinite, with its dark red color and exceptional ability to be carved, is only found in the Minnesota mine. Pipestone found elsewhere in the US and the world has a different composition, is often a pale terra cotta color, and cannot be carved like catlinite.

Using a Pipe
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The bowl and stem are separated and carried along with a tamper, the smoking mixture and other smoking accessories in a bag or pouch.

Each person has their own ritual about handing and smoking their pipe. It usually starts by smudging (purifying) the pipe and all of its parts and accessories in the smoke of sage, sweet grass, pine or cedar.

Once the pipe has been purified, the stem is connected to the bowl, the stem being viewed as male and the bowl as female.

Important – How to insert the stem into the pipe.

CAUTION – Never roughly jam the stem insert into the pipe hole. If you force the insert into the barrel, you could break the pipe.

Instead. . .
Moisten the insert with your lips. Insert the stem into the pipe barrel and gently give it ¼ turn. This will give the stem a good hold on the inside of the barrel. The slight moisture will swell the stem insert slightly which results in a snug fit.

If you treat a pipe with respect, it will last a long time.

A certain number of pinches of the smoking mixture are added to the bowl in ceremony. Each pinch is smudged before loading in the bowl. (Read about smudging.)

The smoking of the pipe generally consists of puffing on it, not inhaling it. It is viewed as a means of sending one’s prayers to the Great Spirit and making a connection between the earthly world and the spiritual world.

As the pipe is passed, one holds the pipe in the left hand while using the right hand to wave the smoke over the top of one’s own head as a blessing. When speaking to the Great Spirit, often the stem of the pipe is pointed toward the sky.

In the hands of a medicine man, his sacred pipe is full of mysterious power and able to accomplish many things for the health, safety and well-being of his people.

When smoking is finished, the pipe is again treated with great respect as the bowl is cleaned, the stem is detached from the bowl, the pipe is blessed and stored in its special bundle or pouch.

Catlinite Horse Effigy Pipe by Alan Monroe, Oglala Lakota

Storing a Pipe
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According to Native American tradition, once a pipe has been smoked and blessed the first time, the bowl and stem of the pipe should only be joined for smoking. When they are joined, during smoking, the spirit of the pipe is released. After the ceremony, the bowl should be separated from the stem and they should be stored that way. If you store or display a pipe with the stem and bowl connected, the spirit is free to roam.

Raven Effigy Catlinite Pipe by Alan Monroe, Oglala Lakota

The Offering Pipe
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The Offering Pipe is a small scale, less expensive version of the Sacred Pipe and is meant to be used as an offering or give-away.

Catlinite Offering Pipe by Alan Monroe, Oglala Lakota

In many cultures, offerings are left at sacred sites and as a gift to the Spirits. In Native American culture, offerings might be left each time someone passes a certain way or takes water from a spring or stones from a mine. An offering can also be left for a person (alive or dead) or for a Spirit as a symbol of thanks and respect. The offering might be tobacco, food, money, flowers, craftwork or special objects. When a person goes on a Vision Quest the pipe that he smoked during that time would be one of the greatest offerings he could make to the Spirits. The Offering Pipe by Alan Monroe is perfect for such uses. When left as an offering, the pipe is separated from the stem and traditionally wrapped in red cloth which represents the red road or the good path. The bundle can be tucked in a rock crevice or a tree at the appropriate location.

A Give-Away Pipe also has tradition in Native American culture. When someone dies, there is a ceremony similar to a wake where people come to pay respects to the departed. Sometimes an Offering Pipe is placed in the casket for burial with the deceased. (See above.) Also, the family passes out gifts to family and friends at this time as a symbol of the tradition of giving away some of the deceased’s belongings. This is where a Give-Away pipe might be used.

A year after the person has passed, a feast is held in the person’s honor and the rest of the person’s belongings are given away. This is another instance where a Give-Away pipe would be suitable to exchange between family and friends of the deceased.

Choosing a Pipe
©  2010 Horsekeeping   © Copyright Information

If you are looking for an Offering Pipe or Give-Away Pipe, see above.

For a personal pipe, generally the L-shaped bowls are thought to be for a woman, a single man or for an everyday smoking pipe.

The T-shaped bowls are for a man or a family pipe. The nose of the pipe represents a man coming of age.

The animal effigy pipes are for those who have aligned with a particular animal spirit.

Horse Effigy Pipe from Catlinite by Alan Monroe, Oglala Lakota

The pipes we sell at are new pipes. They have not been smoked or blessed.

Thank you to Alan Monroe, fourth generation Oglala Lakota pipe maker from South Dakota, for his amazing high quality pipes and works of art and for some of the information used in this article.


What Does my Zuni Frog Fetish Mean?

Hi Paula,

I bought a frog from you just because he was so darned cute. Then I thought it would be good to know what he stands for. Clara

Zuni Frog Fetish by Emery Boone

Hi Clara,

I try to put a short description on each page of the significance of the various fetishes. Here, for example, is the one from the bottom of the page of the frog you bought.

What is a Fetish?

A fetish is a rock carving of an animal that captures the spirit and the essence of the animal, not necessarily its exact detailed conformation. Although carved from many types of rock, fishrock is traditional. Read more about fetishes.

Frogs and turtles are some of the oldest and most commonly carved Zuni fetishes. Frogs are considered a major rain-bringing fetish so very important to the Zuni who live in an arid portion of the southwest US. Frogs also represent abundance and fertility. It is said that women become pregnant when a frog fetish is kept next to the bed – which can be a good thing or a surprise ! So be forewarned !

According to Kent McManis, author of Zuni Fetishes and Carvings, frog has been carved since prehistoric periods as jewelry. “The Hohokam were prolific producers of shell frogs, carving so that the dome half became the body of the frog.” He goes on to say the frogs are one of the, if not THE main rain-bringing fetishes.

So has it been rainy down your way since you bought your frog?










Native American Symbols – Corn Maiden

The Corn Maiden is represented in jewelry and table fetishes as a woman with a body shaped like an ear of corn. She may or may not be wearing a headdress.

Tablita Corn Maiden by Delbert Cachini, Zuni

Corn is to Pueblo people what the buffalo has always been to the Plains Indians, the very symbol of LIFE. In Zuni mythology, the Corn Maidens brought this gift, and many of the carvings of women, especially those with a criss-cross pattern on the body, are carved to pay homage to the Corn Maidens.

Picasso Marble Corn Maiden with Tabletta by Carl Etsate, Zuni

What is a tabletta (also called a Tablita)? It is a portion of the headdress of the Hopi Butterfly Maiden (subject of an upcoming post) and often shown on the corn Maiden.  A tabletta is a ceremonial board headdress with stair step edges and a decorated front and back. It is worn by Native American dancers who depict the Corn Maiden, using a harness to hold it onto the head, so that the widest portion is seen from the front or the back.

The Corn Maiden represents the divine gift of the growing and harvesting of corn to Native American peoples. Often stylized, Corn Maidens are very captivating and reach out to you.

Corn Maiden carved from Deer Antler by Jared Amesoli, Zuni