The Art and Science of Wearing a Concho Belt

In Part One, All About Native American Concho Belts AKA Concha Belts, I covered a little bit about the history and makeup of a Native American concho belt.

Here I am going to talk about how to go about using that great belt you have hanging in the closet.

Men’s or Ladies?

Concho belts are unisex and can be worn with jeans as well as over shirts, blouses and with skirts and dresses.

First I’ll talk about link belts as they are quite simple.

Boulder Turquoise link belt by Platero

Link Concho Belts

Link belts are usually quite adjustable. You would purchase one approximately your waist size plus a few inches. Depending on the style of the belt, you usually can fasten the buckle’s hook on any of the rings between the conchos to get a custom fit. This is especially good if you are going to wear the belt in a variety of ways – over a blouse or shirt or through the belt loop of jeans because you will be able to fit a link belt to its intended use very quickly. Most link belts are narrow enough to fit through the loops of standard jeans. Generally 1 3/4″ wide and less will slide through belt loops.


Sterling Silver link concho belt

Depending on your waist size and the length of the link belt, you will have more or less excess belt hanging down in the front. This can be left hanging straight down or looped. 

Leather Concho Belts

Leather concho belts are traditional and popular. You need to choose a leather belt that is the correct size for the concho’s loops. If the leather strap is too narrow, the conchos will wiggle out of position. If the strap is too wide or thick, it will make it difficult to slide the conchos.

Belt is too narrow

Belt is correct width

Leather Concho belts fasten in one of three ways.

Sterling Silver link concho beltSome leather Concho Belts have a normal buckle with a tongue. With this style buckle, once you find the ideal place to punch the holes for your waist, you can cut off the end of the leather just so it tucks under the first concho as shown in the slide show below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sterling Silver link concho beltOthers leather belt style Concho Belts have a large oval or rectangular “western style belt buckle” with a prong on the back that fits into a hole in the belt. 

For both of these types of belts, using a leather punch, you will need to punch a hole or two in the leather portion of the belt to custom fit the belt to your size waist. If you have a small waist, you might want to cut some of the leather off the end of the belt and slide the conchos closer together. If you have a large waist, you might want to slide the conchos farther apart from each other.

Some leather mounted concho belts have a hook and loop on the end panels such as this one by Dan Jackson.

P1170619 use

Dan Jackson leather concho belt with hook and loop fastener

With a belt like this, you would need to slide the panels closer together or farther apart on the leather belt until the hook and loop connect perfectly for your waist size.

P1170621 use

 The leather belt portion of a leather concho belt is usually extra long and blank (not punched) so that you can custom fit the belt to your size. The conchos can be slid along the leather as desired to position them perfectly for your waist size. You can also remove the conchos and buckle from the leather strip provided and place the conchos on a favorite belt that you already own.

If you are going to wear a concho belt over an untucked shirt or blouse, you would punch a hole to fit your waist and then arrange the conchos evenly spaced around the belt.  To do this, you need two simple tools. A screwdriver and a pair of pliers.

Using the screwdriver, carefully loosen the belt loops on the back, just enough so you can slide the concho into the desired position.

Then to seat it, place a cloth around the concho to protect it and gently squeeze the belt loop with the pliers to a snug fit.

You don’t have to scrunch down real hard because the loops are usually made of copper or silver, both soft metals that bend easily. You are padding the concho so the pliers don’t make any marks on the front side of the concho – or damage any stone or inlay. Be careful when squeezing with the pliers – only enough to get the job done.  Once you have the conchos set, you are ready to wear your belt.

The situation with a belt that will be worn with jeans is a little more complicated because first you want to be sure the conchos will slip through the belt loops.

Generally 1 3/4″ wide and less will slide through belt loops.

 

P1170615 use

A few brands of jeans have larger belt loops, I have found that Seven7 Skinny Jeans accept concho belts up to 2 1/4″ wide !

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Also, you will want to space the conchos so that they work in harmony with the belt loops. Here for example is one arrangement for a belt that has a buckle plus 11 conchos.

Front view

 

Back view

If you have to put your conchos and buckle on a new leather strap, simply loosen the loops and slip off the conchos. Most buckles are attached using  a 3 hole tie with lace as shown in the slide show below. It is the same tie you use to fasten a latigo to a western saddle.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I love to wear concho belts and hope these two articles get you motivated to use yours !

Paula

 

Native American Concho Belts

Before buying a concho belt, it is a good idea to know a little bit about them. I hope this helps you with your purchasing decision and will add to your wearing enjoyment. This is Part One of a two part series. Part Two will cover The Art and Science of Wearing a Concho Belt.

History

The word concho comes from the Spanish “concha” which actually means “conch” or “seashell” but has come to mean round or oval disks (occasionally rectangles) of silver used to decorate saddles, bridles, clothing, used as jewelry such as for pendants and bolo ties and for adorning or making belts.

Concho belts are a long-time Navajo tradition yet it is generally accepted that the Navajo learned about the concept of concho belts from the Plains tribes. They then obtained the skills and designs to make silver conchos from Mexican silversmiths (plateros) that used conchos on horse tack. 

The earliest conchos were silver dollars that were hammered, stamped and edged, then slotted and strung together on a piece of leather.

A slotted concho

Later in the evolution of concho belts, the slots were no longer used. Instead, copper loops were added to the back of the conchos so they could be slipped onto a leather belt.

Copper belt loops

When the slots disappeared, they were replaced by a central design element which continues to be used today.

The slot has been replaced by a central stamped design

 Silver concho belts evolved to include overlay, storyteller, sandcast and more.

Delgarito storyteller

Overlay

Vintage Sandcast

Stones were added later as a central stone, a cluster, with other design elements or as inlay. Some conchos are made entirely of a single turquoise stone. 

Vintage unmarked concho belt with central stone in a shadowbox

Vintage unmarked concho with central stone – classic

Cluster belt by Navajo Irene Chiquito

Concho with other design elements including leaves, raindrops, turquoise nuggets, coral and a bear claw. By Elaine Sam, Navajo

Inlay concho belt by Navajo Benjamin Becenti

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Chip Inlay

Large Turquoise Stones made up to be the conchos on this belt

Concho Belt Features

Concho belts can be a continuous row of conchos or could have spacers in between the conchos.

Vintage Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild belt with continuous row of sandcast conchos

Margartet Platero Boulder Turquoise link belt with a continuous row of conchos

Sterling Silver link concho belt

Leather concho belt with butterfly spacers

Link concho belt with butterfly spacers

The spacers can of various shapes but traditionally are butterflies and it is easy to see why they are called that when you look at the shape of them.

The conchos and the butterflies are sometimes backed by leather which highlights the silver work and also protects the edges of the silver from bumping, wear or bending.

Leather backed, slotted conchos

How Many Conchos?

The number of conchos on a belt will depend on the length (size) of the belt, the dimensions of the conchos, whether butterfly spacers are used and so on. But some common configurations might be:

  • 6 conchos + 7 butterflies + a buckle
  • 10 to 14 conchos + a buckle
  • Link concho belts might have from 12 to 18 conchos connected by rings.

See Part Two of this series to see how the number of conchos plays out when you want to wear your belt with jeans.

Link or Leather

Generally there are two types of concho belts: link and leather. 

Link concho belts are conchos that are connected by rings with a hook fastener at one end. Link belts are used primarily over a blouse but many can also fit through the belt loops of jeans. Link belts generally cost less than leather belts.

Link belt used over a blouse

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leather concho belts are basically a leather belt with conchos slipped onto the belt and a buckle attached to the end

Leather concho belt

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Today there are many types of Concho Belts sold, some are authentic Native American Made, but many are not. Here is how they stack up.

Museum Quality
The fine, highly worked museum-quality Navajo or Zuni Hand Made Sterling Silver Concho Belts are truly works of art and are highly collectible, seldom sold, and worn for ceremonial purposes only. They are made by very talented, traditional Native American artists out of the finest stones and Sterling Silver. Sometimes a dozen artists will get together and each will make one concho for a special belt. Some artists might make only one or two concho belts in a year….or a lifetime. Prices are commonly $20,000 and more.

Museum quality belt by Dan Jackson

Traditional Leather “Using” Belts
Traditional Sterling Silver Leather Concho Belts made by Native American silversmiths and marketed for “using” can be somewhat less complex and less expensive that the museum pieces but they are wonderful pieces of wearable art ! They are equally suitable to wear over a blouse or shirt or with jeans. These are for sale in the $1000-$9000 range.

A “using” concho belt by Calvin Martinez

Not Native American

There are all kinds of non-Native American made concho belts for sale. They are often made in a southwestern style from machined steel conchos that are chrome plated. These might sell for as low as $10.

A link concho belt that is machine made, not Native American, not sterling silver.

METALS AND MATERIALS

Sterling Silver 

Conchos can be of shiny or matte sterling silver, antiqued or highly polished. 

Coin Silver – Some older concho belts are made from coin silver. You can read more about coin silver in my previous post on the subject.

Nickel
“Nickel Silver” or “German Silver” Concho Belts have no silver in them at all. They do have a silver color to them but they do not contain any silver. They are made of an alloy of copper, zinc, and nickel. This is very confusing for customers because they are often fooled into thinking they have purchased a silver item because they are called Nickel Silver or German Silver. When comparing Sterling Silver (which contains 92.5% of the precious metal Silver) with Nickel Silver, you are comparing apples to oranges – that’s why the prices will vary so much. Nickel silver is hard and brittle, so is usually machined rather than hand worked. Nickel Silver concha belts are generally not hand made. They are commonly machine struck or stamped so although the design might be based on a Native American design, they are seldom Native American hand made. Nickel silver does not tarnish. It is more durable and of a much lower cost and value than Sterling Silver. Know what you are buying. Read Not All Silver is Created Equal
Plated
Plated Concho Belts might consist of a layer of silver or chrome over steel. “Pot metal” (inexpensive cast metal mixtures) and other metal alloys can also be plated. These kinds of belts are the tourist grade or costume jewelry style belts, a totally different item than Native American Made Concho Belts.

To get some ideas on how to get your concho belt ready to wear, read Part Two of this Series – The Art and Science of Wearing a Concho Belt.

Paula

Hatbands – Native American and Otherwise

There is nothing like a nice handband to perk up an otherwise nondescript hat.

This article focuses mainly on hatbands but you will see that many of the example hats also have stampede strings. In case you are not familiar with them, they are basically a chinstrap fastener that can be used either under the chin or at the back of the head to help hold a hat on in the wind or during a stampede !!! They are usually left loose until needed as shown by Tom Selleck – sigh!

QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER, Tom Selleck, 1990. (c) MGM.

Stampede strings can be a simple leather “string” (on less expensive hats), braided leather (often kangaroo on Australian hats), braided horse hair with tassels (popular on US Western hats) and other materials.

There are various ways of attaching stampede strings to hats. Most of the hats shown here use the method where the stampede string encircles the crown and then passes through holes on either side of the brim. But there are other ways to attach them.  I will leave that for you to research – there are many helpful how-to articles on the internet.

So on to the “embellishment” portion of this post – the hatband !!

Most hats come with a ribbon band of some kind, narrow to wide. Depending on the hat, this might look the best. Simple. Elegant.

Other hats look great with a touch of horsehair either as a separate hatband or as part of the stampede string.

Almost any hat looks good with a concho belt hat band and some look good with beaded hat bands.

Following are some hat “case histories” with some information to help you decide if and how you might want to dress up your hat.

By the way………hatbands are not just for western hats…………they look great on most panama straw hats as well, as one of the examples below will show.  Maybe even on a fedora for the adventurous !

One thing to keep in mind as you add a hatband – the proper way to set a western hat down when you are not wearing it is upside down. (If you lay it down on its brim too many times, it ruins the shape of the brim.) Because of this tradition, you will want to be sure your hatband is securely fixed in place so it doesn’t fall off your hat.

 

Before I continue with the hat showcases………here are a few items that you might find handy.

 

Paula

Vintage Pure Silver Kewa Concha Belt

Most Native American jewelry is made from sterling silver which you can read about here.

Jewelry Silver – Not All Silver is Created Equal

This particular concha belt made in the 1950s by Kewa silversmith Herb Coriz is made from pure silver ingots.

CB57-CCC-stamped-pure-coriz-5

Thus it is stamped .999 rather than the .925 for Sterling Silver.

CB57-CCC-stamped-pure-coriz-3

.999 stamp designates pure silver

However, he made the buckle, which receives the most stress, from sterling silver.

CB57-CCC-stamped-pure-coriz-4

The buckle is stamped Sterling

 

CB57-CCC-stamped-pure-coriz-1Paula

K. LEWIS concho belt – can you help with information?

Hi Paula,
I have a belt I bought 30 years ago from a friend who in the 1940s would go to arizona hunt doves.  Then go to reservation and buy jewery from the indians.   This belt has hallmark     HANDMADE   K. LEWIS     I also have information his name    is    KEYBAHI  LEWIS     Im looking for any info on the belt or artist  to sell.

 Belt is 37 inches long.  
Thank you    CHARLES
CONCHO 001 CONCHO 002HI Charles,
It is a beautiful belt with lovely turquoise stones. However, I have no first-hand knowledge of K. Lewis or that hallmark, nor does it appear in any of my hallmark references.
I am posting this in hopes that someone else might recognize the hallmark.
Paula
To view our full list of article or to ask a jewelry question, follow the instructions here
http://www.horsekeeping.com/native-american-jewelry-artifacts.htmIf you are selling your jewelry, read this
http://www.horsekeeping.com/jewelry/pawn-buying.htm

Visit our pawn shop for your research and shopping
http://www.horsekeeping.com/jewelry/pawn/pawnshop-vin.htm

CB42-WC-turq-leaves-1

The 1970s Native American Jewelry Boom

Did you ever wonder why there are so many Native American jewelry items from the late 1960s and early 1970s?

Those were the times of peace and love, alternative dress, hippies, movie stars going wild and a big publicity boost for Native American jewelry from Arizona Highways magazine and other publications.

Although many celebrities began wearing Native American jewelry in the late 60s and early 70s, perhaps two of the most influential were Jim Morrison of the Doors and Cher.

morrison-rock-star

Jim Morrison of The Doors

During the late 1960s when the Doors were at the height of their fame, Jim Morrison bought a concho belt from Wayne and Irma Bailey when they were traveling in California.  Joe H. Quintana (1915-1991), a Cochiti Pueblo master silversmith was the maker of this famous belt.  Quintana likely made the belt in 1966 or 1967 when he worked for Irma Bailey’s Indian Art & Pawn on the Old Town Plaza in Albuquerque.

cher

Cher wearing a squash blossom necklace and other turquoise jewelry

sonny cher turquoise

The Sonny and Cher Show

cher turquoise

Cher (Cherilyn Sarkisian of Armenian, Irish, German, English and Cherokee descent) has used Native American jewelry and accents throughout her career from 1965 and has had a dramatic influence on fashion. Her album Half Breed was release in 1973.

cher half breed album

As a result of such publicity, everyone wanted some of the action !!

One of the most popular items made in the 1970s were squash blossom necklaces. There was a huge demand for them. It is also one of the most common vintage items offered to us today. The retail price of a squash blossom necklace during the early 1970s boom was the same or higher than the same item today. And often they were full size, heavy and ornate, something that doesn’t sell well today because a good number of people would rather wear than collect Native American jewelry.

During the boom some beautiful items were made. However, to cash in on the demand, some shops and silversmiths cranked out the items, sometimes with inferior workmanship and maybe the work wasn’t even done by Native American artists.

One thing that wasn’t skimped on was the sterling silver. Silver was only  $1.29 per ounce when Jim Morrison’s belt was made in 1966. Today silver is trading at $27.27 per ounce.  Read more about silver prices here. How Silver Price Affects the Value of Native American Jewelry

Back in the late 1960s there was ample US mined turquoise around to fill needs but as demand rose, Persian turquoise began to be imported from Iran.  In the 1970s a one carat U.S. turquoise stone would be considered expensive at $1. Today some of the more sought-after U.S. turquoise can cost up to $100 per carat.

turq

Because of the great demand, the 1970s experienced the first BIG influx of imported copies and reproductions which gave some people the idea that Native American jewelry was chintzy and poorly made.

The boom crashed about the mid seventies when the fashion cycle started changing and the silver price started rising, hitting an artificially inflated high near $50 per ounce in the late seventies.

Some of the Concho Belts from the White Buffalo Collection

What a diverse group of belts I’ve been researching this week. Here are a few samples from the White Buffalo Collection.

Irene Chiquito, Navajo

 

Navajo Blanket Design Overlay by DB

 

Tommy Singer, Navajo

 

R & G Daye, Navajo

 

History

The word concho comes from the Spanish “concha” which actually means “conch” or “seashell” but has come to mean round or oval disks (occasionally rectangles) of silver used to decorate saddles, bridles, clothing, used as jewelry such as for pendants and bolo ties and for adorning or making belts.

Concho belts are a long-time Navajo tradition yet it has been suggested that the Navajo borrowed conchos from Mexican tack items or from the Plains Indians.

The earliest conchos were silver dollars that were hammered, then stamped and edged, then slotted and strung together on a piece of leather.

Later in the evolution of concho belts, copper loops were added to the back of the conchos so that the conchos could be slipped onto a leather belt.

To read the complete article click here.