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The slot has been replaced by a central stamped design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

Benjamin Becenti Inlay Storyteller Concho Belt shows Navajo life

Born about 1950, Benjamin Becenti is the son of Robert Becenti, Sr and the
brother of Robert Becenti Jr. He is from Crownpoint, New Mexico. He has been
active in inlay work since the 1970s.

He is well known for his wonderful inlay storyteller belts. Each panel shows a different scene from Navajo life.

CB58-CCC-storyteller-becenti-5

 

CB58-CCC-storyteller-becenti-7 CB58-CCC-storyteller-becenti-8 CB58-CCC-storyteller-becenti-9 CB58-CCC-storyteller-becenti-10 CB58-CCC-storyteller-becenti-11 CB58-CCC-storyteller-becenti-12 CB58-CCC-storyteller-becenti-13 CB58-CCC-storyteller-becenti-14 CB58-CCC-storyteller-becenti-15 CB58-CCC-storyteller-becenti-16

He uses turquoise, mother of pearl, acoma jet, red coral and orange spiny oyster for his inlay work.

This belt is NOS, New Old Stock,  vintage but never used.

CB58-CCC-storyteller-becenti-2Paula

Navajo Silversmiths 1880s

This is a fascinating read from a Smithsonian writer about very early Navajo Silversmiths.

Navajo Silversmiths 1880-1881

Navajo and Zuni Concho Concha Belts

Concho Belts AKA Concha Belts

©  2010 Horsekeeping © Copyright Information

We sell only 100% Sterling Silver Native American, Navajo or Zuni Made Authentic Concho (Concha) Belts – Made in USA.

Before buying a concho belt, it is a good idea to know a little bit about them. We hope this helps you with your purchasing decision.

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.

Concho Belt Features

Sterling Silver link concho beltConcho belts can be a continuous row of conchos or could have spacers in between the conchos. 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.Sterling Silver link concho belt

Men’s or Ladies?

Concho belts are unisex and can be worn with jeans as well as dresses.

How Many Conchos?

The number of conchos on a belt will depend on the size of the belt, the width 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.

Silver Finish

Conchos can be of shiny or matte silver, antiqued or highly polished. Some concho belts are all sterling silver but many concho belts also have stones inset in the center or around the perimeter of the concho.

Leather or Link

Generally there are two types of concho belts: leather and link. The leather belt portion of leather concho belts are 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 theSterling Silver link concho belt conchos on a favorite belt that you already own.

Link concho belts are conchos that are connected by rings with a hook fastener at one end.

Fastening a Concho Belt

Concho belts fasten in one of three ways.

Sterling Silver link concho beltSome leather Concho Belts have a normal buckle with a tongue. You will need to punch a hole or two in the leather portion of the belt to custom fit it to you. If you have a small waist, you might want to cut some of the leather off the end of the belt and possibly slide the conchos closer together. If you have a large waist, you might want to slide the conchos farther apart from each other.

Sterling Silver link concho beltOthers leather belt style Concho Belts have a large oval “western style belt buckle” with a prong on the back that fits into a hole in the belt. You will need to punch holes and trim the leather for this type of buckle too.Sterling Silver link concho belt

Link Concho Belts fasten with a hook that can be attached almost anywhere on the belt thereby making link belts very adaptable and one-size-fits-all. Those with smaller waists have a larger portion of the belt hanging down in the front after fastening.

Types of Concho Belts – Materials, Authenticity and More

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

  • 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. Often a highly respected artist might make only one or two of these Concho Belts in a year….or a lifetime. Prices are commonly $20,000 and more.
     

  • Authentic Traditional Leather
    Traditional Sterling Silver Leather Concho Belts made by Native American silversmiths and marketed for the discriminating buyer can be somewhat less complex and less expensive that the museum pieces but they are every bit as nice. They are equally suitable to wear over a blouse or shirt or with jeans. These are for sale in the $1000-$9000 range.
     

  • Authentic Traditional Link
    Sterling Silver Link Concho Belts made by Native American artists are used primarily over a blouse but many can also fit through the belt loops of jeans.
     

  • Nickel
    “Nickel Silver” or “German Silver” Concha Belts have no silver in them at all. They do have a silver color to them but they do not have any silver in them. 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 have at one time been a Native American design, they are not 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.
     

  • Plated
    Plated Concha Belts might be chrome or a thin layer of silver plating over steel, “pot metal” (inexpensive cast metal mixtures) or other metal alloys. These kinds of belts are the tourist grade or costume jewelry style belts, a totally different animal than Native American Made Concho Belts.