Why is copper used for belt loops, pin backs and more in Native American jewelry?

Copper was the first metal discovered by man and has been used for thousands of years by craftsmen around the world for tools, artifacts and jewelry.

Copper was considered sacred by some Native American cultures and it continued to be used extensively even after the introduction of silver, steel, and metal alloys.

CSB21-symbols-bell-1

Vintage copper bracelet with Native American symbols

Copper was abundant in the Southwest, with Arizona having one of the largest copper deposits in the world. In some areas native copper could be found just laying on the ground without the need to smelt it from ore.

Raw Copper

Raw Copper

Copper’s was and is much less expensive than silver.  Unlike steel and most other metals, copper can be easily shaped without heating.

Soldering or “sweating” is joining two pieces of metal together, using a medium called solder (pronounced “sodder”).  The metals that are being joined might be the same such as copper to copper or sterling silver to sterling silver. That type of soldering is relatively simple for an experienced metal smith.

It is when soldering two different metals together that things can get tricky in terms of the amount of heat necessary and the type of solder required.

Examples of dissimilar metal-to-metal soldering common in Native American jewelry is copper to sterling silver and steel to sterling silver.

Copper Soldered to Sterling Silver

Copper Soldered to Sterling Silver

Copper requires much less heat to solder to sterling silver than it would take to solder steel to sterling silver. Also with copper, there isn’t a specialized solder needed.

That’s why copper is the metal of choice for belt loops on concho belts and is also seen as pin backs, for example, on vintage Native American pins and pin pendants. 

Copper pin soldered to vintage sterling silver pin

Copper pin soldered to vintage sterling silver pin

Sterling silver concho belt with copper belt loops.

Sterling silver concho belt with copper belt loops.

Paula

What Bell markings are on this copper bracelet?

Hi Paula

I have a question about this bracelet:
CSB60-612-sunburst-1 CSB60-612-sunburst-2
The description says that it is made by Bell, and I was wondering if there are any of the Bell markings on the bracelet since I can’t see the completely backside of it.
Thanks
Amy
Hi Amy,
It has the Zia sun symbol with a bell
which is one of Bell’s hallmarks after 1972.
You can see that hallmark on this post Bell Trading Company History and Hallmarks.
Paula

Silver tone symbol bracelet – could it be a Bell Trading bracelet?

Hi Paula, I am the person who is anxiously awaiting the copper stamped Bell Trading bracelet CSB32.

CSB32-symbols-bell-1

I have a question about a piece I have.  It looks exactly like the piece I have purchased except it is nickel silver looking.  It does not have a Bell hallmark, but at one end in the border depression there appear to be 2 “C’s” facing each other like a figure 8.  There also appears to be a copper or brass metal under the silver tone metal finish.  At one tiny place a different color metal can be seen and there is a greenish-blue hue along one edge.  The fact that this piece is the exact replica, except for stamping, of the piece I’ve purchased is intriguing.  Do you have any ideas where I could get more information about it.  Thank you very much.  Dorothy

bracelet 003 bracelet 012Hi Dorothy,

There have been a lot of nickel plated Indian symbol bracelets made since the 1930s.

Yes it is identical to the copper one you purchased from our store which had the Bell trademark stamp on it. And it seems like it could very well be nickel over copper although it is hard to tell from a photo.

As to the hallmark, I am not familiar with it.

Perhaps someone else knows about the CC Figure 8 type stamp and can help.

Paula

Does iron make turquoise more green and copper make it more blue…..or Vice Versa???

Hi Paula,

I hope you can settle a bet I am in with my boss and co worker. We all work at a store that has the biggest collection of dead pawn jewelry here in xyz. Great museum worthy collection. Both my boss (owner of the shop) and co worker tell our customers that the color of turquoise is dependent on blue being more iron and green being due to more copper present. That is the exact opposite of what I learned as a life long rock hound and native jewelry collector / enthusiast. Their argument is that Bisbee has iron matrix (hematite mostly) and it is the famous Bisbee blue, and not so much green. There is also Morenci, which is noted for the iron pyrite, and is typically blue. Although I have seen some pretty green Morenci as well. They claim that since pyrite and hematite are both iron and appear in these noted “blue” turquoises, then it is iron that gives the blueness. My boss also tells people that the matrix in Royston is copper. Which sometimes the copper does actually appear in the matrix, but mostly I thought it was limonite or rhyolite. The copper usually seems deeper and will darken with age, like a penny does. But the limonite or rhyolite remain the same.

Morenci Turquoise

Morenci Turquoise

Royston Turquoise

Royston Turquoise

I showed them I could not force google to say blue is due to iron and green is due to copper. Is always says the opposite, or “did you mean green is due to iron presence?” or “did you mean blue is due to copper presence?” But they still won’t believe me, or google. Do you have any resources that I could use to show them? I’m not trying to be a know it all, I just don’t want them perpetuating bad info. Please help!

Thanks!

Hello,

We are NOT rock “experts” but we do have a fair bit of knowledge and
experience among us.

All of us here agree with you, as evidenced by the content of some articles from our website and this blog.

The more blue, the higher the copper content. The more green, the higher the iron content.”  Turquoise and Mines  and Green Turquoise

As you will read in various articles on our website, some turquoise will turn green as it ages due to effects of oxidation, dehydration and exposure to the elements and products (lotions etc.). So turquoise once blue will sometimes end up green – that’s why you see more green turquoise in vintage pieces.

Here are some other internet sources – there are many.

“Also, within the same mining operation, sometimes within the same vein, both greens and blues will be found. The blue is the copper, and greens are molecules of zinc or iron. So value is not necessarily based on color even though blue does often sell for more because more people prefer it.” Learn about Turquoise

“Colour is as variable as the mineral’s other properties, ranging from white to a powder blue to a sky blue, and from a blue-green to a yellowish green. The blue is attributed to idiochromatic copper while the green may be the result of either iron impurities (replacing aluminium) or dehydration.” Wikipedia

The Wikipedia article has references that might lead you to more technical information should you desire it.

Like you, I could not find any reference to copper being associated with green turquoise and iron being associated with blue. It was always the other way around.

A fun thing to google is copper sulfate – hit images and wow, is that blue or what ??!! I don’t know if this has any relevance, but here copper definitely = blue.

copper sulfate

Copper sulfate

I hope others might weigh in on this topic because I am not a geologist by any stretch of the imagination !

I wonder if some people associate green with copper because copper pennies can turn the inside of your wallet green. And copper roofs turn green over time depending on the climate and location. And copper bracelets can turn the skin of some people green. But that is a whole other topic related to oxidation and acidity.  Maybe that is where the confusion lies?

Green Patina on Copper Roof

Green Patina on Copper Roof

Paula

Paula, Can you help identify this brass bracelet?

Hello Paula,
We have recently come across a Native American cuff bracelet that we
would like to see if you or any of your blog followers could help with
identifying it.It is brass inlayed with turquoise and red coral. The
inside is marked with HB and with the second leg of the H and the
upright of the B being shared. Also above the HB are two symbols that
look very much like a pair of human eyelashes. 🙂 The design of the
inlay looks like water or waves. We do have pics available if you
would like to see them. Thanks so much.
Kim and Joe

BrassCuffBraceletFrontRC BrassCuffBraceletMark lightenedHi Kim and Joe,

This copper cuff bracelet is decorated with chip inlay.

Copper is a pure elemental metal that has been and is being used by Native American artists. Read all about copper here. 

Brass is an alloy made of copper and zinc. I have never seen Native American Jewelry made from Brass.

What is Chip Inlay?

Chip inlay is a method where cavities in jewelry are filled with a mixture of crushed stone, typically turquoise and coral, and epoxy resin. The piece is then polished smooth after the resin has hardened.

The cojoined initials HB have been used by several artists, Hispanic and Navajo. One celebrated (deceased) Navajo artist used a cojoined HB but verified versions of his hallmark look different than the hallmark on your bracelet so I hesitate to suggest his name lest it be associated wrongly. I do see many items on eBay with all variations of HB and other hallmarks being attributed to this noted artists yet none of the hallmarks are the same !

As far as the eyelashes – they are made with a common stamping tool that is used to decorate metal pieces, perhaps to represent rays of the sun (or possibly rain) such as is on the front of your bracelet and on this barrette.

BAR807-ABC--silver-C crop

The rays could be a shop mark in addition to the artist’s mark.

Or they could be an intentional part of the artist’s personal hallmark. One artist put fringe-like-rays around his initials, but usually it was an entire box, not just a topper.

However, I don’t recognize these particular lashes/rays nor do they appear in any of my hallmark references.

Therefore at this point, all I can say is probably Navajo copper bracelet with chip inlay.

Paula

A New Twist on the Horse Whisperer Bracelet !

The Sterling Silver Classic Twist “Horse Whisperer” bracelet is like the one Robert Redford wore in the movie. It is one of the most sought after bracelets in our store so we carry it in many thicknesses and sizes for men and women.  We are often sold out and unable to get more in sterling silver. And with the rise in silver prices, the larger sizes can get quite pricey as they are based on weight of sterling silver used.

five sixteenths classic twist bracelet

So we were thrilled when Benny Tahe made us identical twins in copper !! Ever since they have come into the store, I have been wearing one and just can take my eyes off it. What a gorgeous glow !

CSB51-A-E-new-twist-tahe-2

And at 1/8 the price of the sterling version, what’s not to love?? So I’m thinking copper for the barn and sterling silver for town.

Copper Jewelry – Characteristics, Care, Reaction with Skin and Health Benefits

Copper Characteristics

Copper is a pure elemental metal, CU on the periodic table. It is reddish brown and is soft enough so that it is malleable which means you can shape and bend it fairly easily.

Copper oxidizes and darkens when it comes in contact with the air in the environment. It tends to get to a certain dark color but then it doesn’t get any darker.

If you’ve ever seen copper roofs that have turned green, that is what is called copper patina. The copper has reacted with the environment and rain, especially if it is acidic rain.

The same sort of thing can happen when copper comes in contact with your skin if your skin is acidic. The acids in your skin combine with copper and make copper salts which are green. They are harmless and can simply be washed off.

Copper Care

Copper develops a patina, much like sterling silver, but faster and darker, especially in the presence of heat, sunlight, sweat, swimming pools and chlorine water, chemicals and cosmetics. Remove copper jewelry before bathing, swimming, doing dishes, putting on lotion or makeup.

Some people love the deep rich look of vintage copper while others like the bright shiny bronze look of clean copper.

Storage
Keep cooper in a cool, dry place. If possible, store in an anti-tarnish pouch, box or cloth. If you have none of these, use a tightly sealing plastic bag to keep air from contacting the copper items. Adding a strip of anti-tarnish paper can also slow down tarnish.

Cleaning
Effective cleaning products for copper are highly acidic. Here are some methods for cleaning a solid copper item with no stones or gems.

Lemon Juice

  • Lay a cloth on your kitchen counter, one that you don’t mind getting dirty.
  • Place your copper item in a glass or ceramic bowl on the cloth.
  • Squirt lemon juice over the item.
  • Move the item in the liquid so that all surfaces have a chance to react with the lemon juice.
  • Use a toothbrush to scrub the lemon juice in the crevices.
  • Rinse.
  • Wash with warm water and soap, using your toothbrush again if necessary.
  • Dry

Salt and Vinegar Soak

  • Add 1 teaspoon salt and 1 cup of vinegar to 2 quarts of boiling water.
  • Remove the pot from the heat.
  • Dip the copper item in the liquid, rinse and dry.

Lemon Juice Salt Paste

  • Mix lemon juice and salt together until you have a paste which you can use for deep cleaning.
  • Apply with a cloth or toothbrush as appropriate.
  • Rinse
  • Dry

To make a paste that you can apply and leave on an item for a deeper cleanse, you can make a thicker paste by adding some flour to the above lemon-salt paste.

Ketchup and Worcestershire sauce have been noted to be excellent copper cleaners but more expensive than the home preparations above.

To maintain the shine, you can buff a copper piece with an anti-tarnish cloth.

Reaction between copper and your skin

If you have ever had a copper bracelet that started to turn green or even turn your skin green, you might have been turned off by copper.

The green color results from an individual’s body chemistry at a particular time. Two people can wear the same bracelet and one person’s wrist will turn green and the other’s will not. A person can wear a copper bracelet one day with no green marks and the next day green marks might appear.

What does the green tell you? The green color means that your skin has become more acidic and has dissolved copper from the bracelet faster than the body can absorb it. This usually happens when we sweat, when we are stressed, when we experience dietary changes, mainly a poor diet (think junk food).
Green marks might also appear when the body is deficient in copper so is trying to obtain it a rate faster than it can absorb.

When the body is in a state of homeostasis, the copper is absorbed through the skin at the same rate it is dissolved from the bracelet so there are no green marks.

Some makers of copper jewelry, put a coating (sealer) on the copper item to preserve it and prevent the copper from interacting with the wearer’s skin. But then, the purported health benefits of wearing copper would not be achieved.

Is there a health benefit to wearing copper?

There are many who swear by the health benefits of wearing copper (copper bracelet manufacturers) while others have the opposite viewpoint.

Most everyone agrees that wearing copper jewelry does no harm.

Proponents of the benefits say copper does some or all of the following and more:

  • Provide necessary copper by absorption through the skin.
  • Relive arthritis, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome pain etc.
  • Clear the body of toxins.
  • Aid in healing.

To decide for yourself, here are some interesting articles on copper:

Copper and Your Health from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Beneficial Therapeutic Effect of Copper Bracelets – Life Extension

Medical View of Effectiveness of Copper Bracelets – Creighton University

Health Benefits of Copper Bracelets – eHow Health

Medicinal Effects of Copper Bracelets – Scientia Press

Visit our Copper Shop to find all kinds of vintage copper treasures !

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