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






















Lapis Lazuli and Denim Lapis in Native American Jewelry

Lapis is a deep blue stone often with gold flecking that twinkles like stars.

The most desirable lapis is solid, deep blue with no white calcite spots and just a sprinkling of glittering golden yellow pyrite. Such material is found only in Afghanistan (mined there for over 7000 years) and Pakistan and……….there is a limited amount of lapis mined in the western part of Colorado (Italian Mountain) that is deep blue with large amounts of pyrite. Other places where lapis is mined include Egypt, Mongolia, Canada, and Chile. 

The name lapis lazuli is a combination of the Latin word lapis (“stone”) and the Arabian name azul, meaning “blue.” Lapis is one of the few rocks considered to be a gem and is one of the first gemstones ever to be worn as jewelry. A lapis gemstone won’t fade in light and does not show wear normally but like many gemstones, it can be scratched and chipped. Clean it only with a soft, dry cloth to maintain its shine.


Lapis Lazuli Sterling Silver Bracelet by Navajo artist Peterson JohnsonNBT456-lapis-7-johnson-4

The powers associated with lapis:

Many ancient cultures believed that lapis lazuli contained magical powers. In the Middle Ages, monks powdered the stone and kneaded it into dough with beeswax, resin and linseed oil, for use in illuminated manuscripts. Today, people around the world consider lapis lazuli to be a stone of awareness, able to impart knowledge and wisdom.  It is reputed to bring about harmony in relationships and to cleanse the mind bringing about self-acceptance.

The astrological sign of lapis lazuli is Sagittarius.


Lapis Lazuli Sterling Silver Pendant by Peterson Johnson, Navajo

Lapis can also be a deep blue black, mysterious color such as this ring.


Lapis Ring by Peterson Johnson

Denim lapis
Denim lapis is a light bluish-white form of lapis lazuli. This stone comes close to the color of faded denim material, hence the name.


Denim Lapis Sterling Silver Bracelet by Peterson Johnson, Navajo

This pendant looks like stone washed denim, doesn’t it?


Denim Lapis Sterling Silver Pendant by Navajo artist Peterson Johnson



Lapis and Denim lapis are sometimes confused with sodalite


Two sides of a sodalite bear fetish by Zuni carver Emery Eriachosodabear-off

Sodalite is a rich royal blue mineral that together with hauyne, nosean and lazurite is a common constituent of lapis lazuli. A light, relatively hard yet fragile (due to the inherent cracks) mineral, sodalite is named after its sodium content. Well known for its blue color, sodalite may also be grey, yellow, green, or pink and is often mottled with white veins or patches. The more uniformly blue material is used in jewelry, where it is fashioned into cabochons and beads. That with more veining, patches and mottling is used in carving for interest. Although very similar to lazurite and lapis lazuli, sodalite is royal blue rather than ultramarine. Sodalite also rarely contains pyrite, a common inclusion in lapis. Sodalite’s poor cleavage may be seen as incipient cracks running through the stone.



Like many stones, there are imitation stones made and they are called block. Sometimes block stones are made from crushed real stones. Other times they are made from any kind of stone, then dyed. Here is an example of a block lapis ring. It is a pretty ring made with sterling silver and has the artist’s hallmark. Yet it is what it is – block denim lapis.


Block lapis ring



Besides being set as cabochons, lapis is also used to make beads which are used in Santo Domingo and Navajo necklaces.


Vintage New Old Stock Lapis and Stamped Sterling Silver Bead Necklace


Lapis Chip “rope style” necklace by the Teller family, Navajo.



Santo Domingo Lapis Necklace by Irene Lovato

  5-strand-lovato-lapis-2Lapis is a beautiful stone and if you’re like me and love blue, it is a stone for you.


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Looking for a Peterson Johnson Pendant


I have three pendant necklaces from Peterson Johnson and am looking for a fourth one. I love his designs and the store I had purchased them from in Wilkes Barre, PA no longer sells them. I love the blue turquoise, or green stones if possible. Do you carry anything like this, or know where I could find one?

Thanks, Kim

Hi Kim,

We just got in a batch of beautiful stone pendants made by Peterson Johnson. You can see them all by visiting the Stone Pendant Page but here are a few samples. His work is exceptional and unmistakable.


Lapis Pendant by Navajo artist Peterson Johnson, complete with hand made chain

Denim Lapis Pendant by Navajo artist Peterson Johnson

Native American Necklaces – What is heishi?

Heishi and other Shell and Stone Necklaces

Heishi means shell and in the past, referred to pieces of shell that have been drilled and hand rolled or ground into bead shapes and strung as necklaces. With the reduced availability of some shell materials, the modern Native American artists also use hand made beads of other natural materials including stones when making heishi necklaces.

Heishi facts and informationHeishi originated with the Santo Domingo and San Felipe Pueblo Indians of New Mexico. That’s why many people refer to this type of jewelry as Santo Domingo jewelry.

Although all of the items we sell in our Native American Jewelry Store are hand made by Navajo, Hopi, Zuni or Rio Grande Pueblo Indian craftsmen and women, there are many inexpensive imitation heishi items for sale elsewhere that use man-made materials and are produced by non-Native Americans. So, like many other things, you get what you pay for. If you want an authentic, traditional heishi necklace, this is the type you should be looking for.

The shells most commonly chosen for heishi include penn shell, olive shells, spiny oysters, mother-of-pearl (MOP), and melon shell. Coral is also used as well as stones such as lapis, turquoise, jet, pipestone, and serpentine.

Heishi facts and informationHeishi beads are made by slicing the shell or stone into uniform strips. Then the pieces are nipped into small squares. Each square then has a hole drilled in it. The squares are strung, each material being strung in a separate group. The strings of squares are smoothed and rounded by grinding and rolling the beads. Once the beads have reached the rough ground round stage, they are ready for sanding. The beads are smoothed and shaped using sandpaper. The string of finished material is washed and dried in the sun. Then they are polished on a leather belt.

Heishi facts and informationNow the artist strings the various heishi beads in a unique design.

Authentic handmade heishi, although smooth and of uniform consistency, will have variations among the beads. There will be a variation in color and thickness or there might be a slight imperfection in the shell or bead. This adds to its unique appearance.

What is stabilized turquoise?

Heishi facts and informationOften in heishi necklaces and other nugget necklaces, the turquoise has been stabilized. This means that a natural turquoise nugget has been treated with a stabilizing agent that closes the pores of the stone so it will not change color or fracture. This allows the artist to use smaller beads for necklaces; they would otherwise fracture if not stabilized. It also means your turquoise jewelry will look just as bright and beautiful years from now as from the day you purchased it.

Natural turquoise, although beautiful, can change color when it comes in contact with body oil, hand lotion, soap or any other fat-based compound. Blue stones tend to become more green.

Although all stones can fracture if treated roughly, natural stones tend to fracture more easily than stabilized stones. When a natural stone is used in a sturdy sterling silver setting, it is protected but when it is used as beads in a necklace, it could be easily chipped. That’s why most heishi and nugget necklaces use stabilized turquoise.

Heishi and Stone Necklaces

Hello and welcome to the wonderful world of Native American Jewelry and Artifacts and other things I am passionate about. I am the manager of the webstore

Heishi Season is Upon Us

Heishi necklaces are a perfect combo with summer weather, tank tops, V neck t-shirts…and there is nothing quite like a turquoise choker to highlight a tan !

There are so many wonderful colors and forms of stone and shell heishi, nuggets and beads, single strand to 25 strands, various lengths and of widely divergent styles that choosing a stone necklace can be somewhat overwhelming.

To help you make a good choice, I’ve organized stone necklaces into “Shop by Length” and “Shop by Style” so you can browse either way. In addition, I’ve written an article “How to Choose and Wear a Necklace

How to Choose and Wear a Necklace

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Heishi ChokerThere are so many wonderful Native American necklace choices, from heishi to silver beads, that choosing one can be a bit overwhelming. That’s why I am going to try to make your selection process a bit easier with some gentle guidance.

Heishi ChokerThe best way to choose a necklace is to measure a necklace you already have that fits like you want it to and is suitable for the way you want to wear it.

For example, if you are shopping for a choker that you want to wear around your neck (as opposed to on top of a shirt or blouse), the Heishi Chokermeasurement you will use will be a bit more critical because you want the choker to fit your neck and hang just the way you like it. Two people with the same neck size might choose two different size chokers. Some people like a choker very high and rather snug so might choose a 16″ choker while others don’t like the feel of a tight fit and like a bit of a drape to their chokers so might choose an 18″ choker. So get out your favorite necklace or take a piece of cord and test it out in front of a mirror. Wear it around for an hour or so to be sure that size is comfortable.

Most adult women wear chokers in the 16-18 inch range. We try to keep Heishi Chokera good selection in that size range in our store.

Men usually wear chokers in the 18-20+ inch range. For some reason, that size range is difficult to find in Native American jewelry so we’ve had to special order a group of those for our male customers.

The 21-22 inch necklaces can either serve as a choker or a necklace, depending on your size and wearing preference.

Heishi ChokerIf you are looking for a necklace, one that drapes longer or that you can use over your clothes or as a necklace to hang a pendant on, then you will want to put a necklace or test cord under your collar and decide where you want your necklace to hang. The choker or necklace that is perfect during the summer won’t fit over your turtlenecks and shirts in the fall and winter – so for over clothing, you’ll need to purchase one 1-3″ longer depending on the thicknessHeishi Choker of the fabrics you usually wear.

Most women’s necklaces are in the 21-30 inch range. The length you choose will depend on your height (the length of your upper torso) and your personal preference for drape.

Heishi ChokerMany necklaces can double as a place to hang a pendant so if that is your goal, be sure the fastener on the end is not too large so it will fit through the loop on the back of the pendant or through the or pendant bail. Heishi ChokerIf you are using a pendant with a Shepherd’s Hook, this won’t be an issue.

Native American made necklaces are priced according to the artist’s reputation, skill and ability and the materials they use. It is also based on the length of the necklace, so in effect, you pay by the inch ! But most importantly, you are paying for art – wearable art is priceless.

Heishi ChokerOne final piece of advice that we have learned first hand. When it comes to Native American jewelry, if you see something you like, you should purchase it because it may very likely not be available again. Unlike manufactured jewelry that is machine made and available in large quantities, Native American jewelry is make one piece at a time and although a Heishi Chokerparticular artist might make a dozen of a particular necklace in one year, the next year, he or she might make none.

The Santo Domingo, Navajo and Zuni artists are constantly creating new ways of using their traditional materials and designs to make beautiful jewelry. We have often had the opportunity to purchase, let’s say 5 or 6 of an item, but for one reason or another, we only took one or two but then when we tried to get more, there just were not any available! So it you like it, buy it !

If you have any questions, contact me at //