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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