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.

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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 !

 

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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.

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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

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

Leather concho belt

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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

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.

Jasper

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paula

 

 

 

 

Book Look: Who’s Who in Zuni Jewelry by Gordon Levy

This 1980 hard bound book is full color, 64 pages and 11 3/4″ x 8 3/4″

My copy of this book had no author on the binding, no title page, no copyright page, nothing to indicate who wrote this book and when it was published. But with a little digging, I found it was written by Gordon Levy and published in 1980 by Western Arts Publishing Co.

It doesn’t have an ISBN but it does have an ASIN –  B001LQQM8Q

There are ample quantities available new and used if you search by the title.

Now to the book itself. Here is the the copyright page that was not in my book but I found on line.

Copyright page from “Who’s Who in Zuni Jewelry”

On the copyright page (above) and in the Introduction (below), there is mention of future volumes but I am only aware of this one volume. If anyone knows of subsequent volumes, please leave a comment at the end of the article.

Introduction from “Who’s Who in Zuni Jewelry”

The front matter contains:

ZUNI JEWELRY THE ART AND THE ARTISAN

  • Jewelry Designs
  • Jewelry Pricing
  • The Stamping or Signing of a Piece of Jewelry
  • Availability
  • The Meaning Behind the Making of Zuni Jewelry

CULTURAL BACKGROUND

  • Sociocultural
  • Political System
  • Economic Base
  • The Art and Craft of Silversmithing
  • Tribal Heritage and Goals

GLOSSARY

TURQUOISE FACTS

  • Natural Turquoise and How to Care for It
  • Stabilized Turquoise
  • Reconstitute Turquoise

Following the front matter are full color pages about the artists. Here are the artists that are covered in this book.

Following are some sample pages

Sample interior pages

Sample interior page

Paula

Mike Schmaltz Brings a Dragonfly to Life

Native American pieces that are completely handmade are becoming harder to find.  By NA handmade, I mean made in the USA by a registered Native American using no manufactured elements. Its like cooking from scratch – using whole foods and no canned ingredients.

Jewelry by Algonquin artist Mike Schmaltz is not only handmade but beautiful and unique.

Michael (Poole) Schmaltz started making jewelry full time in 1973. He learned jewelry through making many mistakes and learning what not to do. He picked up some valuable tips by watching a few master Zuni silversmiths who were more than willing to share. He learned the art of hot forging ingots into sheet and wire from the blow by blow description of Tom Burnsides hammering silver that is described in the book The Navajo and Pueblo Silversmiths by John Adair.

Let’s step inside Mike’s shop and watch him create a coin silver dragonfly pendant from concept to finish.

 

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Photo 1 – The design and dimensions are roughed out on graph paper.

Photo 2 The coin silver ingot is heated to a dull red, then taken to the anvil . When it turns black, it is pounded with a heavy hammer all over all surfaces, then reheated and pounded again. These steps are repeated until the required shape, thickness, and size is reached. It takes a lot of experience to know when to reheat so as to not get a cracked ingot.

To read more about coin silver click here.

What does Coin Silver mean in relation to Native American jewelry ?

 

Photo 3 The sheet is flattened by pounding with a polished faced hammer. Once the sheet is large enough for the project, the design is drawn on the metal.

Photo 4 The stamping is done and the outline of the dragonfly is cut out.

 

Photo 5 The smooth bezels are made to best suit the piece of jewelry. They are set in position and soldered in place. The stones will be cut to fit the bezels.

Photo 6 The edge of the body is refined and silver raindrop accents are added down both sides.

 

Mike makes all of his wire from ingot, hand drawing the wire through a draw plate.

Photo 7 The wire legs and Shepherd’s Hook are soldered in place.

Photo 8 The back complete with hallmarks

Photo 9 – The front complete and almost ready for stones.

Photo 10 – The dragonfly is antiqued with liver of sulphur which is then removed from the high spots with steel wool.

Photo 11 Now it is time to choose the stones. A few test ovals were drawn on this beautiful Chinese turquoise but it was determined that in small pieces this stone would be too dark.

Photo 12 – The Morenci stones have more bright color and variation so were chosen for this piece.

Photo 13 – The eyes are made by grinding spots out of the turquoise head and cutting jet to fit.

Photo 14 – Each stone is cut to fit a bezel and set one at a time with a little sawdust cushion underneath the stone to help prevent future cracking of the stone.

Photo 15 – And the finished dragonfly pendant. Ready to be hung from a strand of beads.

Mike’s jewelry speaks for itself – it is genuinely beautiful.

Thank you Mike for your photos and comments for this article.

Paula

Book Review – Native American and Southwestern Silver Hallmarks by Bille Hougart

 

Hougart

 

Native American jewelry enthusiasts, collectors, wholesalers and retailers alike often refer to Bille Hougart’s book (Native American and Southwestern Silver Hallmarks, Third Edition) as the “bible” and the most useful book on identifying Native American hallmarks.

This 7″ x 10″ fat paperback has 517 pages.

The bulk of the book, pages 34-416, consists of an alphabetical (usually by last name) list of artists. In many cases there is a photo of the hallmark along with biographical information such as tribal affiliation, birth date, types of jewelry usually made, family member of note and more.

 

Example of interior pages

There is a 10 page section in the front of the book that discusses the history and function of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board.

Following there are discussions of:

The Hopi Silver Craft Guild

The Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild

United Indian Traders Association

The back matter contains an alphabetical listing of marks. This list is of the actual marks, different from the body of the book which is alphabetical by artists’ last names. This makes several ways to find who a mark belongs to.

Then there is 42 page section of symbol marks by category such as Paws, Sun etc.

To complete this essential work, there is a

Glossary

Acronym List

Bibliography

Useful Addresses

and an index.

If you have interest in Native American jewelry and need to identify hallmarks, this book is essential.

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