Authentic Native American Indian Fetish Necklaces

To begin talking about Native American fetish necklaces, first a little bit about fetishes.

A Native American fetish is a stone or shell carving and sometimes antler or wood, usually in the image of an animal.

Zuni Horse Fetish made of Acoma Jet

Indian fetishes can be carried or displayed. Those that are carried are often called pocket fetishes.

Lakota Pipestone Buffalo Fetish – makes a great pocket fetish because of its smooth surface and sturdy construction.

Those that are displayed are called table fetishes.

Zuni Deer Fetish carved from Antler

Zuni artists are the traditional fetish carvers but there are many talented Navajo carvers as well.

Pig by Stanton Hannaweeke – Zuni

Bobcat by Navajo Herbert Davis

To read more about fetishes, see my other blog posts:

Native American Fetish Carvings – What are they used for?

Animal Fetish Powers

Types of Native American Fetishes

Serpentine used in Native American Fetish Carvings

Native American Terms – Fetish, Totem, Amulet, Talisman

How Do I Display Zuni Native American Fetish Carvings?

Native American Fetishes – Zuni Carving Families

The Power of Native American Fetish Carvings – Story of the Midnight Bear

Native American Stone Fetish Carvings – Six Directions

How Zuni Navajo Native American Fetishes Are Made

 

FETISH NECKLACES

Vintage Fetish Necklace – origin unknown

Native American fetish necklaces are made with small fetishes that are drilled and strung like beads with fine shell, turquoise or jet heishi in between. Just like with pocket and table fetishes, fetish necklaces are made by both Navajo and Zuni artists.

AND BEWARE !! There are many NON- Native American fetish necklaces. They are usually made overseas and sold as Native American. BAD !!! Below is a slide show of 3 common imported, faux Native American necklaces. When we get items like this in an estate lot, we sell them in our Bargain Barn.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Like any Native American item, buy directly from the maker or from a trusted seller.

Navajo horse fetish necklace

 

The animals can vary but often include birds, bears, horses, mountain lions, turtles, foxes, wolves and many others.

Zuni fetish necklace with many animals

The stones and shells usually used include turquoise, mother of pearl, pink shell, acoma jet, serpentine, pipestone and many others.

Navajo Fetish Necklace

Here are some more of my blog posts that relate to fetish necklaces:

What is a stacked necklace? More on Navajo and Zuni Fetish Necklaces

Are these Bird Fetish Necklaces Authentic Native American made?

44 Bird Fetish Necklace – is it Native American made?

Stacked Fetish Necklace – is it authentic Native American made?

Wanted – A Six Directions Fetish Necklace Set

Native American Fetish Necklace – Signed by Artist?

Native American Wearable Art – Stacked Fetish Necklace

Hector Goodluck Monument Valley Fetish Necklace

Native American Fetish Necklace – Mother or Grandmother Necklace

Bird Fetish Necklace from Goodwill

Paula

The Three Stone Navajo Bracelet

One very traditional Navajo bracelet layout is the three stone bracelet.

#8 Turquoise 3 Stone Shadowbox bracelet by Navajo Wilbur Muskett

This layout is usually used when there are wonderful stones to showcase.

Vintage 3 Stone Bracelet with chisel mark E

The Three Stone layout works best if the stones match.

Vintage unsigned Royston Turquoise 3 Stone bracelet

Often the central stone is larger and the two sides stones are smaller.

Vintage unsigned 3 Stone bracelet

Sometimes the central stone is smaller and the two side stones are larger.

Vintage unsigned 3 stone bracelet

 

It is equally suitable to use the layout on a wire bracelet or a cuff.

Read about wire bracelets here – Wire Bracelets

Vintage unsigned 3 stone Bisbee turquoise bracelet on heavy 3 wire frame

 

Three stone White Buffalo Stone cuff bracelet by Joe Piaso

Read about White Buffalo Stone.

 

Vintage 3 stone bracelet with partial hallmark of P. This is a cross between a wire and a cuff bracelet. There is a heavy 4 wire framework and a solid sterling faceplate under the stones.Paula

What is a sweater bracelet?

Early on in my collecting of Native American bracelets, I was handed a contemporary Zuni needlepoint bracelet by the maker and was told “this is a sweater bracelet”.

Zuni needlepoint sweater bracelet by Jenny Eustace

I had never heard that term before and am a firm believer in “if you don’t know, ask”, so I asked and was told it is a style of bracelet where a design element has a “drop” – that is, it drops down so it lays on the back of the wearer’s hand and can peek out of the lower edge of a long-sleeved sweater cuff. Well that made perfect sense so I have used the term ever since.

A more subtle sweater bracelet by Jenny Eustace

Here is another example of a sweater bracelet by a Navajo artist.

Petit Point sweater bracelet by Navajo Betty Etisitty

Some sweater bracelets can be quite dramatic in how much silver and stone is “dropped” onto the back of the hand.

Unmarked NOS (New Old Stock) sweater bracelet

Unmarked vintage sterling silver and turquoise sweater bracelet

Here is a versatile sweater bracelet – you can decide which color you want to peek out.

Unmarked vintage petit point sweater bracelet in turquoise and coral

Some bracelets made a gentle downward sweep at the cuff.

Tommy Jackson, Navajo

Silver sweater bracelets often come to a point as they drop.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Paula

Devil Dancer Set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

This rare, museum quality 3 dimensional inlay set was part of a private collection. It was made by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley.

The 7 piece set includes:

a concho belt comprised of a buckle and 8 conchos

a man’s bracelet

a man’s ring

a woman’s bracelet

a woman’s pendant

2 women’s rings

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Excerpt from page 252 in American Indian Jewelry III M-Z by Gregory Schaaf.

Sterling Silver – Rare, One of a Kind
Museum Quality Apache Devil Dancer Set
by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley 

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Rare, One of a Kind, Museum Quality Apache Devil Dancer Set
by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

This 7-piece three dimensional figural overlay/inlay set includes:
– 
one concho belt
– 2-piece man’s set: bracelet and ring
– 
4-piece woman’s set: bracelet, pendant, and two rings
– certificates of authenticity
– materials include Sleeping Beauty Turquoise, mother of pearl, jet, coral, and sterling silver

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Post card titled
“Devil Dance of the Apache Indians from the 1930’s”

Concho Belt

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Conchos are currently on a double leather belt that is 1 5/8″ wide and 38″ long from buckle to end of leather. Holes are punched at 34″ to 36″.   526 grams.

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Buckle is 3″ x 2 5/8″.

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Notice the 3-dimensional quality of the stone inlay and overlay on all pieces.

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Each concho has a copper belt loop.

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Holes are punched at 34″ to 36′

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Certificate of Authenticity for concho belt.

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Eight conchos are 2″ x 2 1/4″.

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

4-Piece Woman’s Set
b
racelet, pendant, and two rings

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Bracelet, pendant and two rings.

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Bracelet is 6 1/4″ total inside circumference, this includes the 1″ gap.

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Bracelet 3 1/8″ tall at front, 11/16″ at ends.
105 grams.

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

This four-wire bracelet design is traditional Navajo and Zuni bracelet form that is open and airy allowing for ventilation and making the bracelet more comfortable to wear in hot and humid weather. Read more . . .

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Certificates for woman’s bracelet, pendant and two rings.

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Pendant 2 3/4″ x 2″, 32 grams.
Fixed stamped bail with 1/8″ opening,

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Ring size 9.  2 1/2″ tall x 2″ wide.  36 grams.

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Ring size 6,  2 1/8″ tall x 1 3/4″ wide.
25 grams.

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

2-Piece Man’s Set
b
racelet, pendant, and two rings

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Man’s bracelet and ring.

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Bracelet size 8 1/4″.

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Bracelet is 3″ tall at the front to 11/16″ at ends.
117 grams.

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

 

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Heavy man’s ring size 12 1/4 .

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Ring is 1 3/8″ tall x 1″ wide.  47 grams.

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

This four-wire bracelet design is traditional Navajo and Zuni bracelet form that is open and airy allowing for ventilation and making the bracelet more comfortable to wear in hot and humid weather. Read more . . .

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Authentic Native American rare museum quality sterling silver and stone inlay overlay devil dancer 7-piece set by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley

Sleeping Beauty Turquoise comes from one of the largest turquoise mines in North America located in Gila County, Arizona near the town of Globe. This turquoise is prized for its uniform blue color with little or no matrix that allows the stones to be easily matched and cut. It is the favorite stone of Zuni Pueblo silversmiths for use in petit point, needlepoint and inlay jewelry. Only 4% of the turquoise taken from the mine is left natural. Most is is enhanced or stabilized and sold to large distributors in the USA and Europe. 

If you want to see more information, view the webpage devoted to this set.

Paula

 

Sterling Opal

This beautiful pendant by Thomas Francisco is made with a piece of Sterling Opal.

Sterling Opal Pendant by Thomas Francisco

 

The information below is from the manufacturer’s website Sterling Opal

“Sterling Opal has created a new lab-cultured  gemstone that combines the play of color and distinctiveness of genuine opal with the economic pricing of synthetic opal.

Over twenty years ago Jim Zachery, the developer of the Zachery Process for turquoise set out to develop a lab cultured opal.  He tried to purchase silica from major manufacturers but found that none of them produced a silica product with the uniformity necessary to create quality opal.  He had to take a step back and change his priorities from creating the perfect opal to creating the perfect silica.

It took him many years but he eventually developed a process to produce silica nano and micro spheres in commercial quantities with a polydispersity of .005 or better. This gave him the building blocks to begin development of a lab-grown opal. Nature’s ability to produce silica with the uniformity necessary to create opal is miraculous. It is only slightly less remarkable that man can achieve a very similar outcome in a laboratory.

About Our Cultured Opal
Until now, the only lab created opal available had very consistent domains and color. Most of this consistency in color is maintained by using dyes.  While many colors are available in other synthetic opal because the color is produced by dye, each piece of opal only contains one color and not much “play of color” if any.  In other words, the color doesn’t change or move with different angles of light.  Sterling Opal will not use dye in their products; all color in Sterling Opal is the result of Bragg diffraction of visible light as occurs in natural opal.  Furthermore, because their processes mimic nature, most pieces of opal have a diversity of color and depending on the angle of the light the opal will change color.
The beauty of Sterling Opal is that while they are able to settle large batches of opal that will all have a similar look, each piece of opal is still quite unique.  The opal is grown mainly in 1½” x 2½” squares, in lots of approximately 4.5 kilos.  This enables jewelry manufacturers and designers to create many pieces of jewelry that have a similar look yet each piece will be unique.  It is the unique look and the brilliant play of color that sets Sterling Opal apart from any other lab grown opal manufacturer.

Sterling Opal is currently created in several distinct designs and color waves.  Each of these styles is created using a different proprietary process.  While all of the varieties have dazzling color they each have a distinct appearance.  The designers at Sterling Opal continue to work on new processes that will result in original creations to rival natural opal in its color and individuality.  The unique qualities of each stone in its variety of forms will enable jewelry designers to conceive unique jewelry pieces with brilliant opal at a fraction of the price of genuine opal.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Paula

 

National Geographic March 15, 2018 Biggest Fake Native American Art Conspiracy Revealed

Biggest Fake Native American Art Conspiracy Revealed

Jewelry dealer Nael Ali will be the first defendant sentenced in the most extensive federal investigation into Indian arts and crafts fraud.

At a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing held at Santa Fe Indian School on July 7, 2017, William Woody, then Chief of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, called the $250,000 maximum penalty a “pittance” for those who pass off mass-produced imports as Indian made.

PHOTOGRAPH BY U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE, AP

High on the Colorado Plateau in northwestern New Mexico, a dusty main road runs through the Pueblo of Zuni. Pull over to the side, and someone in threadbare clothing will soon approach your window holding out a mysterious little box. In Los Angeles, where I live, such an offering could only mean trouble, and you’d be wise to roll up the window and make a quick getaway. But here in the homeland of the Zuni people, it’s safe to take a look. The box is lined with soft cloth, and in it you’ll find an exquisite creation this person made with his own hands—a travertine animal carving, silver earrings inlaid with the Zuni sun face motif, a corn maiden pendant of carved shell.

The Zuni people rely heavily on hard-won earnings from handmade jewelry and crafts. The tourism department of Zuni Pueblo estimates that 80 percent of working adults there make arts and crafts for sale. Yet it’s getting harder and harder for them to make a living.

 

Navajo jeweler Liz Wallace works on a piece in her studio in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

PHOTOGRAPH BY MAXINE MCBRINN

For as long as the Zunis and other indigenous artisans have sold their crafts, they’ve been undercut by fakes—nonnatives posing as Indians to sell more of their work, factory made goods sold as handmade. But today’s fakes include a virtual torrent of knockoffs cheaply manufactured overseas and masquerading as genuine Native made—baskets made in Pakistan sold as Navajo, beadwork made in China sold as Plains Indian, Hopi katsina dolls cranked out in the Philippines—none more profitable than counterfeit Indian jewelry.

The insult isn’t just financial. “Our arts and crafts give us a really concrete way to stay connected to our culture and our history,” says Navajo jeweler Liz Wallace. “All this fake stuff feels like a very deep personal attack.”

But even though the rampant sale of counterfeits in the Southwest has been widely acknowledged for decades—and has ties to organized crime, according to affidavits by federal investigators—only recently has the U.S. government taken any serious action to shut down the major operators. Whether the crackdown has teeth will be tested in New Mexico in April, when Albuquerque jewelry dealer Nael Ali will be sentenced for fraudulently selling imported jewelry as Native American made.

 Ali, the owner of several retail stores in Albuquerque’s Old Town district, pleaded guilty on October 18, 2017, to misrepresenting as Native-made jewelry sourced from two family-run networks he said were supplying him with counterfeit jewelry made in the Philippines. These two networks make for the largest Native American art fraud conspiracy ever brought to light.

Ali’s sentencing is the first in the ongoing federal investigation called Operation Al Zuni, which began in March 2012, and is the most extensive ever conducted into Native American art fraud.

The investigation was named Operation Al Zuni after Al Zuni Global Jewelry, a well-known business in Gallup, New Mexico, owned by Nashat Khalaf, a Palestinian immigrant and prominent Indian arts dealer. Al Zuni, which claims to be the “largest wholesaler of Indian jewelry serving the Southwest since 1977,” has its storefront in Gallup but also sells at gem and jewelry trade shows where retailers from all over the country buy inventory.

Misrepresenting arts and crafts, including jewelry, for sale as Native made when they’re not is a federal crime under a law passed in 1935 called the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. The act provides for penalties of up to $250,000 and five years in jail for first time offenders, but until now it has rarely been enforced. Federal law also requires that “Indian-style” products imported into the United States be permanently marked with the country of origin. That law too has been widely flouted.

 

Billboards along Highway 40 in Arizona and New Mexico tout indigenous-made arts and crafts, from pottery and rugs to moccasins and jewelry.

PHOTOGRAPH BY MARAYA CORNELL

It has been estimated that the Native American arts and crafts industry brings in more than a billion in gross sales annually nationwide. And although many would say that not enough profits have ever reached the artists, the sale of handmade jewelry, baskets, pottery, carved figurines, beaded leather, and other crafts provide livelihoods for thousands of indigenous people.

According to federal investigators, the two families running counterfeiting networks are both Palestinian, known to law enforcement as the Sterling Coalition and the Aysheh brothers. The Sterling Coalition, the larger of the two, operates an importing company in Albuquerque called Sterling Islands, which is owned by Nashat Khalaf’s brother, Jawad Khalaf, and niece, Sheda Khalaf.

In affidavits filed in support of 18 search warrants executed in October of 2015, investigators name these and other members of the Khalaf family, and associates, as participants in a scheme to import and fraudulently sell counterfeit Native American jewelry manufactured in a factory in the Philippines called “Fashion Accessories 4 U.” Jawad Khalaf and his son, Nader, have owned the factory since at least 2006. None of the Khalafs has been charged yet.

Albuquerque lawyer John Boyd, who represents Nashat Khalaf and Al Zuni Global Jewelry, calls the allegations against his client “wrong.” The business and its owner, he said in an email, “have supported Native American artisans for decades, maintain good relationships with them and provide the most important outlet in the area for Native Americans to sell their work. Al Zuni and Khalaf deny that they have ever attempted to pass off or have passed off any jewelry as Native American, Navajo, Zuni, Hopi, or any other tribe, when it is not.”

Mark Baker, another Albuquerque lawyer, who represents Jawad Khalaf and Sterling Islands, emailed that his clients “certainly deny that they violated the law or otherwise engaged in any deceitful conduct. This is a family of people known in the community as honest and responsible.”

 Law enforcement estimates that Sterling Islands has imported into the U.S. contraband jewelry worth $11,800,000 in wholesale value between October 2010 and October 2015. According to court records, retail buyers and wholesalers would place orders for replicas of particular pieces of genuine jewelry and pick them up at Sterling Islands.

The four Aysheh brothers running the other alleged conspiracy—Imad, Nedal, Iyad, and Raed—were charged in February 2017. Their trial is scheduled for October of this year. None has yet entered a plea.

 

Zuni jeweler Roxanne Seoutewa uses a flint spark lighter to fire up her torch in preparation for soldering hand-formed bezels to a silver sheet. Later she’ll fit in the tiny stones she’s cut and sanded.

PHOTOGRAPH BY MARAYA CORNELL

In October 2015, when Operation Al Zuni went public, 11 jewelry and Indian arts stores were raided in New Mexico and California, including two of Nael Ali’s Albuquerque stores, Gallup 8 and Galleria Azul. The Indian Arts and Crafts Board estimated in 2016 that the retail value of the 350,000 pieces of jewelry seized during the raid exceeded $35 million.

Operation Al Zuni was conducted by the Office of Law Enforcement for the Southwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and funded through an agreement with the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior tasked with developing and promoting arts and crafts as a source of income for American Indians and Alaska Natives, as well as with enforcing the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

MADE BY INDIANS?

In the Pueblo of Zuni, jeweler Roxanne Seoutewa sits in a folding chair at a cramped desk in a well-worn trailer, soldering tiny hand-made bezels to a piece of silver sheet. Into the bezels she’ll fit the seed-like stones she’s cut, sanded, and polished to form the close, stitch-like pattern known as needlepoint and recognized by collectors the world over as one of the classic Zuni styles of handmade jewelry.

This miniature silver canteen, photographed by investigators at Al Zuni Global Jewelry, was sold to an undercover agent as Navajo made on November 24, 2014. Two years before, 20 identical canteens were found in a shipment from Fashion Accessories 4 U in the Philippines.

PHOTOGRAPH BY U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE, AP

Compared to artisans trying to sell their work on the street, Seoutewa is doing well. But she has to go farther and farther from home to get a decent price for her work. She doesn’t sell to the local shops in Zuni anymore, or even to the wholesalers 40 miles away in Gallup. The problem, she says, is all the cheaply made foreign imports illegally sold as Zuni handmade.

It was the arrival of the railroads in the Southwest at the turn of the 20th century that set off a roaring business in indigenous art and crafts, and the industry has been a defining presence in the Southwest ever since.

And it was a boom in the tourist industry along Route 66 in the 1960s and 70s that attracted fortune-seekers from the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank. In 1972 Nashat Khalaf and three of his brothers were among the first to arrive in Gallup, the wholesale center for the arts and crafts produced on nearby Indian reservations. They opened a business selling Zuni jewelry, calling it Al-Zuni Traders. As Khalaf told Al Jazeera years later, he and his brothers had such instant success in the jewelry business that they “called everybody” back home. “It was a bonanza,” he said. “It was a gold rush, and they all came here.” By 2002 several hundred Palestinians had settled in Gallup, most reportedly in the Indian jewelry business.

Today road trippers driving Interstate 40 through Arizona and New Mexico are bombarded with billboards hawking crafts “MADE BY INDIANS.” Much of what’s for sale hasn’t been made by Indians at all. Even Santa Fe, regarded as the heart of the high-end Indian art market with its world-renowned plaza shopping district, is rife with forgeries—so much so that the city recently announced an ordinance to try to rein in the fraud.

Higher-end jewelry knockoffs are copied from one-of-a-kind pieces by master Indian artisans and stamped with initials and symbols to mimic an artist’s hallmark. In stores the fakes are often mixed in with genuine pieces but sold at a discount, forcing jewelers who painstakingly craft each piece by hand to compete with counterfeits produced in sweatshops.

Navajo silversmith Aaron Anderson, of Gallup, New Mexico, holds out a tufa stone negative he’s carved, which serves as both the mold for a belt buckle and a guarantee of authenticity for the buyer.

PHOTOGRAPH BY MARAYA CORNELL

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board collects complaints about potential violations of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, but without a law enforcement bureau of its own, the board must rely on other agencies to investigate complaints. In 1990 a major overhaul of the act increased penalties for violations and gave the FBI primary responsibility for enforcing the law. But the FBI had other priorities, and the bureau generally declined referrals of potential violations from the board, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

By late 2011 when the Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to look into fraudulently sold Indian arts and crafts, no jewelry dealers, or large-scale dealers in Indian arts and crafts of any kind, had been charged under the act. On several occasions during the 1990s and 2000s, New Mexico attorneys general sued jewelry stores in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, including several dealers identified by Operation Al Zuni as selling the Sterling Coalition’s Philippine counterfeits, but their suppliers were never identified. And even though the rampant sale of counterfeits in Arizona and New Mexico has been widely acknowledged for decades, no major counterfeiters had ever been charged.

Yet federal law enforcement had been alerted to at least one potential supplier as early as 1994, when the Arizona law firm Kirkpatrick & Kramer wrote to a Department of the Interior investigator on behalf of Hopi jeweler Jason Takala warning that “an outfit in eastern Gallup, New Mexico named ‘Al Zuni’ is mass-producing copies of original Native American jewelry.”

It wasn’t until nearly two decades later, after the Fish and Wildlife Service had taken over enforcement of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, that a piece of counterfeit Indian jewelry in a retail store was traced back to the Khalafs.

MAKING THE CASE

On November 26, 2012, a Monday, Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Russell Stanford walked into Gallery 8, an upscale jewelry shop in Albuquerque owned by Nael Ali. Posing as a jewelry dealer, Stanford bought two rings stamped with the initials CK, which the clerk told him stood for the Navajo artist Calvin Kee, according to court records. (There is no known Navajo jeweler named Calvin Kee.)

Ultraviolet light exposes otherwise invisible markings on a ring sold as Navajo made by Gallery 8, in Old Town Albuquerque, New Mexico. Special Agent Russell Stanford marked the ring when he intercepted a UPS shipment full of jewelry imported from Fashion Accessories 4 U in the Philippines.

PHOTOGRAPH BY U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE, AP

Later Stanford looked at the ring under an ultraviolet light and confirmed that it had come from the Khalafs’ factory in the Philippines: There were the dabs of otherwise invisible ink he’d applied to the ring two and a half months before when he intercepted a shipment of jewelry coming in from Fashion Accessories 4 U and bound for Sterling Islands.

In just months Stanford, working as the sole investigator on Operation Al Zuni (a second agent wasn’t added until June 2014) had done what no federal investigator had yet been able to do: substantiate a source for the high-end counterfeits that had been turning up in retail stores for decades.

Less than 30 days later, Gallery 8 was featured in a Christmas shopping guide in the Albuquerque Journal. Nael Ali claimed that he purchased all his jewelry, except for the Polish amber jewelry, directly from Native artists. “There’s no middleman for me,” he said.

Ali, along with Mohammad Manasra, a traveling jewelry seller (who Ali admitted in his plea agreement was indeed his middleman) were arrested in October 2015 in Operation Al Zuni’s initial take-down and became the first jewelry dealers ever to be charged with violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. (The charge against Manasra has been reduced to a misdemeanor, and he isn’t facing incarceration.)

In Nael Ali’s plea agreement, filed October 18, 2017, he admitted that the Philippine-based factories run by the Khalafs and the Aysheh brothers were the sources of counterfeits (some supplied through Mohammad Manasra) that he was fraudulently selling as Native made at Gallery 8 and at Galleria Azul, another store in Albuquerque. Ali confessed to mixing the knockoff jewelry with genuine Indian-made jewelry and ensuring “that none of the Philippine-made jewelry was marked with its country of origin.”

TAKING OUT THE THORN

The ongoing prosecutions against the alleged fraudsters in New Mexico are sending shockwaves through the Indian arts and crafts industry. Nidal Abdeljawad of All Tribes Trading Post, an Indian arts store in the Pueblo of Zuni, claims that Nashat Khalaf’s Al Zuni Global Jewelry supplies 90 percent of the retail stores in the U.S. that deal in Native art. “If this guy has to close his shop, it will be a disaster for the Native Americans,” Abdeljawad says.

 

On the remote Zuni reservation in northwestern New Mexico, an estimated 80 percent of working adults make jewelry, pottery, stone animal carvings, or other arts and crafts for sale to tourists and dealers.

PHOTOGRAPH BY MARAYA CORNELL

Other Southwest dealers fear that prosecutions against business owners accused of peddling fakes make for bad publicity and that customers and collectors, concerned about getting ripped off, will avoid shopping for Indian arts and crafts altogether.

Justin Winfield, of Winfield Trading Company, a large buyer of Indian jewelry and crafts located on the highway between Gallup and Zuni, disagrees. Fanning out the thick stack of newspaper articles he’d collected since October 2015, he told me last July that he thought the ongoing prosecutions were already having a “positive impact”—that buyers for retail stores were taking greater care to ensure authenticity.

A few spooked customers in the short-term is a price Winfield is willing to pay if it means curbing the influx of fakes. “It hurts to take the thorn out,” he said. “But after it’s out, you can heal up.”

William Woody, who championed his agency’s investigations into Indian arts and crafts fraud when he was chief of law enforcement at the Fish and Wildlife Service, thinks Operation Al Zuni has “just scratched the surface.” At a Senate field hearing last July—Woody’s final day on the job—he said, “We have not begun to take a comprehensive look into the markets for other Native American items in the Southwest, including pottery, paintings, blankets, etc., where there is likely similar fraudulent activity.”

“In order for things to change,” wrote the editors of the Gallup Independent in October 2017, “the federal government, as well as attorneys general in states like New Mexico and Arizona, must get a lot tougher on these frauds.”

The sentencings of Nael Ali and Mohammad Manasra, who have confessed to knowingly dealing in fakes from both alleged networks, will test how tough New Mexico judges are willing to be. Manasra isn’t facing prison time. But Ali, who pleaded guilty to a felony, faces up to 18 months in prison and could be the first person ever to go to jail for violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

Prosecutors have requested that the sentencing in Albuquerque of Ali and his co-defendant, Mohammad Manasra, be on the same day in April so that any Native American artisans who wish to be heard by the court won’t have to travel twice. “Now’s the time for these artists to come forward,” says Special Agent in Charge Nicholas Chavez, who supervised the Fish and Wildlife Service’s investigation.

What is a “Married” piece of Native American jewelry?

The term “married” is sometimes used in the Native American jewelry trade to refer to a piece that is comprised of work from two or more eras and/or by two or more artists.

It is generally a complimentary term, that is, the piece is still authentic Native American made but it has had modifications.

If the piece loses its authenticity or artistic appeal, instead of calling it a marriage, it might be called a “bastard” or just a plain old “mess”.

Here are some examples of pieces that have had modifications.

This concho belt had a broken belt and lost its buckle somewhere along the way. Each of the conchos is hallmarked BL, artist unknown. I added a similar New Old Stock (NOS) buckle to the belt. The buckle is hallmarked CARSON B STERLING, for Navajo Carson Blackgoat. I added a new leather belt. So this concho belt is now a married piece in that it has vintage conchos made by one silversmith, a buckle by another and a new belt.

“Married” concho belt with vintage conchos by BL, buckle by Carson Blackgoat and new leather.

Adding a complimentary buckle to a buckle-less belt makes a useful marriage

Similarly this repousse concho belt lost its buckle. Because the remaining conchos were with and without stones, I was able to find a vintage buckle by Floyd Arviso that complemented the plain conchos.

Conchos on the belt that needed a buckle

Repousee buckle by Floyd Arviso

 

“Married” repousse concho belt

This next example is not so clear cut. The vintage inlay shell pendant probably lost its necklace which is not hard to imagine since many of the stone necklaces commonly used with such a pendant would be strung on string which could have degraded over time and broken.

So it appears that someone tried to make the pendant useful by drilling several holes and suspending the pendant by wire from a turquoise nugget necklace.

Although the two pieces might be Native American made, the way they are put together seems odd so this is a rocky marriage at best. Still it is a historic pendant and lovely necklace.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Paula