3 tips for purchasing Native American jewelry

Collecting Treasures: The reality is, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you can get duped

A few months ago, I shared important things to consider when purchasing Native American rarities. In that article, I gave an overview of the laws and emphasized how important craftsmanship and provenance are when evaluating the value of ancient relics.

Because we continue to see so much Native American jewelry hitting the secondary market right now, I’d like to share some tips for consumers, because the reality is, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you can get duped.

If you are into fashion trends, you may not necessarily be looking for Native American jewelry now, but when the cycle changes, and it’s in demand, you might regret not taking advantage of shopping around now while the prices are relatively reasonable.

Recently, we sold more than 800 pieces of Native American jewelry from one consignor’s collection. Prices realized ranged from $60 for a sterling silver cuff bracelet to $650 for an Old Pawn silver rectangular Concho belt.

Here are three tips to keep in mind when purchasing Native American jewelry:

Examine the Silver

Before polishing tools came around, artists would hand forge and hand hammer designs from ingots, or blocks of silver. This created a folding or layering look and can give you a clue to the age of the piece.

Watch for Fake Turquoise

I once knew of a woman who left her turquoise and silver cuff bracelet on the dashboard of her car, only to find the turquoise had melted in our strong Arizona sun. Don’t let this happen to you.

Also keep in mind that many stones are treated, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but something you should know because natural stones often will be worth more.

Research Tribal Styles and Techniques

Take the time to do your homework and research the artists and tribes.

For example, there are several renowned Navajo jewelers who have mastered micro-inlay techniques and these pieces are very valuable. A professional appraiser can help you authenticate pieces.

Also be wary of repetition — an artist may have similar designs, but no two hand-crafted pieces will be exactly alike.

Earlier I mentioned the term “Old Pawn” … you might also come across the term “dead pawn” when looking at Native American jewelry. This means the items were pawned for cash but never redeemed.

Often the “Old Pawn” pieces are very old, and the silver is heavier than newer pieces made today.

I do want to emphasize that there are many talented contemporary Native American artists creating beautiful pieces of jewelry right now. Many of these artists continue to respect tradition but have found new ways to create beautiful designs.