When I was in third grade, I did a school report on the Navajo. That early interest in the Navajo blossomed into a fascination with silver jewelry.
Many years later, I lived in Colorado and traveled to New Mexico and Arizona, where in the 1850s, the Navajo had started working with silver, followed by the Zuni and the Hopi.
When collecting Native American jewelry, the most common question asked is: How can you avoid buying fakes? Fakes harm the true artists and you.
If you want authentic Native American jewelry, see what authentic looks like and what you like before you buy.
Museum exhibitions and permanent collections are helpful. The Museum of Indian Arts + Culture (Santa Fe, New Mexico) has videos about turquoise, and the Heard Museum (Phoenix, Arizona) has jewelry exhibits, so you can learn more about what interests you.
Browse books from your public library network. Yes, you might be the only person to check out Indian Silver Jewelry of the Southwest, 1868-1930 in a long while. But you will know more the next time you shop.
You can protect yourself from fakes by buying from reputable dealers or the artists themselves. The US Department of the Interior has an online directory of artisans by state.
Here are some of the places where I have bought Native American jewelry, mostly Navajo silver bracelets. Not Zuni. Not Hopi. Navajo. Third grade dies hard.
In Santa Fe, New Mexico, your silver dreams can come true with the Native American Vendors Program of the Palace of the Governors. Vendors are members of 23 federally recognized Native American tribes, pueblos, or nations located within New Mexico.
The Native American Vendors Program started in 1936 as a weekly market. Now, Native American artists sell handmade jewelry, pottery, and textiles every day, 8:30am-5pm. This vendor program requires all participants to complete an application process and demonstrate technical mastery of their craft.
There is an irony to Native people sitting in the shadow of the Palace of the Governors, a relic of colonial rule, now best-known for the portal where Native artisans sell handmade goods. Each year, more than 2 million tourists visit the portal.
Pre-COVID, there were 68 seller spaces for Native vendors at the Palace of the Governors. At this time, there are 34 spaces with a 3-foot distance between sellers.
While the portal at the Palace of the Governors is an open-air market, it is not a flea market. Keep in mind that you are speaking with either the Native artist who made the item or a family member of the artist.
I bought these Navajo silver bracelets from Henry Calladitto at the Palace of the Governors. One bracelet is set with a charoite stone and the other bracelet features stamp work.
A charoite stone is lilac to violet in color and translucent to opaque in transparency. Stamp work is the process of using metal stamps to decorate a surface. Oxidizing the surface helps to emphasize the pattern.
The inside of this mother of pearl bracelet, bought at the Palace of the Governors, includes the maker’s first initial and last name (J Wilson), sterling (for sterling silver), the tribe (Navajo), and a symbol (for the Navajo, the bear is a representation of strength).
Taos Pueblo is designated as both a National Historic Landmark and a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for the significance of its traditional Native American living culture. It is the only World Heritage Site in the United States.
At this time, Taos Pueblo artists are selling arts and crafts at the Taos Visitor Center which is open Tuesday-Friday, 10am-5pm. The Taos Visitor Center is located at 1201 Paseo Del Pueblo Sur, Taos, New Mexico.
Taos Pueblo is not a reservation. The pueblo has been continuously inhabited for over 1,000 years. Learn about visiting Taos Pueblo.
In Taos Pueblo, signs mark the houses that sell arts and crafts. A visit to one of these homes resulted in the purchase of this Navajo silver and gold cuff bracelet with the Tahe hallmark.
If you are in Arizona, there is an open-air market at the Oak Creek Vista, part of the Coconino National Forest near Sedona. Averaging one million visitors a year, Oak Creek Vista is the scenic overlook into Oak Creek Canyon.
Established in 1988, this daily market has a vetting process and selection procedure for the Navajo, Zuni, and Hopi tribes who participate. With a maximum of 16 vendors each day, table assignments are determined through a lottery system.
The Oak Creek Vista is where I bought this Navajo silver rope bracelet, marked only with the initials RG and sterling.
Vicki Turbeville Southwestern Jewelry
The number of online options to purchase Native American jewelry is overwhelming and risky.
Another place for learning about and buying Native American jewelry is Vicki Turbeville Southwestern Jewelry. In magazine articles, you will often see Vicki Turbeville listed in the style credits for the use of Native American jewelry and accessories from her collection.
Vicki Turbeville is a member of the Antique Tribal Arts Dealers Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting ethical collecting practices and educating the public about indigenous art.
On Turbeville’s website, you can see the style differences between contemporary and vintage jewelry from the Navajo, Zuni, and Hopi. You will find items on her site priced from less than $25 to more than $3,000.
With these vintage Navajo bracelets bought from Turbeville’s site, you can choose to polish the silver or keep the patina of these turquoise stone and inlay bracelets, so they show their age.
There you have it. Some of the places where you can learn about and buy authentic Native American jewelry.
To learn more about Native American silver jewelry and hallmarks, including how to date Native American jewelry, go to Bille Hougart Books. Hougart’s reference books are used by dealers and collectors alike to help identify jewelry from Navajo, Zuni, Hopi, and other Rio Grande pueblo nations, traders, shops, and manufacturers.
See more Places to Go:
Coit Tower Murals
East Coast Lighthouses
Musée de l’Orangerie
Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival
Places unexpected. Bakes for home bakers. Books overlooked. Find your new favorite thing.