Native American silver jewelry is made of sterling silver or coin silver, a term used for vintage Native American jewelry made from the silver of melted down coins. Sterling silver Native American jewelry is 92.5% silver and 7.5% other elements, typically copper. Native American jewelry made with coins has less silver but sometimes is worth more because it is older and hammered by hand.
Find authentic Native American silver jewelry at Home & Away Gallery.
Vintage Native American Silver Jewelry
Early Native American silver jewelry makers used simple tools such as a hammer, anvil, punch and file. The finished silver jewelry piece was then rubbed with leather or wood ashes to increase its luster, which would fade over the years and later become a factor in identifying vintage Native American silver jewelry. This low luster look is sometimes replicated in modern jewelry by filing the piece down, then sandpapering, and finally using abrasive steel wool.
Atsidi Sani, Navajo, was the first Native American to learn silversmithing from the Europeans. Navajo silversmiths would stoke a charcoal fire with a blowpipe to solder brass and silver into workable materials for the forge, and later, Navajos who lived near railroad tracks discovered they could fashion the tracks into anvils and use the iron scraps to make stamps and dies for their Navajo silver jewelry.
Other tribes soon began to develop their own Southwestern silver jewelry styles:
- Zuni – Over time, the visual prominence of silver was deemphasized, and silver fell into the background to support intricate lapidary-focused designs.
- Hopi – Silversmiths of the Hopi tribe soon learned how to solder two sheets of silver to create overlay jewelry. The top layer has designs inspired by traditional pottery, textiles and baskets. The bottom sheet is oxidized and can have stampwork or chiseled engravings.
NOTE: As a general rule, the more basic a Native American jewelry piece looks, the earlier it was made. However, modern silver Native American jewelry can be made to look older, so it is important to buy from reputable dealers like Home & Away Gallery.
Coin Silver Native American Jewelry
Coin silver Native American jewelry is made from either US coins or Mexican pesos. Native American coin jewelry was created mostly with US coins until 1890 when defacing US currency became illegal, at which point Mexican pesos were used until these, too, were outlawed by Mexican government in 1930.
Native American coin jewelry made from US coins has 90% silver and 10% copper – less than the 92.5% silver requirements of sterling silver. Mexican pesos contain a higher silver amount and sometimes test as sterling silver.
Other Native American coin jewelry is made from a blend of US coins and Mexican pesos and therefore has a varying silver percentage from piece to piece. By the 1930s, sheets of sterling silver were available to most Native American tribes and the use of coins was slowly phased out.