Monday, September 1, 2008



VINTAGE. Most people agree that when an item is described as vintage, it means that the piece is a minimum of 25 years old.

FRED HARVEY ERA. The Santa Fe Railway and the Fred Harvey Company with its hotels, restaurants, and shops joined forces to promote mass tourism to the Grand Canyon, New Mexico, and Southern California by train over the years from 1896 through the mid-1960s. The Fred Harvey Company introduced the art of the Southwest's Native Americans to the rest of the nation. The Fred Harvey Company, as it "civilized" the southwest, enticed American tourists to visit. As part of the business, Navajo and Pueblo silversmiths (as well as other craftsmen) were hired to create souvenirs. The Harvey Company supplied the artisans with sheet silver and pre-cut turquoise. During the early part of the 20th century, the west boomed and this increased the demand for cheaper souvenirs. Fred Harvey era jewelry is quite collectible today. 

COIN SILVER, STERLING SILVER, MEXICAN SILVER. I test all my vintage unmarked silver jewelry to determine silver content.

  • FINE SILVER is 99.9% pure silver or better. This grade of silver is used to make bullion bars for international commodities trading. Fine Silver is considered to be too soft for general use or use in jewelry.
  • STERLING SILVER is 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% other metals, usually copper. Today most Sterling silver objects are usually stamped with either the word "Sterling" or ".925". But much of the older Native American handcrafted jewelry was unsigned and unmarked.
  • COIN SILVER is 90% pure silver and 10% copper. Coin Silver is lower grade than sterling. The Coin Silver standard was established in the US in the 1820s. This grade of silver was used in the silver coinage of the US hence the term "coin" silver. Before the practice was outlawed, I believe Native Americans would melt down silver American and Mexican coins to make jewelry until they were able to obtain commercially made ingots and sheet silver.
  • MEXICAN SILVER is purer than sterling, usually 95% pure Silver and 5% Copper.
DEAD PAWN JEWELRY. For the Southwestern Native Americans, pawn refers to the practice of converting jewelry into cash by using it as collateral for loans from authorized pawn shops. In times of need, jewelry and other items of value are used as security by authorized traders (pawned) for cash loans. The state laws governing pawn shops are very strict to protect the consumer. Pawn is also used by some Native Americans in the same way that a safety deposit box would be used. The jewelry is "pawned" for safe keeping in between religious ceremonies or other special occasions. However, if the loan or pawn fees are not paid up by the agreed date, the pawn shop or trader is then authorized to sell the jewelry. When jewelry is not redeemed by its owner by the expiration date, it is then referred to as Dead Pawn.

TURQUOISE : NATURAL, TREATED, STABILIZED, ENHANCED. Generally, turquoise can exist in one of two forms. Natural or virgin turquoise has simply been shaped and polished, and has not been treated in any way. Treated turquoise has been changed through addition or processing. This procedure will make the sensitive gemstone sturdier. While natural turquoise is often the most desirable, keep in mind that simply because turquoise is treated, it does not mean it is of lower quality. In fact, stabilization usually enhances the quality of the stone. Usually the color is more vibrant and the stone is harder and less prone to chips and cracks. Among the ways of treating turquoise, treatments can include wax, staining, plastics impregnation or colloidal silica deposition. These methods stabilize the turquoise, and when successful, they darken the color and fill in the pores in the stone. Stabilizing treatments can also increase stone hardness and therefore its shearing strength, making it easier for artisans to work with it. However, the kind of treatment differs considerably. It makes sense, that naturally beautiful stones which have simply been waxed or hardened with artificial resin achieve higher prices than stones that have received color-enhancement. But other factors, such as the mine from which the gemstone was obtained and the rarity of the gemstone, also help determine the price and value.

BEZEL. A thin strip of silver rimming a stone and holding it to the setting. Bezels come in both simple and fancy styles. A plain bezel has a smooth flat edge. A scalloped bezel has a series of curved or scalloped projections along the edge securing or hugging the stone in place. A saw cut or serrated bezel has a series of jagged or pointed projections along the edge, which sometimes resembles a saw blade and keeps the stone set securely to piece. A gallery bezel is an ornately designed pierced wire used as a decorative appliqué to secure stone to the piece.

INLAY. A design of various shells or stones ground flat on top and level with the surrounding silver.

CHANNEL INLAY. A design of shell or stone set with a silver bezel between each stone. The stones are sanded level and polished.

ETCHED INLAY. Ornamentation where a picture or design is etched into the surface of the stone or inlay.

NEEDLEPOINT. An oval stone ground to fine points at both ends and set in a silver bezel.

PETIT POINT. An oval stone ground to a fine point at one end, rounded at the other end and set in a silver bezel.

SNAKE EYE. A series of very small, round stones, each of which is set in a bezel.

CLUSTER. A group of large tear-drop or round stones individually set, usually arranged around a center stone or stones.

HEISHE. Shell that has been cut, drilled and ground into round pieces and strung on a necklace. One strand may consist of several hundred pieces. 

REPOUSSE. A metalworking technique in which a malleable metal is ornamented or shaped by hammering from the reverse side. 

CHASING. Chasing is the opposite technique to repoussé, and the two are used in conjunction to create a finished piece. While repoussé is used to work on the reverse of the metal to form a raised design on the front, chasing is used to refine the design on the front of the work by sinking the metal with a groove, furrow, channel or indentation. 

STERLING SILVER OVERLAY TECHNIQUE. This technique uses multiple layers of sterling silver soldered together to create a three dimensional effect. The top layer is a handmade, hand cut overlay created from a sheet of sterling that is then bonded to the base layer of sterling. The base layer background is usually oxidized, which turns the silver surface black, and is often scratched or stamped. The oxidation brings out a contrast between the two pieces and makes the individual designs more visible. 

SANDCAST. One early technique still used by Navajo silversmiths today is making silver castings in sand or stone molds. The artist carves a design into damp sand or tufa (a porous volcanic stone). Pumice or sandstone may also be used. A second flat stone is secured on top to complete the mold. Silver is then melted in a crucible and it is poured into the mold through a carved channel. It flows through to the bottom where it cools and hardens, filling the design space. Air vents allow steam to escape, preventing air bubbles from forming in the cooling silver. After cooling, the stones are separated and the casting is removed. The silver is then filed smooth and the stone setting and decorative silver work, if any, begins. The piece poured from the tufa mold can be used as a model for additional copies of the design. It is possible to repeat the design over indefinitely using casting sand.

ANTIQUING. Technically referred to as oxidization, antiquing is a process of darkening silver with a chemical to create contrast or to accent a silverwork design. This process also gives the silver an antiqued look.


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