What is “vintage” jewelry?

I am often asked by clients and friends about the terms“vintage jewelry” in regards to our collections, so I wanted to clarify the terminology in this blog post.  There are many definitions of vintage jewelry including pieces from an estate of a deceased person, or an antique from many years ago.  The term vintage is often thrown around and used quite loosely by the trade.  In the clothing business vintage could be an item only 20 years old.  At Chipeta Trading we think of Vintage Jewelry as pieces that have been made between 70 and 140 years ago.  Occasionally will interchange the terms Vintage with Historic since our inventories of older pieces date as early as the 1880’s.  This would place our use of these terms on pieces of Navajo and Pueblo jewelry made between 1880 and 1950’s.  From the 1960’s, forward we consider the pieces to be contemporary works or art, many of which are highly collectable and quite beautiful when made by a named artist!   Soon, Chipeta Trading will be offering our clients a new line of “historic revival”  jewelry which will include native made pieces created in the old styles using old tools and methods by currently living arts such as Greg Lewis, Laguna Pueblo; Fritson Toledo, Navajo and many other talented native artists of the Southwest.  These high quality, collectable, silver and turquoise, contemporary pieces will be perfect for the collector who would like to begin their collection of native jewelry at a more affordable entry than the vintage pieces that command top dollar.  Watch for this new category of material on our website over the next few days as items begin to arrive.  We appreciate your comments and suggestions!  Please feel free to share your thoughts will us via email to don@chipetatrading.com

Whats the difference between natural and stabilized turquoise?

Sandra in Arizona wants to know, “What’s the difference between stabilized and natural turquoise?”  Before we begin it’s important to know a couple of important facts about turquoise: turquoise is a relatively soft and porous stone with approximately 10% of the turquoise mined being able to be called “gem quality” and suitable for use in high quality jewelry.  The mining of turquoise can be a difficult and a laborious process!  Only high grade gem quality turquoise is hard enough to be worked with, shaped and created into jewelry without breaking.  This is why natural turquoise from the historic period (1890-1940) is so much more expensive than turquoise  processed in the mid-late 20th century.  In Arizona during the 1950’s, the process of stabilization was created to increase the usefulness and yield of non-gem quality turquoise stones in the making of Southwest jewelry.  This process including putting the stones under extreme pressure, causing it to absorb the epoxy or plastic fillers that were added to create hardness while filling in cracks and imperfections.  Stabilized turquoise is not a bad product as it is harder and less likely to break or crack.  Because the stone is no longer porous, it will not oxidize over time and will retain its color when you purchased it.  Just remember that stabilized turquoise should be much less expensive than gem-quality pieces with natural stones that have been altered.  Stabilized turquoise is not fake turquoise, just stones that have been treated enough to be shaped and worked with!  Later, reconstituted or chalk processes were also created to take fragments of turquoise and their crushed powder forms, which is then mixed with plastics to make harder blocks that can be cut into stones shapes. Dyed plastics were also used that contained no turquoise at all, to create an imitation turquoise.  (Chipeta Trading does not sell this form, or do we recommend our clients purchase this type of product!)  So how do you tell the difference?  Natural or raw stones have imperfections, cracks and occlusions that do not appear in treated or stabilized turquoise.  At Chipeta Trading, we focus on this type of stone.  Of course the key to protecting your investment is to buy from a reputable dealer you can trust and work with and guarantees the quality of their products 100%!   For more information please contact us at Don@chipetatrading.com or call us at 303-807-1567.

Navajo and Silver

Susan in Wisconsin would like to know “How the Navajo silversmiths came upon the silver to do their work?”  The first Navajo silversmith thought to be Atsidi Sani (1830-1918) learned his craft in the mid 1800’s from Mexican blacksmiths who had been heavily influenced by the Spanish upon their arrival to the Southwest two hundred year before.  Atsidi Sani then shared his knowledge with his brother, Slender Maker of Silver and upon the return of the Navajo peoples from their internment at Bosque Redondo in 1868, the craft began to take hold.  The earliest sources of silver were the coins minted by the United States government,primarily silver dollars that contained a silver content of 98.5% with the remaining being a copper alloy.  These coins were more abundant to the Navajo peoples as they sold their wool, sheep and blankets to newly established trading posts in Arizona and New Mexico and received payment in silver coins.  It is said that the majority of these coins were turned into ingot by melting and then into jewelry including buttons, bandelier decorations, bracelets, earrings and necklaces.  During this period, the silver was much more valuable to the Navajo than the sheep, wool and blankets and soon became highly desirable.  In 1890, the United States Government made it illegal to deface their currencies and this source of silver became more difficult to obtain and melt down into ingot bars for silversmithing.   The Mexican Peso containing 99.5% silver soon took the place of the American coins.  Occasionally, one can tell the difference between the two sources as the US coins may have a bluish tinge.  By the 1920’s silver slugs are being produced in Los Angeles to supply the siversmiths and in the 1930’s sheet silver, which is more pliable and easier to work with is introduced to the Navajo and Pueblo artists of the Southwest.  For more information and Blog suggestions please contact us at don@chipetatrading.com

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