Early Native American Jewelry Traditions

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What Do You Think Of?

Most people probably visualize lots of ornate silver with turquoise when they think about Native American tribal jewelry. Surprisingly, North American Indian artisans did not start using this style until the 1800’s when they learned it from the Spaniards. It was not initially Native American at all, even though today many Indian tribal jewelry artisans fully embrace it.

Native Americans certainly wore jewelry before the arrival of the Europeans. In alignment with nature, they used the natural materials to make meaningful ornaments and beads.

How Did They Do That?

With their primitive tools, the process was a pain staking and time-consuming process. They meticulously handcrafted each bead from antler, shell, horn, bone, quills, feathers, claws, teeth, wood, and stone. These components provided the wearer with a spiritual connection to nature – and spirituality is a defining characteristic of all Native American cultures.

Except for the unique copper jewelry of the Great Lakes region, most of this early Native American tribal jewelry did not survive. Only a few isolated stone beads remain.

Trade Changed Everything.

Things changed when the Europeans arrived. They brought trade with them – and trade meant a steady supply of colorful, uniform, and plentiful glass beads. Native American crafts of all kinds- especially textiles and tribal jewelry suddenly acquired a new aesthetic.

Despite these changes, Native American artisans continued to integrate traditional symbols into their work. The exact symbolic meaning varied from tribe to tribe, but is enlightening nonetheless.

What Does It All Mean?

bearFor example, the bear was considered a cosmic guardian and fierce humming birdprotector by many tribes people. Birds carried prayers to heaven – especially the spirit bird depicted in flight. Kokopeli playing a flute assured the tribe of crops and babies. The three sisters – corn, beans, and squash – gave both spiritual and physical nourishment. These are just a few of the repeating symbols that continue to embellish Native American tribal jewelry even today.

NEXT: Some Native American Jewelry Traditions in North America Today

Send your comments and suggestions…I would love to hear from you!

Andrea @ Tribal Muse  www.tribalmuse.com

 

Jewelry Patina – The Gift of Time

What is Jewelry Patina?

IMG_0084Patina on jewelry is a darkening on the surface of metal that occurs over time…the more time, generally the richer the patina.

It is the result of a natural oxidation process. Metals susceptible to patina formation usually contain some copper or iron.

The Array of Patina Colors Might Surprise You.

Patina can appear in a wide variety of colors, including red, brown, black, grey, blue, orange, purple, pink, beige and green. Here is are a few examples of some of the patina color out there, courtesy of Bronzeworks Precious Metal in Australia:

Patina from Bronzeworks in Australia

Oh Shiny! Why Not Remove Patina?

Surprisingly, patina acts as a protective layer, shielding the metal below against exposure and corrosion.

Patina is also intriguingly beautiful and if you remove it, it is gone forever.  It is prized by collectors and those who love old jewelry as testimony to years of loving wear and to unknown experiences that went before.

Many manufacturers today try to duplicate the look patina on new jewelry. Even though many of these pieces are very pretty, it is just not the same as the real thing.

Patina is a gift of time…and only the passage of time can create it.

Patina Seems to Say “Leave Me Alone!”

TarnishAt Tribal Muse we never remove patina, since to remove it would change not only the value, but also the character of a Makara Bracelets Pair D patinapiece.  Some of our items have been rub-polished to bring out their luster, without altering the presence of patination.

Unlike tarnish, patina is embedded into the upper layers of the metal itself, darkening the color through multiple molecular layers without destroying them. To eliminate all of the patina is a challenge, and limits the attraction of old pieces.

Usually, only a chemical bath can completely remove patina to result in a high-polish, if at all. Chemical treatments are not good for any jewelry, and are never recommended regardless of the age of a piece. It can make jewelry brittle and susceptible to other forms of deterioration down the road.

Although you might find some high-polish old jewelry on our website, the acid-cleaning occurred at the location of origin before arriving at Tribal Muse.

Here are a few images of our high-polish vintage jewelry:

PicMonkey Collage-chemically treated

 

 

High-Polish Chemically Cleaned Jewelry is still beautiful; it just has a different look.

Photographing Patina is a Challenge.

True patina often does not photograph well because of its natural sheen. In images, jewelry pieces with significant patina may appear lighter than they are to the naked eye. That is why it is a good idea to read the full descriptions whenever and where ever you buy old or vintage Tribal Jewelry to avoid patina surprises.

What’s What with Patina Identification?

At Tribal Muse, we identify the level of age patinas as follows:

Mild = Visible patina, may be rub-polished
Warm = Moderate dark patina, with a more noticeable darkening of the metal
Rich = Very dark patina, with heavy darkening of metal. May include verdigris

Here’s Looking at You, Patina.

Below are some photos of what the different patinas look like on some of the jewelry at Tribal Muse. They are arranged by increasing level of patination, including Mild, Warm, and Rich.

PicMonkey Collage - Milld 2Mild Patina

PicMonkey Collage - Warm 2Warm Patina

Rich Patina

 

Rich Patina

 

 

If you love old and vintage things, once you see a piece of jewelry with genuine patina, it is hard to forget it. You might even be overcome with an inexplicable desire to touch it, hold it, and wonder at who wore it.

There is a definite attraction that pulls people to this jewelry with a deep sense of pleasure and appreciation. Perhaps that is why so much new jewelry has simulated patina applied. It still looks good, but it is not the same as the real thing.

Some Jewelry with Applied Patina: PicMonkey Collage - applied patina

That is not to say anything against high-polish jewelry or jewelry with a painted patina. Many of these pieces are truly beautiful, and often more in keeping with fashion industry trends.

Regardless of choice, both old and new patinated jewelry is a welcome addition to any accessory wardrobe (although I must confess to a personal preference…I bet you can guess which one!)

You and Patina?

What kind of Patina Jewelry do you have – or would you like to have?

Tell us in the Comments section, we’d love to know what you think.

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