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A magnificent and very large vintage Mark Chee

Navajo silver and “Lavender Pit” Bisbee, Arizona turquoise cuff bracelet, c.1950’s

This piece is the perfect embodiment of the phrase “Large and in charge”. One of the most impressive-looking and beautifully-made Navajo bracelets one is ever likely to see, this magnificent bracelet is the product of a brilliant and inspired Navajo silversmith clearly having one of the very best days of his career. Mark Chee (Approx.1900-1981) is, of course, universally considered to be one of the greatest Navajo silversmiths of all time with a decades-long legacy of consistently extraordinary work. His heavy large-scale silver cuff bracelets such as this one, deeply and elaborately stamped and mounted with exceptional stones are valued among his very finest pieces. And does this piece ever deliver the goods in spades. The stampwork is nothing short of phenomenal; applied with incredible precision and control and a marvelously exuberant creativity. It's a wonderful and densely concentrated composition of arrow motifs, crescents, diamonds and other geometric designs all ornamenting the bracelet’s silver shank and framing the large central stone perfectly.

“Bisbee turquoise is as good as turquoise gets.”

-Turquoise authority and Lone Mountain turquoise 

mine owner, Gene Waddell

The Lavender Pit section of the Phelps-Dodge “Copper Queen” Copper Mine in Bisbee, Arizona

Photo source and © Erik Riffle

Now let’s talk for a few moments about the incredible huge Bisbee “Lavender Pit” turquoise stone in the center of the bracelet. First off, it’s not really a stone, it’s more like a boulder. This is the kind and size of Bisbee stone which hasn’t been seen in many years since the early days in the 1950’s when copper miners in Bisbee used to smuggle large pieces of turquoise out of the Phelps-Dodge Copper Queen Mine hidden amongst the sandwiches in their lunch pails. This stone is the prime product of the famed “Lavender Pit” section of the old Bisbee Mine which opened in 1950 and where turquoise with this distinctive purplish grey brown white matrix was found. If we had to guesstimate, we would put this large (1 3/4” by 1 1/4” and at least 1/4” deep) stone at 100 carats plus. Prime Lavender Pit Bisbee such as this sells in the area of $35-45 per carat these days so the math here is fairly easy to do and quite compelling. The asymmetrically-shaped turquoise stone is beautifully mounted in the bracelet’s center, nicely set in a deep old-style “foldover” type silver bezel.

The bracelet is made on the large scale. The massive silver shank is a full 1/8” in thickness all the way around and it is 1 15/16” in width at its widest center point and tapers down to 1 1/2” in width at the terminal ends. The inner circumference end-to-end is 6 3/8” and the gap between the terminals is 1 3/8” for a total interior circumference of 7 3/4”. The bracelet weighs an extremely impressive 181 grams or 6 3/8 ounces, over one-third of a pound of juicy jewelry goodness. The bracelet is properly signed on the interior with Mark Chee’s customary signature of his last name enclosed within a profiled bird’s head. The bracelet is in excellent original condition with some age-appropriate wear. There is a small amount of natural pitting to the turquoise stone, but this is of no consequence.

This bracelet is a literal monument to historic Navajo jewelry greatness; a stylish old-style piece made in the old-style way by a brilliant traditional Navajo artist with boldness and great beauty. In the Navajo world view, walking in beauty is the highest form of human achievement. Owning and wearing a bracelet suffused with such beauty as this one could do a lot to help you do so.

Price available upon request


Mark Chee at his bench, Santa Fe, c. 1940’s.

Photo copyright Frasher’s Foto Postcards, Pasadena, CA