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A very unusual historic Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild

hammered coin silver cuff bracelet, circa 1940’s

The remarkable jewelers of the Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild, founded in 1941, are responsible for some of the finest historic Navajo jewelry of the 20th Century, such as this rare and beautiful cuff bracelet, made of painstakingly hammered-out silver coins. This piece is a unique and rare occurrence in the history of 20th Century Navajo silversmithing.

Most of the time in the creation of traditional Navajo jewelry, so-called “ingot-silver” is also coin-silver, but not always. Likewise, most of the time, coin-silver is also “ingot-silver”, but, again, not always. This is an unusual example of the “not always”; a unique piece that falls into the cracks of the generally accepted, but often inaccurate or incomplete, “wisdom”.

This bracelet is a seldom-seen example of a piece being made of coin-silver, but not of ingot-silver, which is to say that it was made of silver coins being hammered out directly to form the body of the bracelet without first being melted down to form an ingot “slug” or melted and cast into a tufa or other kind of mold to form the body of the bracelet. If silver is not melted down and cast into another form, then it is not “ingot-silver”, period, no exceptions. For a more comprehensive explanation of this process, please click here.

Some of the various types of period American silver coins which

could have been hammered together to form this bracelet

Hammering out silver coins to form a bracelet is also unusual in that a bracelet, especially one of this substantial size, requires several coins to make which must be painstakingly pounded together to form a large enough piece of silver to make the bracelet. Usually individual hammered-out silver coins are much more easily made into smaller pieces such as pins or rings, and only rarely are they made into larger pieces such as this bracelet. A close inspection of the edges of the bracelet reveals the repeated occurrence of regular parallel ridges on the very edge of the bracelet, these are remnants of the serrated edges of the individual silver coins which have been hammered together to form the piece. Also the varying width and relative thinness of the bracelet along the length of its shank is an indication of it being hammered together, not cast, as does the faintly visible evidence of “sandwiching” together of several different pieces of silver. This process is similar in some ways to, but not as complex as, the ancient Japanese technique of “Mokume-Gane”, the traditional method of crafting high-tensile steel for Samurai swords and also the technique for making the famous “Damascus” steel developed for use in knives and swords in Medieval Syria.

Time now for some brief speculation on who might have made this unique piece. The Navajo Guild’s regulations strictly prohibited individual artists from signing Guild jewelry pieces with their personal marks, only the Navajo Guild’s official “Horned Sun” hallmark and sometimes the word “NAVAJO” could be applied to the jewelry and this bracelet is marked in precisely that way. The Guild’s jewelers were a rotating all-star team of the greatest Navajo silversmiths of the time beginning with Ambrose Roanhorse, the Guild’s Founder and its first Director. If we had to seriously guess who made this bracelet, our money would be on Roanhorse for the consummate craftsmanship and daring design modernity the bracelet demonstrates. This could literally have been a “demonstration” piece, which he might have made to show his students at one of the many places where he taught silversmithing—The Fort Wingate Indian School, The Santa Fe Indian School or The Navajo Guild itself—how to perform a number of unusual and technically demanding silversmithing techniques.

The cut-out ovals and stampwork decorative designs are simply remarkable, both for the overall complexity of their design and the difficulty and precision of their execution. The overall sense of the design is of a repeating diamond or oval-shaped pattern seen in several Classic Navajo weaving designs from the 19th Century.  The alternating cut-out ovals and stampwork ovals give a marvelous “depth” and sense of motion and rhythm to the design. There are several different patterns to the stampwork itself on different parts of the bracelet. The bracelet has nine panels of a repeating oval pattern of negative stamping with slightly crescent-shaped borders. On either end of the bracelet are three panels with

a much more complex stamp design contained within the oval formed of very small and precisely-applied negative “U-shaped” stamps. The negative stamping gives a very fine raised serrated edge around the interior of the oval. At the bracelet’s terminals are two stamped crescent designs with different, equally-intricate negative stamps. This kind of work is unspeakably difficult to achieve and just masterfully done here.

The bracelet measures 1 13/16” in width at its widest point. The interior circumference end-to-end is 5 15/16” and the gap between the terminals is 1 1/6” for a total interior circumference of 7”. The bracelet weighs a substantial 83 grams or

2 7/8 ounces. It is in excellent original condition and it is properly signed on the inside with the NACG’s “Horned Sun” hallmark and the word “NAVAJO”. This bracelet is a distinctive, beautiful and historic piece that anyone interested in Southwestern jewelry should be very proud to own.

Price $3,150

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