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An exceptional, historic, Navajo tufa-cast silver belt buckle

set with six round blue glass “Hubbell” beads, circa 1910-1920

ex: Teal McKibben Collection, Santa Fe, NM

This gorgeous buckle is the sort of thing one almost never sees today outside of a good museum. It is quite simply one of the very finest pieces we have ever seen in nearly 30 years of buying, selling and collecting historic Navajo jewelry, and, what’s more, it also has an absolutely fantastic provenance.

These large, early, tufa-cast Navajo silver buckles made in the first quarter of the 20th Century are among the rarest, most accomplished and beautiful of all historic Navajo silver jewelry, in our opinion. They are almost universally considered to be among the crowning achievements of early Navajo silversmithing for their great beauty, rarity, and the extreme nature and difficulty of the process required to create them.

The Navajo silversmith who made this piece was an accomplished master of his craft. Tufa-casting, under any conditions, and particularly under the extremely primitive conditions which existed throughout Navajoland in the early 20th Century, is one of the most painstakingly difficult and tricky of all silversmithing techniques to execute successfully, particular for a piece on this large scale. If the tufa mold isn't carved exactly right, if the molten silver doesn't flow perfectly and evenly into the mold at the exact right temperature, the casting will be ruined. As  can be clearly seen, the casting of this piece turned out perfectly, it is a model of strength, elegance, delicacy and refinement and the subsequent chiseled and stampwork decorative designs the silversmith applied onto the buckle are restrained, elegant and beautifully executed.

The buckle is set with six, small round, blue glass "Hubbell" beads named after the famed turn-of-the-century Arizona Indian Trader, Juan Lorenzo (J.L.) Hubbell (1853-1930) who began importing them from Europe and selling them in his various Southwestern trading posts around 1910. At the time, interestingly, Hubbell widely promoted such beads to his Native American and other customers as being a cheaper, easier-to-use alternative to turquoise which, at the time, was in somewhat short supply in America. With the passage of time, Hubbell beads have actually become very valuable as they are now considered to be extremely collectible.

This large buckle measures an impressive 3 3/4" in width and 3 5/8" in height. It will accommodate a belt of up to 1 1/4" in width. The buckle weighs a substantial 107 grams or 3 3/4 ounces. The buckle is in excellent original condition with a fine patina from age and a great deal of dedicated wear around the bezels and on the reverse where the leather belt would pass through the buckle.

This buckle has a most distinguished collection history, coming directly from the personal collection of

the longtime Santa Fe Native American jewelry dealer and collector, Teal McKibben, a dear old friend and colleague of ours for several decades. Teal’s extraordinary knowledge in the field and her extensive collection of old Navajo and Pueblo jewelry were unequalled and legendary and most deservedly so. We well remember her wearing this particular buckle on numerous occasions over the years. After Teal’s passing in 2006, we purchased the buckle from her family.

This buckle is a remarkable and beautiful historic piece of early Navajo silver work with an equally remarkable and distinguished collection history.

Price $5,200

Inquire                                                            Purchase

Juan Lorenzo Hubbell, c. 1900-1905

Photo © National Park Service

Teal McKibben at La Bodega, Canyon Road, Santa Fe, c. 2002

A selection of historic tools and materials used by Navajo silversmiths for making tufa-cast silver jewelry