Recognize Quality Craftsmanship in Native Jewelry

Buying and collectiong Native American jewelry can be a very rewarding experience. However, it is important to understand the difference between handmade vs. mass produced work. You want to ensure that what you are buying is authentic.

"Fabricated" and "Cast"


Know the difference between "fabricated" and "cast". Nowadays you can make a silicon mold of almost anything and easily have a thousand copies made up in a few weeks.


Corn row inlay is inlay that involves the shaping and polish of each stone, like cobble stone.


Imported or not hand crafted:

If something seems too good to be true (like what should be a $10,000 piece selling for $150) it probably is! It seems to me there are also honest sellers out there who think they are selling real Native pieces, but are being deceived by their suppliers.


Beads: Is the bead work clean and each bead well-defined? Is bright cutting straight, smooth, crisp, and bright?

Finish: Is the item well-polished in all areas? Look for uneven, rough, flat, or scaly surfaces. Have all nicks or file and tool marks been removed? Is the piece free of porosity? If it has a special finish, is it uniform and unmarred? Has any tarnish been removed?

Flashing: Has the mounting been cleaned after casting to completely remove any metal that is not inherent to the design?

Gemstone Cut: A round or brilliant cut diamond should have a truly circular girdle outline. Other cuts should be symmetrical. All should have the right proportions. An extremely thick girdle is distracting to the eye, adds unnecessary weight, and can cause setting and security problems. A too-thin girdle is susceptible to damage. 

Gemstone Clarity: Under 10x magnification, look for bubbles, cracks, and inclusions, including dangerous feathers (breaks that reach the surface), that can make the stone vulnerable to breakage. Check facet edges, table, and planes for chips, cracks, and scratches. 


Glue: Glue should not be visible on metal or the gemstone or pearl. Also, is the bond intact? 

Prongs: Are prongs in full contact with stone(s)? Are they uniformly spaced and thick enough to hold the stone securely? Have all sharp edges or corners been smoothed? Do the prongs cover too much or too little of the stone? (Prongs should never exceed 75 percent of the height of the stone and should not cover more than 50 percent of the crown angle. Too-tall prongs are more likely to catch, snag, and bend.)


Quality Marks/Trademarks: Are the mark stamped correctly? If a piece has been stamped with a quality mark, does it also contain a trademark?

Rivets: Do they show? Are they sufficient in size for their purpose, or are they thicker than necessary?

Shank: Is it round and symmetrical? Is it thick enough to withstand the stress of wear?

Settings: Are all stones tight within the setting? If in a channel, are stones aligned properly? Do they touch or overlap? 


Solder: Does solder show? Are there gaps in the solder flow? Does color match the piece? Has any tarnish been removed? 


Here are some tips on inlay in general:

Micro-inlay - The micro inlay I am familiar with is spectacular work done by Navajo inlayers like Clayton Tom and Ervin Tsosie. Jesse Lee Monongye is of Navajo/Hopi descent and does amazing micro-inlay. You will not find any of these artist’s works for sale cheaply, so if you think you do, be careful.


Chip inlay - there is and was a lot of chip inlay being done in Mexico. In general I would say that the Navajo chip inlay is placed piece by piece in the cavity and arranged carefully, fitting pieces together like a mosaic, whereas the Mexican inlay looks like someone dumped a bunch of tiny chips into an area and then poured glue in there. This of course is a generalization, but look for carefully placed inlay and it is probably Navajo.


Turquoise- Only about 10% of turquoise on the market today is natural and untreated.

  • Stabilization and treating turquoise is ok. Turquoise is a very soft material and most would crack or chip if it was not stabilized.
  • Avoid "block" plastic made to look like turquoise, sometimes with fake or no matrix. . Also the matrix in block has a fake look. It is hard to describe how to identify block, but
  • Real matrix is usually somewhat rocky or metallic so if you see very smooth looking matrix that is utterly evenly colored, it might be Block.