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A historic Navajo coin-silver row-style
bracelet set with ten handcut high-domed
natural turquoise stones, c.1920’s-30’s
This is a lovely older historic Navajo row bracelet made in a fascinating and most traditional manner. The silver shank of the bracelet appears to have been hammered out directly from one or more actual silver coins. The coin or coins are heated until red hot then hammered out to form the shape of the bracelet. The folding marks of this process can be clearly seen on the inside of the bracelet’s shank. This is one of the two time-honored traditional Navajo methods of making silver bracelets from coins, the other being to melt the coins down first and then cast them into an ingot silver “slug” which is then reheated and hammered out to form the body of the bracelet.
The visible remnants of the original serrated coin edges and possibly some original numerals from a coin’s date
suggest that did not happen here. Use of the directly hammered out coin method at this time suggests an older Navajo silversmith working in a very remote location without access to more modern trading post era materials such as commercial sheet silver or pre-made silver ingots. The bracelet is relatively large in wrist size yet it is fairly narrow and light in weight and this suggests that this is all the silver the smith had to work with, not an unusual situation in that silver coins were an extremely precious commodity in Navajoland at this time is that they constituted the only form of “hard” currency the Navajo could use to buy needed goods in the mostly trade-based economy that existed in most of the Navajo reservation especially the more remote sections at this time.
The bracelet is beautifully set with a row of ten nicely matched handcut high-domed round sky blue turquoise stones. The clear light sky blue color and hints of brownish black matrix seem to indicate the turquoise might have come from Arizona’s famed Sleeping Beauty Mine near Globe east pf Phoenix in the southern section of the state which is one of America’s oldest turquoise mines, producing stone since ancient times. The stones are set in old-style “foldover” type silver bezels. Interspersed between the stones are nine pairs of round applied silver “raindrops”, eighteen in all. The end sections of the bracelet are decorated with some simple attractive geometric stampwork designs.
The bracelet measures 7/16” in width all the way around, The inner circumference is 5 3/4” and the gap between the terminal is 7/8” for a total interior circumference of 6 5/8”. The bracelet weighs a very comfortable and easy to wear 25 grams or 7/8 of an ounce which, interestingly, happens to be almost exactly the weight of one historic American silver dollar or of two silver half dollars. The bracelet conveys both a nice strength and a compelling delicacy at the same time. It is at once an elegant and historic piece of artistry and fine traditional Navajo craftsmanship.
The Sleeping Beauty turquoise mine, Globe, AZ
Photo source and © Michael D. McCumber
The bracelet and the materials it was made from, historic American silver coins and Sleeping Beauty, Arizona turquoise.