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A magnificent vintage Navajo silver and

turquoise buckle by Mark Chee, c.1940’s-50’s

This extraordinary silver and turquoise buckle by the renowned Navajo silversmith, Mark Chee (1904-1981) is an astonishingly beautiful and impressive piece and its strength and beauty are exceptionally compelling. Mark Chee was a completely traditional Navajo silversmith in every way and over the course of his long career he relied upon the use of only a few simple tools, most of which he made himself. To attain such a degree of elegance, finesse and refinement in his finished pieces with such basic materials, tools and methods is a testament to his exceptional imagination, determination and ability.

Chee came up the long way from the very beginning moving from his tiny isolated one-horse Navajo Reservation town of Lukachukai, Arizona to Santa Fe as a very young teenager where he began his career around 1920 working for $5.00 a week polishing stones in Julius Gans’ famous Southwest Arts and Crafts trading post in the very heart of downtown Santa Fe which was an extremely exciting artistic milieu at the time particularly for a young Navajo jeweler as greatness abounded around every corner. Ambrose and Sam Roanhorse were working there as were the great Cochiti Pueblo silversmiths

Joe H. Quintana and David Taliman, Hopi smith Lewis Lomay as well as Frank Patania’s Thunderbird Shop and many others. Chee rapidly gained proficiency and over the years he became an important Santa Fe silversmithing rock star and institution working for such luminaries as Gans, Al Packard and Patania until going out on his own around 1960.

The overall design and hand craftsmanship evident here is exceptional in every aspect. The construction is absolutely astounding, this buckle is built as beautifully and as solidly as the Golden Gate Bridge and is no less heavy duty. To attain such strength with such obvious finesse and grace is the mark of the true master. The buckle’s silver body is most beautifully and gracefully proportioned and the detailed chisel work along both sides of the recessed central panel is

quite remarkable, in fact we have never seen a decorative treatment quite as original and unique as this one from Mark Chee.

Fox Turquoise

The Fox turquoise mine, located near Lander County and discovered in the early 1900’s, was once Nevada’s largest producer of

turquoise with some half million pounds. At that time, Dowell Ward, the mine operator, amassed one of the largest collections of turquoise rock. The mining operation continued to produce turquoise in quantity after 1968 and is still producing today. Fox turquoise is quite hard and runs from shades of green to an aqua blue color. It is found as both nuggets and vein material. The names Fox, White Horse, Green Tree and Smith to differentiate among the colors of turquoise produced in the area and to create a larger perceived share of the market.

-Fox Turquoise photo and text source and © Waddell Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ

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

Photo source and © Frasher's Foto Postcards, Pasadena, CA

Now let’s talk some more about the buckle’s recessed central panel featuring these two absolutely gorgeous large hand-cut and finely-shaped turquoise stones. Chee was well known for his love for and use of beautiful turquoise and these two fit the bill to a tee. They are a lovely rich deep sea green-blue in color with a fine, light brown matrix and appear to be from Nevada’s famed Fox Mine, as seen below. Other possible contenders are Royston, Nevada and the excellent King's Manassa Mine in Colorado. They are asymmetrically formed and nicely hand-shaped with sensuous undulations that catch and hold the light perfectly. The stones are set in old style foldover type silver bezels and are further accented by a strand of hand-drawn twisted silver wire which encloses and outlines them beautifully. In a lovely final touch, the entire inner panel is further accentuated by six round applied-silver “raindrops.”, four large raindrops, one at each corner and two smaller ones in the middle.

The buckle measures 3" in width and 2" in height and is 3/8" in thickness. The buckle weighs a very substantial, but quite comfortable to wear 64 grams or 2 1/4 ounces and it will accept a belt strap of up to 1 1/2" in width. The buckle is

properly and very beautifully signed on the back with Mark Chee’s customary last name inside a profiled bird’s head

hallmark and it is in completely excellent original vintage condition with some age-appropriate wear and abrasion and

a fine soft patina from long, loving use.

We have seen a good many of Mark Chee’s wonderful silver jewelry pieces over the past 35 years, and we can conclusively say that while quite of few of these were very very good or really really excellent, in our view this particular piece stands very near the very top of the hill literally glowing with the aura of true, rare unique artistic and historic greatness.

This is a pure unadulterated real deal masterwork of historic Navajo silverwork by one of the greatest practitioners

who ever swung a hammer.

Wearing this wonderful piece will almost certainly put you in the exalted state of ideal human awareness

and consciousness which the Navajo proudly refer to as “Walking in Beauty.”


Note: The leather belt pictured here is for demonstartion purposes only and is not included in the sale

of this buckle. If desired, we can recommend an excellent custom leather belt maker in Santa Fe.