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A splendid Navajo ingot-silver bracelet with three
matched Lone Mountain or #8 mine spiderweb turquoise stones possibly by Ambrose Roanhorse, c.1930’s-40’s
THIS WONDERFUL BRACELET is a high-water mark of traditional Navajo silversmithing in the 20th century, both aesthetically and technically, from its overall design to the three spectacular matched gem Lone Mountain, Nevada spiderweb turquoise stones, to the elaborate and beautifully-applied stamp work decoration. In our opinions, this piece clearly reveals the creative mind and skilled hands of the distinguished Ambrose Roanhorse; master Navajo silversmith and influential silversmithing instructor; co-Founder and first Director of The Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild, Director of the Jewelry programs at The Santa Fe and Fort Wingate, NM Indian Schools and supervisor and administrator of the U.S. Government's Indian Arts and Crafts Board’s "U.S. Navajo" and "U.S. Zuni” quality assurance programs.
Ambrose Roanhorse stands as one of the towering figures in the history of Navajo silversmithing. The outstanding craftsmanship evident in every aspect of this piece and specifically in the shape and treatment of the bracelet’s cast-silver shank, the linear and precisely-applied pattern of the three rows of stamp work decoration, the dramatic and distinctive use and parallel placement of the three gorgeous Lone Mountain spiderweb stones and the slightly upturned at a 90-degree angle end terminals all point directly to Roanhorse, in our view, although, of course, since the bracelet is unsigned as befits its earlier age there is no way to know this definitively. But accomplished artist’s “signatures” can often be just as accurately revealed in the aesthetic and technical details of their work as in their actual signatures themselves. One does not necessarily need to see Leonardo Da Vinci’s actual signature on the Mona Lisa or Michelangelo’s on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to know who created them.
Ambrose Roanhorse, c. 1930’s
“It sure feel good when you wear handmade jewelry”
-Ambrose Roanhorse, 1936
In his esteemed position as the “Beshlakai Nataani” or leading silversmith of the Navajo Nation, Roanhorse would have had ready access to the finest stones available and the Lone Mountain Mine first began producing its unique spiderweb turquoise in the late 1920’s. In our view, Roanhorse would have most likely made this bracelet in the late 1930’s or very early 1940’s…it is slightly more traditional in its style and presentation format than the more Modernist, mostly all-silver streamlined style that he developed later in the 1940’s and which became the overall design direction of the Navajo Guild’s silverwork and later that of The White Hogan Shop under the direction of Roanhorse's former student at the Fort Wingate Indian school and lifelong friend and colleague, Kenneth Begay. It is possible that the bracelet might have been made in the 1950’s in a somewhat more traditional style than what the Navajo Guild or White Hogan were doing at that time however if Roanhorse made this bracelet in the 1950’s he would most likely have signed it, so our vote is still for the earlier time frame of around 1935-42.
The bracelet’s silver shank is 3/4” wide at its widest point and it is 1/16” in thickness. The bracelet’s inner circumference end-to-end is 5 1/2” and the gap between the terminals is 1 1/8” for a total interior circumference of 6 5/8”. The bracelet weighs a very comfortable and wearable 48 grams or 1 3/4 ounces and it is in excellent original condition. There is a small piece missing from the silver bezel of one of the side turquoise stones which can be clearly seen in the pictures here. This is of no particular consequence and the stone is completely secure in its bezel.
The three gem-quality Lone Mountain turquoise stones are clearly the stars of this entire execution and all the other details are arranged to show them off to their best possible advantage, the stones are beautifully-matched and perfectly graduated and their placement in tight formation in the bracelet’s center serves to accentuate and heighten their beauty which is even further set off by the large applied-silver “raindrops” between the stones and the three rows of fine stamp work decoration along both sides of them.
We would conservatively estimate the combined carat weight of these three stones at around 20-25 carats. High-Grade Lone Mountain spiderweb finished stones of this quality would likely sell today, on the extremely rare occasions when you could ever find them available, in the $100-$125 or more range per carat. It’s pretty easy to do the math here.
This bracelet is a rare and outstanding piece in every way; characterized by outstanding beauty, outstanding crafts- manship, outstanding stones and the outstanding Navajo artist, whether Ambrose Roanhorse or not, who created it.