Silver cuffs set with smooth, giant turquoise stones. Copper bands ringed with thunderbird icons. Roadrunner pins and bolo ties. They evoke cacti and adobe dwellings, Route 66 and tumbleweeds, Georgia O’Keeffe and John Wayne.
We’re thrilled to offer a new-old find: an eclectic assortment of vintage Native American jewelry made by The Bell Trading Company of Albuquerque, New Mexico. You may be surprised to learn that this style of Native American jewelry—ubiquitous with the American West—only dates back to the late 1800s. And from the get-go, it was made for tourists: first train travelers, then road-tripping Americans on vacation. This was before truck stops and the Interstate system, when two-lane highways offered glimpses of the scenic, untamed nation that was already becoming a thing of the past. Trading posts sprang up to capitalize on souvenirs-seeking tourists, who couldn’t get enough Native American jewelry.
It’s not hard to see why. In Navajo beliefs, turquoise is a piece of the sky itself, bringing good thoughts to its wearer. In combination with silver or copper, it calls to mind wide, open skies and the vast bronzed rockiness of the landscape below it. This is not just jewelry. It’s a state of mind.
Heirloom Finds founders Kim and Jeanne came across this collection while antiquing in Southeast Ohio, of all places. An owner of a Southwestern-style trading post had sold his remaining stock of Native American jewelry, a lot which had been waiting for 30 years to be discovered. So this cache truly is a rediscovered treasure!
The Bell Trading Company employed Navajo silversmiths to create their jewelry and the firm operated from 1935 until the late 1980’s. The artisans who created this jewelry had well-paying jobs and were held in high esteem. They utilized the silver, copper, and turquoise that was available locally, but they also added other elements, such as jet, coral, and abalone. Popular motifs—thunderbirds, roadrunners, feathers, and the half-man, half-eagle Knifewing deity—pulled from the mythologies of tribes such as the Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo. Like jazz, it’s a truly iconic American art form, timeless yet modern.
The variety in this selection runs the gamut, with a find to suit anyone’s taste: simple metal bands to elaborate bold boyfriend rings, tastefully subtle bolo ties that can be worn as pendants, and roadrunner brooches with rich inlays. The statement pieces can go dressy or casual, be underplayed or emphasized for this year’s hot look-Southwest Glam. And, in classic Wild West fashion, they always go well with denim. Delicate or bold, traditional or contemporary, it’s easy to make this quintessentially American artistry part of your signature style.
By Sara Bir