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Terms & Techniques

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Sterling Silver Appliqué

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Sterling silver appliqué is the process of soldering individual cut-out sterling silver decorations onto a sterling silver base such as a bracelet, pendant, or other piece of jewelry. The appliqué process creates intricate raised designs in sterling silver on the base piece.
The individual appliqué pieces can be anything from repoussé designs, stamped sterling silver fans, sterling silver buttons or whatever the artist might dream to create. Each individual sterling silver appliqué piece is created and soldered in place by hand in this intensely time consuming process.

Burnished Sterling Silver

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The word ‘burnished’ refers to the process of creating a darker and softer satin finish with oxidized details as opposed to a high shine polish. This darker finish not only gives the illusion of age to sterling silver jewelry, but also gives the piece more depth and contrast with the heavy oxidation. Many Native American artists burnish some or all of the jewelry they create.
The process of burnishing sterling silver begins with bright unpolished piece of silver. It is then completely immersed in a chemical that oxidizes the silver and turns it very dark. Depending upon the exact chemical being used, the silver turns very dark brown, dark grey, or nearly black. Finally, the artist takes steel wool and brushes the silver by hand in order to remove some of the oxidation and create a soft satin looking finish. Burnishing is a process that is very hard on the artist's hands through the use of steel wool. Over time artists have been known to actually loose the feeling in their fingertips due to many years of burnishing sterling silver.

Inlay Techniques

Artists include:
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The word ‘inlay’ refers to the fabrication method originated by the Zuni of cutting and fitting stones together to form a design or pattern. There are three major types of inlay jewelry: mosaic or stone-to-stone inlay, channel inlay, and cobblestone or raised inlay.
In mosaic inlay, each stone is cut and set by hand to sit flush against each other without gaps. This can be done on another material such as a shell (creating a traditional dance shell) or within a sterling silver border. Jewelers epoxy is used to secure each stone in place and occasional a filler can be used if there is a small gap between stones although the highest quality inlay work does not require filler. Once the stones are set, they are ground down to ensure one continuous smooth surface and polished by hand.
Channel inlay follows the exact same technique except the stones are separated with sterling silver instead of sitting flush against one another. The stones are set into channels or shapes that were pre-molded from silver. Through sanding and polishing, the stone surfaces become flush with the sterling silver and show the border between the materials as a smooth, seamless interface.
A perfect mosaic or channel inlay shows no perceivable textural difference at the interfaces whether it be stone to stone or stone to metal. To the touch, the gemstone and metal surfaces are one and the same.
Cobblestone inlay can be either stone to stone or channel set. The only difference in cobblestone inlay from the other styles is that the stones are not sanded down to create a flat surface, the stone are simply polished and left to resemble a textured surface such as a cobblestone street.
Inlay was used and developed over the centuries by Native American artisans. Zuni tribes in particular are renowned for their inlay jewelry. Navajo, similarly, distinguish themselves with their distinctive inlay jewelry designs using inlay. Occasionally in modern day production, the Navajo do the silversmithing while Zuni craftsmen do the lapidary work to complete the inlay designs.

Sterling Silver Overlay

Artists include:
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During the 1940's the Hopi developed a unique style called overlay (this term comes from the method by which the jewelry is constructed). Sterling silver overlay jewelry is constructed from two layers of sterling silver. A design is traced on a sheet of silver and is then painstakingly cut out with a jeweler's saw by hand. This top design layer is then silver soldered to another sheet, the bottom layer, of silver. Texturing is added to the bottom layer in all the open areas of the design using a hammer, a small punch, and oxidation. The piece is then trimmed to it's final shape and size. Next the assembled item is hammered into its final form, contoured, and blackened to enhance the negative areas of the design. The top surface is then buffed to either a matte-like satin finish or to a mirror-like high polish.

Pawn Jewelry

Old pawn & dead pawn jewelry

Old pawn is generally old jewelry and dead pawn can be old or new jewelry. Old pawn is the most highly collectible American Indian jewelry. The term "old pawn" or "dead pawn" simply means an item that was pawned for cash but has never been redeemed, a common practice in the Southwest, and often referring to American Indian jewelry. Occasionally, a very old piece of jewelry, often a family heirloom, will appear as dead pawn, but most pieces found today are of a more recent vintage.
Referring not only to the age of the items, old pawn, dead pawn, or "pawned" jewelry often exhibits long passed craftsmanship, unusual stones and sometimes significant wear and tear from usage of the years. One of the major characteristics of really old pawn jewelry, which is easy to tell in person, is that the pieces are heavy in weight. American Indian artisans used a lot of silver in old pawn items and especially in Navajo work. Newer pieces of old pawn jewelry may not be as heavy in weight and may not use the high amount of silver, precious metals and stones as had been used for older pieces of old pawn.
Traditionally, Native American Indians used the pawn shop or trading post to pawn jewelry they had made for their own personal wear and adornment or for their family. Usually nice items such as those made for special occasions or a special family member were pawned for cash in times of necessity. It is for this reason that collectors get very excited about finding old pawn / dead pawn American Indian jewelry.


Artists include:
Repoussé example Repoussé example Repoussé example

Repoussé is a metalworking technique in which a malleable metal, in our case Sterling Silver, is ornamented or shaped by hammering from the reverse side to create a design in low relief on the front.
The technique of repoussé utilizes the plasticity of metal, forming shapes by degrees. There is no loss of metal in the process, as it is stretched locally and the surface remains continuous. The process is relatively slow, but a maximum of form is achieved, with one continuous surface of sheet metal of essentially the same thickness. Direct contact of the tools used is usually visible in the result, a condition not always apparent in other techniques, where all evidence of the working method is eliminated.

Sterling Silver

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Pure silver, also called fine silver, is relatively soft, very malleable, and easily damaged so it is commonly combined with other metals to produce a more durable product. The most popular of these alloys is sterling silver, which consists of 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent copper.
Although any metal can make up the 7.5 percent non-silver portion of sterling, centuries of experimentation have shown copper to be its best companion, improving the metal's hardness and durability without affecting its beautiful color. The small amount of copper added to sterling has very little effect on the metal's value. Instead, the price of the silver item is affected by the labor involved in making the item, the skill of the crafts person, and the intricacy of the design.
Most high quality silver items are stamped with a "fineness" or "quality" mark. This mark designates the precious metal content of the jewelry. Acceptable quality marks for sterling silver include "sterling", "sterling silver", "ster", "925", and ".925".