Native American Jewelry in Phoenix

by Country Inns & Suites
Tuesday, November 17, 2009

HEARDJEWELRY  The Phoenix area offers a warm escape, plus some of the most exquisite turquoise jewelry around.  Warm temperatures coupled withthe Native American tradition of turquoise jewelry make Phoenix a destination not to be missed.  By Judy Wade

Scottsdale, Arizona has for decades been a winter playground for visitors escaping colder climes. Besides offering dependable sunshine, abundant golf and indulgence in sybaritic spas, the area is a shopping paradise for Native American turquoise jewelry.

The robin’s-egg-blue, and sometimes green, gemstone has been used since 200 B.C. in the jewelry of Southwest American Indian tribes. Unredeemed pawned pieces as well as newly made ones have become highly collectible.

Acknowledged Indian crafts experts, the late Gilbert Ortega and his sisters founded the Gilbert Ortega Museum Gallery.

“What makes a piece collectible are four factors: quality of materials, design, craftsmanship and supply/demand,” said Ortega before his passing. “Certain artists are in high demand, like Sunshine Reeves.” Heavily stamped silver identifies Reeves’ work. “Some out-of-pawn items are collectible, but it takes a well-trained eye to pick out the good ones,” he said, adding that early 1960s and ’70s pieces command substantial prices. “Someone wanting a frog squash blossom [a silver necklace with a carved turquoise frog on a lily pad] could expect to pay $3,500 to $6,000,” he said. Other squash blossoms, including intricate Zuni needlepoint and traditional Navajo styles, can start at around $600 and go as high as $12,000, depending on quality of craftsmanship, design and stones. Simple rings and pins can start at $45. Craftsmanship may be judged by how tightly inlay work fits together, crispness of cutwork and appropriateness of stones selected for the piece.

The world-renowned Heard Museum has a permanent collection that provides an excellent education. Recent prices in the Heard Museum Shop include $450 for an intricate sterling and turquoise bracelet by Henry Morris, and $116 for a pair of silver and turquoise multi-stone Zuni drop earrings. Keep in mind, there’s no sales tax.

For a shopping break from boutiques and galleries, stop by Cowboy Ciao. Its whimsical menu and witty wine list are in keeping with food that is seriously good. Don’t miss the Stetson Chopped Salad.

INSIDER’S TIP: Novice collectors should consult experts before doing any serious investing. As raw turquoise becomes scarcer, dyed and stabilized (chemically hardened) and even plastic “stones” are sometimes used.