We do, of course, specialize in New Native American Indian Jewelry. This is the main part of our business. The Ugly Otter and his wife, travel thousands of miles a year hunting and selecting this jewelry. We are not complaining – we enjoy the trips, enjoy dealing with our friends there, enjoy selecting the quality jewelry that we strive to present on our web pages.
We buy this new jewelry directly from the artist themselves in many cases. However, some of the artists are scattered throughout the Reservations and it is almost impossible to find them, especially on short notice. The Navajo Nation covers a territory larger than the combined states of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. It is the largest reservation-based Indian nation within the United States, both in land area and population. More than 200,000 Navajos live on the 24,000 square miles of the Navajo Nation. The Navajos’ name for themselves is Diné, meaning “the people.” The Navajo Nation comprises approximately 16 million acres, mostly in northeastern Arizona, but including portions of northwestern New Mexico and southeastern Utah. It is a land of vast spaces and only a few all-weather roads. Eighty-eight percent of the reservation is without telephone service and many areas do not have electricity.
So, bordering the Reservations are authorized traders to whom these artists take their products. There, they are purchased from the artists, and there, we go when we are in the vicinity, and in turn, purchase these items on a wholesale basis.
Most of the Navajo and Zuni jewelry we specialize in is made by family enterprises. The older generations are the teachers of the younger people. Some member of the family does the rough silver work. Another member may set the stones. Yet another may do the final polishing and buffing of the piece. In many cases, it is up to the wife or mother to do the actual trading.
Many families have a set of designs that they have developed over the years, and they tend to produce jewelry of that same pattern over and over again. No two pieces will be alike, but the general lay-out may be recognized as being made by a particular family. Some individual artists will make designs of their own, but even these can generally be recognized by those who study Indian jewelry.
We, here at the Ugly Otter Trading Post, do not claim to be experts in this type of jewelry. (Or any other type for that matter) However, we have dealt in Native American jewelry of the Southwest for many years and can, on occasion, identify the artist by looking closely at the finished product.
One thing we found very early in our trading is that 99.9% of the Native Americans we deal with are honest. If they say something is sterling silver, then it is. If they say the turquoise is from a particular mine, then it is. If they can get the best of you in a trade, they will do so – but they will not cheat. They are very sharp traders!
Third World knock-offs. Yes, we find these, too. Gotta be careful, as a few wholesalers do specialize in these fake Indian Jewelry items, but we pretty well know who they are. Yep, they, too, are on the web, some of them. They can take care of their business, and we’ll take care of ours. The “high road” is always the best in the long run.
We prefer to buy from trusted sources, therefore we don’t buy from individuals who might be trying to sell something they purchased while on trips, or inherited, or were given, unless we can see the jewelry “in person”. Many times they believe they are in posession of something very valuable while the truth is, it may be nearly worthless! We personally know of one gentleman who purchased a “turquoise” bead necklace only to find out much later that what he had was actually sheep droppings painted with glossy turquoise colored paint! He was vexed, to say the least.
We know of no person who can look at a piece of jewelry and say for a fact who made it, unless that person either witnessed it being made, or made it themselves. A bracelet, for example, cannot talk. A name engraved on it cannot talk. A “certificate” attached to it cannot talk. (Blank certificates, by the way, are for sale in jewelry supply shops – just fill them out, and there you have a “Certificate of Authenticity”. We don’t believe in using these.) Even though we have many, many years experience in buying and selling the type of jewelry seen on these pages, we do not, and can not, claim to know for an absolute fact who, how, or when it was made. Accordingly, we may indicate “Navajo”, “Santo Domingo”, “Hopi”, “Zuni”, or other such descriptions which means it is our belief that the piece being shown represents the style of a particular tribe as we know it. It does not mean that we are saying for a fact that it was made by any particular tribe. We are traders and do not claim mystic powers.
Most of the products on our website have been designed and made by Native Americans. However, many of these artists, despite their birth and heritage, cannot legally call their work Native American, or Indian made. The U.S. Government has created a law and system making it difficult for many true Native American artists to obtain the proper tribal registration and identification due to a lengthy and complicated process. We are fortunate enough to have suppliers with workshops staffed with some of the best Native American master silversmiths working today. While some of those Native American artists do indeed have the proper registration and census number, some of them do not.