Authentic Native Jewelry?

Real or Fake?

How to know that the native jewelry
you’re buying is authentic.

By Nora Hickey

Whether you’re visiting Old Town Albuquerque or the Santa Fe plaza, you’re sure to see unique, stunning southwestern jewelry. Yes, the bright turquoise and silver look astonishing, but how can you tell if it’s the genuine article or an imposter? With the help of Shane Smith (Navajo), a trained jewelry authenticator at Shumakolowa Native Arts, housed in the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center (IPCC) in Albuquerque, we’ll tell you how.

In the past, to test if turquoise jewelry was real, you could put a lit match to it. If authentic, the turquoise would remain the same unblemished striking shade of blue-green. If fake, the “turquoise” would show a brown scorch mark. Shane, who gives classes on native jewelry at the IPCC, grew up learning about these surefire ways to test turquoise. He also remembers the needle test, where a hot needle was pressed against the surface to see if it burned through, revealing the manmade material within.

What to Look For
Now, there are less destructive techniques to verify the authenticity of native jewelry. The first thing you should always do, Shane says, is ask questions. “Avoid one answer questions like, ‘Is this real?’” Instead, ask about the type of turquoise being sold, where it comes from and who the artist is. “If they don’t have answers to those questions, then that piece may not be real,” he notes.

Often, simply touching the stone in question can reveal a lot. “Real gemstones are cool to the touch,” Shane says. Scientifically speaking, authentic gemstones are cooler than plastic or glass ones because of their high thermal inertia — in other words, gemstones take longer to warm upon being touched.

Shane also cautions buyers to beware of certain colors. “There’s no such thing as red or purple turquoise!” he warns. The gemstone’s natural color comes in a range of blue and green, sometimes marked with brown or black veins of

the turquoise’s host rock. If you see brightly colored turquoise outside of this spectrum, it might be howlite, a white mineral that’s easily dyed.

How to Be Sure
Shumakolowa, along with other reputable sellers, are wonderful resources for genuine jewelry. “We know the artists we carry, and have good relationships with them,” Shane notes. Look for other shops and markets that require similarly rigorous standards. Finally, real gemstones and minerals will stay true to cost. To get a sense of price, visit the Shumakolowa store at the IPCC, or online. Above all, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!” Shane cautions.

Learn More
The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center hosts regular events on distinguishing authentic native work from imitations. To find out when the next scheduled workshop is, visit www.indianpueblo.org.