Vintage Les Baker Sterling Silver Turquoise Coral Wood Inlay Cuff Bracelet, Southwestern Jewelry


This vintage cuff bracelet is 123 grams of unusual artistry, the sterling silver portion cast and hollow, atop of which are laid in a "cornrow" method turquoise, natural coral, jet, abalone, and wood. Yes, wood! The piece is an excellent example of the type of contemporary, experimental jewelry popular in the 1970s, influenced by the chunky, modernist Brutalist styles of the era. The bracelet carries the hallmark for the Les Baker Shop. Baker (1935-2014) was a jewelry maker and designer himself, an occupation he came into after serving in the Korean War and returning to New Mexico. The story goes that he took an interest in Native American jewelry when his wife wanted a squash blossom necklace. Baker could not afford to buy one, but he figured out how to make one himself. His wife was at a party with Edith Maisel of the famed Maisel's Trading Post, and she was so impressed with the workmanship of the squash blossom necklace that she on the spot offered Baker a job as a silversmith at Maisel's. Baker took the job and eventually opened his own shop, which at its peak employed up to 50 Native American silversmiths--included Navajo silversmith Fritson Toledo. Baker's shop profited from the Native American jewelry boom of the 1970s, and this cuff bracelet is one of the pieces coming out during that heyday decade. The cuff is truly a work of art. I would use the term "one of a kind," but this is the second Les Baker piece in this style that I've had the pleasure of offering this year. I can say, however, that being in New Mexico and working with families that are divesting parents' treasures, I'm probably in the one location in the world where there will be pieces like this coming up occasionally. The cuff has a hollow silver shank and top, with geometric design in the textured center, combined inlay that is more traditional. On the sides is where we see the more chunky and colorful inlay patterns made with tubular rows of stone, coral, abalone, and wood--fairly rough and not at all precise. This method--also called "cobblestone" inlay--was made popular by Hopi Charles Loloma and Ottawa/Chippewa Carlos Eagle, among others. It's hard to find any artists today that put together silver and stones in styles similar to this bracelet, and perhaps one of the most well-known artists working in this method still is Navajo Richard Tsosie. This Les Baker bracelet was perhaps made by Baker himself, or it could have been one of his artists, maybe one inspired by these masters. One piece of coral on the side of the bracelet has divots (see Photo 3) which may have been there already--the pieces are largeish natural segments of branch coral that have organic forms--or it could have been caused accidentally by knocking the wrist/cuff against something hard. There are also scratches in the silver, especially along the sides, but the piece is in quite good condition overall given the age.

The bracelet face measures 1-1/2" wide and taking a soft tape measure to the interior is 5-1/2" wide with a just over 1-1/4" gap for a total length of just over 6-3/4". Note that the bracelet rises up from the wrist, and expect a height of about 3/8". Weighs a substantial 123g--mind you, many a squash blossom necklace comes in at a similar weight! Carries the Les Baker Shop hallmark and a STERLING stamp.

A wearable piece of art!


Please convo with questions, or call (505) 369-6865. Will return your call as soon as possible.


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