This circa early 1980s necklace is unusual and cool. It is made with a large sterling silver foundation shaped like a flower, and in the sawtooth bezels are six cowrie shelles, and then in the center is a fire agate. The pendants has eye hooks on either side, and on each side a fairly good sized smooth bezel containing malachite. From there is a fairly wide handmade chain ending in a spring clasp. This is not a traditional Native American necklace but I do believe it is Native made for a few reasons. First, those sawtooth bezels and the use of elements like "raindrops" in between each shell. Cowrie shells have a long history of being used in Native American jewelry, as they were trade currency. Malachite is a fairly common stone used in Native American jewelry, and fire agate is common in Mexican jewelry and less so Native American. I feel this may have been the early piece of Navajo artist who was perhaps learning, experimenting, and open to using some unusual materials in their work, as well as an uncommon design. Another giveaway is the that one of the raindrops appears to be brass--perhaps the artist ran out of sterling silver and used what was available. I did acid test the silver foundation, and it is positive for sterling silver. The piece carries the hallmark of a large D and smaller RS. There are several Navajo artists with DR and DS, but no DRS. Again, if it were an early piece, the artist could have landed on a two-letter hallmark later on. I especially love the use of cowrie shells in jewelry, as they have such symbolic and historical power. From a website: "According to African legend, if you are attracted to the shell it was believed you carried the strength of the ocean. In Africa, South America and North America, the cowrie symbolized prosperity and destiny. Additionally, in many West African cultures the cowrie shell is regarded as a sign of fertility. However, the cowrie shell is one of the recognizable symbols in African culture because it was one of the first signs of wealth and money known to mankind. In ancient Africa, the cowrie shell was used as currency. Because of their light-weight, non-perishable nature, cowries were often threaded into bracelets or long strings of forty for trade. Possibly introduced as early as the 8th century by caravans of Arab traders, cowrie shells became a standard form of currency especially in the Empire of Mali, by the 15th century. For a long time, the cowrie existed with many other forms of currency in West Africa, including brass, beads, copper rods and salt bars. By the 18th century, the cowrie became the preferred form of currency along trade routes of West Africa and carried a status of wealth and power. At the time of colonization, Europeans tried adamantly to replace the cowrie shell with new, more centralized bank notes. This effort, however, was not met with willingness from the tribes across West Africa. When the French prohibited the use of cowries as money in 1907, the elders resisted by refusing to include the new money in their monetary system. This resistance lasted until the 1940s." Today there is jewelry made with faux porcelain cowrie shells that sell in the hundreds of dollars--that is how much the cowrie shell is revered! So this authentic cowrie shell pendant necklace is precious for that reason, not to mention the way they form a flower in a truly one-of-a-kind necklace.
The necklace measure 21" end to end, and that center cluster pendant with cowrie shells is about 2" by 2". The malachite bezels are each about 1" long by 1/2" wide. Weighs 44g. In good condition, with the shells and stones well seated.
For the person who marches to her own beat.
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