Buying Native American Jewelry: Part 2 – Handmade vs. Handcrafted

Navajo handmade jewelry


Handmade vs. Handcrafted.  What’s the difference?  Is it just semantics?  We can break down a bit of this puzzle with the help of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), a collection of rules used by the U. S. Federal Government.  According to the Code, “Indian Handcraft” is “an object created with the help of only such devices as allow the manual skill of the maker to condition the shape and design of each individual product.”  The items pictured above were all made by our in-house Navajo silversmith, Henry Yazzie, and qualify as genuine Indian Handcrafts.  However, a sweet little Navajo girl selling a bird fetish necklace she strung herself isn’t really selling “handmade” jewelry.  She likely purchased the beads from a supply store and strung several necklaces to earn some spending money.  Is that a good thing to buy?  Perhaps – it would be a delightful experience to meet her and see her face light up with the day’s sale, and you’d be able to share your story with friends of how you met a budding young Navajo artist during your travels.

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Handmade leaf on the left, cast leaf in the center, and machine made leaf on the right. You can study jewelry to see what type of leaves are added.

“Handmade” is reserved for jewelry that is built by cutting and shaping silver and stones in the traditional fashion, such as are made in our workshop.  The term “handcrafted” is now often used to refer to items that have machine made parts, but are assembled by Tribal members. “Machine made” would apply to the souvenir style jewelry that is assembled mostly by machine. You can study the techniques used to help you make good purchasing decisions, whether you are making a large investment or are simply interested in a few souvenirs.  What is the “best” type of Indian Handcraft to purchase?  That depends on your personal needs and preference – with handmade pieces being the most desirable and best investment.  We’ll cover more on that in an upcoming blog!


by oldtownjewels

4 thoughts on “Buying Native American Jewelry: Part 2 – Handmade vs. Handcrafted

    • oldtownjewels says:

      Thanks! Let us know if there is any topic you’d like to hear more about – we have a staff of knowledgeable folks here who would be happy to help!

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