My mother always gave male shoppers good advice when they didn't know what to buy for the women in their lives.

"Every woman needs at least one strand of silver beads!"

Her reasons were pretty simple. "Navajo pearls," as they are called, are easy to wear, can be of different lengths, and can accent any dress, from casual to formal. Before she went to play bridge (which she did at least four days a week), she always put on a strand of beads and often didn't return with them!


Ruby Haley is among the Navajo nation's finest bead makers and silversmiths.

Ruby Haley was born near Gallup, New Mexico, to parents who were silversmiths who specialized in making silver bead necklaces. Her father's grandmother, Elsie Lee, learned to make jewelry from her husband, a traditional silversmith who rolled silver plate out of coins and scrap silver.

Before the Korean War, Elsies' son, Ned Becenti, learned to craft silver and made silversmithing tools for his mom. This was before jewelry supply stores sold large numbers of metal stamps and other tools. Many of the stamps were made out of railroad spikes and other pieces of metal.

After the war, Ned married Rhoda Begay and taught her and her nine sisters to make silver jewelry, specializing in silver beads.


When Rhoda and Ned had their daughter, Ruby, there wasn't any question that she would be a silversmith.

"I started when I was five years old," she says, "and I was soldering by the time I was eight. Many of the tools I used were gifts from my grandmother over the years. I still use them. I treasure them.

"She made beads through high school and then took a break. Part of that was falling in love with Benjamin Haley. Haley had also been a silversmith but quit when interest in Indian jewelry fell off, and prices were low. He had taken a job with the city of Gallup and worked there for 30 years. In the three years of their courtship, neither realized that the other had been a silversmith.


"It took us three years to get married," said Benjamin, "because we were trying to save enough money to buy a trailer."

After they were married, Ruby was looking for something to do, and her mom suggested she return to silversmithing. "So I did, and that's when I found out Benjamin was a silversmith too!" she laughed. "And he was a good one. He had won a Blue Ribbon at the Gallup Ceremonial!"

Ruby became known as one of the best Navajo bead makers. Benjamin helped some until he retired from the city and now works with Ruby. And they pass the skill on to their children.

Their son, Ben Patrick, started making beads when he was ten. After attending the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, he was accepted to the Santa Fe Indian Market, where he won a Best of Show Award. Unfortunately, he passed shortly after that. However, his son, Luke, is a silversmith and recently won a Blue Ribbon at the Gallup Ceremonial.


Ruby's two daughters, Veltenia, from Tohatchi, and Victoria, from Farmington, are accomplished silversmiths, but it didn't stop there.

Everyone in the family, male and female, has been a high school basketball player, and the Tohatchi team is consistently one of the best teams on the reservation, regularly beating larger schools, on and off the reservation, with their run-and-gun offense.

"When my grandkids wanted basketball shoes, I told them they need to learn to work with silver and earn the money!" says Ruby. "And they did."


Ruby and her family travel to every game. I went to watch them play Aztec High School last season. Aztec is a much larger school, but the gym that day was filled with fans from Tohatchi, which is over two hours from Aztec.

I witnessed this mild-mannered grandmother turn into a rabid, cheering fan! This woman takes on a different personality when her team hits the court!

Ruby and her family support each other. Two of her grandchildren are now in the United States Marine Corps, and the family traveled to their graduation from training in California.

Their jewelry is exceptional, and they take the same pride in living their lives as they do in fashioning these beautiful necklaces. Silversmithing has given them a great life.

"I always told my kids and grandkids, no matter what happens, even if they have a job, they can always return to being a silversmith," she said. "I am proud of all of them!"

See More Navajo Pearl Jewelry in the Gallery