We received a bracelet this year from a woman whose relative had purchased it in the late '70s. It is by a man and woman silversmithing team from Zuni Pueblo named Wayne and Virginia Quam.
These two silversmiths, born in 1927, had developed a jewelry style similar to the work of Robert and Bernice Leekya, with rough-cut cabochons of turquoise set on heavy silver and, later, gold. They also did some inlay work and were accomplished artists.
In 1979, metal prices hit record highs, with gold pushing $1600 per ounce, up over $1000 from a few years before. The Quams probably made this bracelet then because the gold on the top is gold fill. Gold fill is made with jeweler's brass, and then thin sheets of gold are bonded to the base metal under high heat and pressure. It won't wear off or scratch like gold-plated material; gold fill contains about 5% actual gold.
So, in 1979, when silversmiths were looking at the price of 14k gold, it is not surprising that so many of them began to use gold fill in their jewelry. I feel confident that is what happened with this bracelet by Virginia and Wayne.
But, the woman also inherited a ring from these silversmiths fashioned out of 14k gold. So, the question is, was it made at the same time, or was it made a few years earlier before metals went crazy?
It could have been either. Because a ring requires much less metal than a bracelet, it might still have been considered affordable. I bet the ring was made first, and when the couple decided to buy a bracelet a few years later, it made more sense to go with the gold-filled option.
The bracelet and the ring are set with lovely rough-cut cabochons of Sleeping Beauty turquoise. Back then, those stones were not expensive. Today, following the closure of the Sleeping Beauty Mine in Arizona to turquoise mining, it is among the most costly of stones, if you can find any.
Between 1975 and 1978, Ed and Barbara Bell from the Squaw Bell Traders in Grants, New Mexico, published three books featuring artists from Zuni and their jewelry. They were titled Zuni, The Art and the People. Indian jewelry was the rage in the country, and collectors snapped up these books. Ed and Barbara didn't include every Zuni artist in the book, mainly the ones who did business with them, but they were and are a great resource.
On page 10, volume three, is an excellent shot of the two of them, a young-looking couple at about 50 years old!
These are two beautiful pieces of jewelry whose style has passed the test of time!