Navajo artist Sylvana Apache does beautiful inlay work. She and her husband, Randy Secatero, are also accomplished traditional silversmiths. The stamp work technique they use with heavy silver bracelets took years to perfect. During a period when the price of silver shot up making it hard for them to keep buying materials, they got the idea of using copper for the base metal with stamped silver soldered to the top to create visual depth in the jewelry designs.
“We just thought we would make this jewelry until the price of silver came down,” said Sylvana, “but what we found out is that people really liked it, so we keep making it.”
I asked her if they thought, as many people do, that copper had healing properties or cured arthritis and she just smiled and said, “I don’t know about that, but it is pretty.” I asked the question as one of my favorite people and one of our favorite artists, sculptor George Walbye, told me years ago that a copper band he wore around his elbow had made it possible for him to continue playing tennis after he got arthritis. He was pretty good too!
Anyway, some people believe that and Sylvana doesn’t try to talk them out of it. What is neat about their copper and silver jewelry is that as it tarnishes, and you run a silver polishing cloth over the silver, it really stands out, like it is floating over the different color of metal. Many people don’t realize what it takes to create great stamp work in silver. It is not easy.
Some of Sylvana and Randy’s stamps are purchased from jewelry supply houses, some of them are older, hand made by silversmiths from a generation ago that filed the ends of steel spikes to create designs that would imprint themselves in the metal. They have made a few stamps themselves, but that is hard work too! You would think it would be easy to put the end of a steel spike on a flat piece of silver, hit it with a hammer and get a nice impression in the softer metal. Wrong. The hit must be precise, at the right angle and with the correct strength. It takes 20 or more strikes to completely decorate a bracelet. Every hit has to be done with the same power, every stamp has to be in the right place when it is hit. The stamp must be perfectly flat on the metal below it. In the end, one bad effort can ruin the design on the entire piece of jewelry. Their silver and copper jewelry is beautiful and durable.
If you like to wear your rings and bracelets while climbing mountains or digging in the garden or when you are out mountain biking, this is what you need. On the other hand, if you want beautiful, comfortable jewelry for a night on the town, this will work just fine! And, because copper is less expensive than silver, you get an additional benefit! It is top quality, handmade Native American jewelry by two of the Navajo Nation’s finest stamp work artists.
And it might fix any arthritis you have!