Everyone is affected when prices go up. If you are an artist and the cost of paint and canvas rises, it will affect you. But not that much.
Weavers working with commercially processed and dyed yarns have also increased prices. But it is not a considerable amount, and the weavers seem to be able to work with it, as painters have.
Traditional potters who dig their clay and fire outdoors are largely unaffected, although a few years ago, I had a potter tell me that the price of “sheep shit,” which many potters use to fire outdoors, had gotten expensive. Who knew?
The artists who seem to feel variations in price the most are silversmiths. And their woes are not always caused by inflation. Some of you will remember back in the 1980s when the Hunt Brothers tried to control the silver market. Silver quickly went from about $6 to above $50 an ounce.
I exhibited and wholesaled jewelry and rugs at the Los Angeles Gift Show that year. The week before the show, I purchased two dozen pretty silver triangle wire bracelets from a silversmith whose name I can’t remember. But I do remember I was selling them for $27.00 each.
A store owner from Glendale, a suburb of LA, came by the booth and asked me how much they weighed. I told him I had no idea, but he bought six. About an hour later, he came back in and bought another six. Then he came back and bought the rest of the bracelets.
It was strange behavior, and I asked him if he was buying them for his store.
“No, I am taking them down the street and selling them at a coin shop for the silver value.”
The price of silver had gone up enough in a week that he was making $10 a bracelet more than I was selling them for wholesale!
You can imagine what the metal price rising quickly did to silversmiths. They would buy the silver, make the jewelry, sell it, and then could not replace it for the same price a couple of days later.
Top jewelers were able to raise their prices to cover the increase. Some turned to nickel silver (with no silver content), and many quit.
In 2011, silver went on another tear, rising from $10 an ounce to almost $50.00.Randy and Sylvana Apache, a Navajo couple from Canoncito, New Mexico, figured out a way to keep working. They began to build jewelry, bracelets, rings, pendants, bolos and buckles out of copper. Then they would solder a sheet of silver on top of the copper stamped with the beautiful designs they are known for creating.
Their work became popular because it was affordable, and the combination of copper and silver was attractive. And, because copper is so hard, this jewelry is almost indestructible.
Sylvana still does beautiful inlay work in silver, and Randy makes outstanding traditional silver jewelry, but their fans won’t let them quit making the signature copper and silver jewelry. They do it better than anyone else.
I love the belt buckles they make with this technique. The beautiful stamped silver pops out from the copper surrounding it like a framed piece of art. Men like their work because it is solid; you know how men are generally not careful with their jewelry.
As I write this, silver is a little over $23.50 an ounce, a three-year change of about 32%. During that period, it reached a low of approximately $12 and a high of almost $29.
If you buy lovely Indian jewelry, the metal and stone costs affect pricing. But the real value is in the workmanship. No matter how high or low silver goes, you can bet that Randy and Sylvana will still make their beautiful copper and silver jewelry!