Northwest Coast jewelry can easily cost thousands of dollars, especially if you are buying a gold piece. But, fortunately for those with neither the cash nor commitment to spend that sort of money, you can easily find quality designs –usually in silver — for under $300. Naturally, for that price, you don’t get an exclusive design, but you will find intriguing ones.
Here are several random examples I get from looking around the bedroom:
Like much of Alano Edzerza’s work in any medium, this ring of a frog head is bold and dramatic, with simple but effective lines. It is also one of the heaviest rings I’ve owned, with a band nearly three-quarters of a centimeter wide at the back. I’ve joked that I’m going to get another four, and I’ll have an effective set of brass – or silver — knuckles.
- By contrast, this frog ring by Haida jeweler Gwaii Edenshaw is altogether more delicate, although suitable for either a man or a woman. This one is unusual for Edenshaw, in that it is silver, rather than the gold he usually works in (although a more expensive version has gold eyes, and an even more expensive one is cast in 18 karat gold, which is about as impure as he generally goes). It is also not particularly Haida in design, except for the ridges down the frog’s back. But it is a whimsical piece, with the frog resting its head on its front flippers and its back flippers locked together on the band on the back.
- These earrings are another commercial design by Gwaii Edenshaw, light, with the design just barely visible. They’re suggestive of worn petroglyphs, or perhaps a hand-inscribed design.
- Marcel Russ did this unusual design based on the myth of Raven stealing the light. This topic is a common one in many media in Northwest Coast art, and to pull it off, the artist really needs to come up with a different design. Russ’ approach is to show only the Raven’s head and the sun or moon in his beak. The result is a contemporary piece that retains strong roots in tradition.
All these pieces are highly affordable, and the last two are available for $100 or less. In all cases, you would be lucky to find comparable sophistication in a mainstream jewelry store. For the same price, you’d probably get an abstract design, or a mounted semi-precious stone with next to no design at all, and probably with a lower silver content besides.
Of course, Northwest Coast jewelry does have its share of what I think of as touristjunk (all one word), but for the same price as the touristjunk, without much effort you can find superior works like these ones.