Harry H. Begay has been smithing silver for over 35 years. His work is "ingot" work, meaning that it is hand wrought in the traditional style. His bracelets have always been relatively rare and they will remain so because of the amount of work involved in creating them and their extreme collectibility based also on the rare turquoise stones he employs in his craft. While most modern smiths use Sterling products purchased from a jewelry supply house--sheet silver, triangle wire, twist wire, etc.--Harry fashions his own after melting his silver in a crucible, pouring it out and hammering it into the desired shapes. Such work requires multiple annealings (heating the metal to 1200° F to re-establish the original crystalline structure of the molecules) between hammering and is practiced by few Navajo smiths today.
We can look to John Adair's 1937 account of watching Navajo smith Tom Burnsides work in this method (pp. 57 and 58 in The Navajo and Pueblo Silversmiths, University of Oklahoma Press, published 1944):
After heating the metal for approximately thirty minutes, he removed the crucible from the forge and poured the molten silver into an open ingot mold.... The silver blazed up when it hit the mold. Silver solidifies very rapidly and, after a moment, Tom blew out the flame and waited for the metal to cool a bit before he took it from the mold. Then he picked up the silver with a pair of pliers and sat down tailor-fashion in front of his anvil. Holding the silver on the anvil, he began to pound it with a heavy hammer.... After striking about three dozen blows, Tom placed the bar on an asbestos pad...and heated it with the flame of his gasoline torch. Pounding hardens the metal, but if the silver is pounded when it is too cold, it will harden unevenly and will crack. If it is alternately heated and pounded, the hardening will be even, producing a finished piece that is fine in grain, with no flaws. If the silver is pounded when it is too hot, it will get brittle and flake off when cool. He continued to pound and heat alternately for about an hour.... During this annealing process, the metal bar was lengthening, and as it lengthened it became increasingly thinner and slightly wider.
Such is Adair's account of Tom Burnsides initial steps in creating a cuff for a bracelet. It is laborious work and requires great skill and practice. Overheating the metal in the annealing process is disastrous, as is under heating it. Pounding the silver eventually renders it work-hardened and causes the hammer to bounce off the silver without achieving the desired effect. Silversmiths get a feel for the "bounce" of the hammer and the sound of the hammer striking the silver to determine whether it has become work-hardened and needs another annealing. Heating the silver becomes second nature and attaining the appropriate temperature in the process (1200° F, 648° C) is discerned by the color of the silver as it heats.
Harry's work is created through this method. It is the old way, the original method of smithing that the Navajo learned from the Spaniards. But the account above by Adair only begins to recount the whole process of making a bracelet such as this one. This bracelet is set with a near-square of natural, untreated Pilot Mountain turquoise from Nevada. The stone is set in a handmade, notched bezel. We were lucky enough to find this in a dead pawn case in New Mexico. It shows no discernible wear and is in excellent shape. An absolute steal at this price!
Hallmarked HHB over a left pointing arrow.
Stone: 13/16" x 3/4"
Width of cuff dead center: 1 1/4"
Width on sides: 1 1/16"
Width at terminals: 1"
Terminal to terminal: 5 7/8"
Gap: 1 3/8"
Total inside circumference (including gap): 7 1/4"