The titles “Hallmarks and Maker’s Marks” are frequently used interchangeably by lots of people….however, there really is a difference.
A Maker’s Mark is a unique stamp placed on jewelry to ensure the authenticity of the maker. These stamps are usually the maker’s initials, name, or another representative symbol. Identifying this mark is the first step in determining the value of a piece of jewelry.
Older, genuine vintage Native American jewelry will often have no hallmark or stamp of any kind. It wasn’t until the late 1970’s that it became a common practice among Native American jewelry artists to mark their work as to their identity. The majority of artists use a series of letters, often their initials. The problem is that it became very popular and many artists have the same initials. As a result, and because of lengthy surnames, some have created their own unique symbols as commonly seen among members of the Hopi Tribe. Today many artists invest in a custom signature stamp that engraves the entire name, as well as the identification of metal used. Also, artists change their Maker’s Mark from time to time to reflect changes in their life, such as where they live.
A hallmark differs from the Maker’s Mark in that it identifies the kind of metal used in the jewelry piece and can offer further information about the place of origin, date of manufacture, and metal content. It normally will be marked in an abbreviated form. Typically, you’ll find metal content stamps near the clasp on necklaces and bracelets, on the inside surface of rings, and on the backs of earrings, pins, and brooches. In addition to Maker’s Marks, some countries require hallmarks, which are given by the country where manufacturing took place.
This is an example of a Maker’s Mark of one of our treasured silvermiths, Orville Tsinnie. He lived at Shiprock, NM as depicted by the stamp depicting Shiprock. He included his full name and the Sterling stamp as well. Sometimes an artist will only write the sterling silver content as .925 or S.S. or S/S especially when space is limited on a small item.
Some excellent resource books are Hallmarks of the Southwest by Barton Wright and American Indian Jewelry I & II by Gregory Schaff