I started work on this belt this summer & I had no idea what a job it was going to be! I had been wanting to build one for myself for years & just hadn’t gotten around to it. I couldn’t bring myself to buy one, it just seemed wrong when I could do it myself. So this is how it started:
I had the great idea to incorporate Buffalo/Indian Head nickels. I have loved them for years, to me they are an iconic symbol of the west. I have used them since the beginning of my jewelry career on my clasps. They have become a bit of a trademark of my work.
I started drawing shapes & laying it out VERY ROUGHLY. I made the dumb decision to try this in German Silver a.k.a. nickel silver a.k.a. biggest mistake ever! This material is much cheaper than Sterling Silver, the sheets pictured above in Sterling would have been just this side of a thousand dollars. I figured because it wasn’t going to be for sale & that I would be covering it with stones & nickels as well as stamping the surface it would be ok.
See, this is just one sheet of the material of the damned. Folks, this is why these concho belts cost thousands of dollars, all the materials (all sterling silver) & the insane amount of work they entail. I should have bit the bullet & done it in sterling, the crazy cost would have been far preferable to the frustration.
I was so excited about the design once I decided what I would pick for colors. I didn’t want to just go turquoise, that seemed too plain. I’m a total orange freak & I figured there wasn’t much that I wore that wouldn’t go with this color combo.
So I got 6 of each shape cut out & filed. Now was time for the sterling silver bezel cups. These are a bit of a cheat, but in some of the sizes I needed more than 100 of them! In some of the older belts, each one of these little bezels would be cut out, measured, then soldered together BEFORE they even got to this stage. That meant days more work, so I took a little short cut. Here we are all ready to go on the soldering brick.
This is where my world fell apart. I really didn’t expect the nickel silver to behave like sterling on the soldering brick, but I sure wasn’t prepared for the mess I got into. For you, who aren’t versed on soldering & metal work but are surprisingly still reading this – long story short, to solder, you need to heat up the metal to the same temperature in order for your solder to flow. That means heating up the biggest piece first. If you heat up the whole thing at once, you’ll melt your little bits (like bezel cups). I’ve done this more than once in my early soldering days.
This thing defied all logic when it came to soldering. I had a mess of materials: the nickel silver, actual nickels from 1936 & sterling silver bezel cups. I had a hell of a time getting everything to flow & stick together. I had everything looking & sticking great & just as I’d move it, something would fall right off! I still don’t have it figured out as I didn’t finish all the conchos & still have to finish the buckle that goes with it! I needed to take a few months break from it, so I wouldn’t give up & throw what I had left in the bush.
So here’s what I ended up with, before stamping started. I really love stamping metal. I have a book on the history of Navajo jewelry & the stamping is fantastic. The most fascinating thing is they made all the stamps & molds all themselves!
Here’s a little dry fit before the stamping began! The kids hate it when I’m stamping metal, its so loud, but like most activities like this, its a great stress reliever!
Finally, months later, the belt is closer to being finished! I’m a bit stuck…do I finish the matching buckle for the belt or do I just wear my favorite trophy buckle? I think I’ll finish the buckle I started, guess I’ll just mix it up every once in a while! The thing being is I’m out of the Orange Spiny Oyster Shell cabochons & the supplier no longer carries them! I’ve now got to go on the hunt for more.
Here’s a pic of the finished conchos! Writing this has inspired me to wear this bad-baby out! Just maybe not to Costco today!