One of Navajo silversmiths’ greatest innovations was their use of stamp work to decorate silver. Navajo silversmiths have mastered the stamping technique to a point of almost mathematical perfection, creating beautifully intricate designs in silver. Stamps were historically handmade from iron or steel and often passed down from generation to generation. Many modern artists still inherit stamps for silverwork. Debbie Silversmith, one of our currently featured artists, still uses the stamps made by her grandfather Kenneth Begay – one of the most famous Navajo silversmiths of all time. And Jennifer Curtis inherited and uses many tools that were once her father's, Tom Curtis.
To create stamped silverwork, a sheet of silver is cut into the desired shape and placed on a steel bench block. The artist then lines up the stamp and makes the impression with a single strike of a hammer. Most stamps are small and it can require hundreds hammer strikes to complete a finished design. Once the stamp work is completed the piece may be oxidized with the protruding silver polished. This creates a more dramatic contrast within the stamped designs. The piece is then heated up and carefully molded into its final shape as a beautiful piece of stamped silver jewelry.