A History of Navajo Concho Belts


Nestled within the rich tapestry of Southwestern Native American culture lies a timeless adornment: the concho belt. Symbolizing heritage, craftsmanship, and tradition, these belts actually trace their origins back to the intricate hair ornaments of the Southern Plains Indians, known as hair plates. Initially simple and unadorned, these round plates were worn as hair decorations by men. Using red trade cloth, horse hair, or leather, the women would transform the hair plates into belts. Some early belts were as long as six feet. Crafted from materials like German Silver, Copper, and Brass, these early belts inspired the Navajo and laid the groundwork for what would become a celebrated art form.

Origins and Early Influences:

The Navajo owned concho belts long before they learned silversmithing. Before the Navajo could make them, they would acquire concho belts from Southern Plains Indians through trade or looting. These early concho belts marked the genesis of a unique artistic expression in the Southwest.  When the Navajo learned the art of silversmithing in the mid-19th century, their designs were a fusion of these Southern Plains belts and early Spanish and Mexican concho designs.

Phases of Early Concho Belts


The evolution of the concho belt in the Southwest unfolded in distinct phases, each marked by innovation. The First Phase style, attributed to a Navajo artisan known as Arsidi Chon (Ugly Smith), emerged in the late 1860s. The earliest conchas were round, light silver that was hand hammered from Mexican silver pesos.

They boasted simplicity and functionality, with diamond-shaped cutouts and a center bar where the leather belt was laced through. At this time, the Navajo had not yet learned soldering techniques and this was a simple, but clever solution. The decorative designs were simple as well; edges were scalloped with round decorative holes punched inside the scalloped edge. Round in shape with diamond-shaped slots and scalloped edges, this First Phase design epitomizes the earliest stages of Navajo silversmithing.

First Phase Concha Belt


The Second Phase style emerged in the 1880s, with a new advancement: the introduction of soldered copper loops. This innovation revolutionized concho design, opening up the center of the concho for decoration. Cold chisels, files, punches, and stamps became the tools of choice, enabling artisans to create more elaborate designs with precision.

Concha Loops


Enter the Third Phase, characterized by a transformative infusion of turquoise. While the use of this revered stone in silverwork dates back to the late 1800s, its prevalence soared in the early 1900s. In most part, this was due to the stone being scarce prior to the 1890s.  Turquoise lent a vibrant allure to concho belts, embodying the essence of Southwestern aesthetics.

Further Innovations and Influence:

As the 20th century unfolded, concho belts continued to evolve, mirroring the dynamic spirit of their creators. Vertical silver butterflies graced the scene in the late 1910s, adding a whimsical charm to traditional designs. The 1920s witnessed the emergence of link concho belts, a testament to the adaptability and ingenuity of Native American artisans.

Contemporary Legacy:

Today, the legacy of the concho belt endures as a beacon of Native American artistry and cultural heritage. Beyond its aesthetic allure, it serves as a bridge between past and present, connecting generations through its timeless beauty. Even today, when a silversmith aims to showcase their finest work, whether for a judged show or a discerning client, they will craft a concho belt. For over 150 years, the concho belt remains the epitome of Southwestern Native American jewelry.





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  • Douglas Robertson March 1, 2021 at 11:22 am

    I got taken by a trading post in utah..I should have stayed with Garland’s

  • princezamira.com May 27, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    How amazing Concha belt it is! I have never seen it before.Thanks for sharing this post.

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