According to my most recent hallmark guide, this buckle was made by Zuni silversmiths Joe and Lola Hechilay, who were active from ca 1940’s to 1990. Joe was born in 1928; I don’t know the birthdate of his wife, Lola, but all of these dates make it clear that this buckle is very vintage, now, and there will be nothing more coming from the Hechilays. I hope their lives were long and as successful as a listing in American Indian Jewelry 2; A-L (p242) would indicate.
This is an unusual buckle, which I had thought from its online photos was decorated with turquoise pieces. In fact, under magnification it is plain to see that the “mosaic inlay” work is painted on, in enamel that is but perfectly turquoise colored—down to the detail of one “piece” being a slightly different hue, which I think is a neat touch.
The relief of the enamel work is due to the silver beneath it being thicker in the mosaic's pattern. Reverse-engineering just how this was achieved, I believe a sheet of silver was welded to the front of the buckle and carved into the gorgeous star-like motifs that you see now, and, after the hand-tooling of the motifs on the buckle’s border were stamped, then the whole contoured, the relief areas got painted. If the enameling is enamel paint (which it may be; some slight yellowing shows in places), the buckle was left in the sun to cure for many days afterward; if it is glass, as in cloisonné, it would have been oven-fired. There’s not a nick in the blues, so I really can’t tell what their composition is without a gemologist’s analysis, which I won’t buy because then YOU would have to pay a hundred dollars more for the buckle. We’ll leave it at a guessing game. The most important part is: there's not a nick in it.
I believe this was made early in the Hechilays’ careers, before they were well known. My reasoning is based on the fact that one of them was compelled to inscribe “ZUNI” on the back of the buckle, presumably to prevent it from being mistaken for the work of better-known Navajos with the same initials. (Yes, there are that many Navajo silversmiths.) Later in their careers, such disambiguation wouldn’t have been necessary, because they became renowned enough to be named in at least two major publications. So, guessing conservatively, I’d say this buckle was made in the 40’s-late 50’s, which makes it at least 60 years old. It’s always very cool to come across an older Native American piece that its seller either did not recognize or appreciate. All the more for me to share with you.
The buckle is sized for a women’s belt, at 2” x 2.75” (50.8mm x 69.85mm) square and with a loop large enough to accommodate a belt of 1.5” (38.1mm) width or less. The actual inside width of that hinged metal loop is 38.38mm, or 1.51”.
This is a stunningly beautiful buckle. That it weathered at least six decades and is still in pristine condition—before I researched it, I honestly thought it was modern—is a testament to how well made it is, and how lovingly it was cared for by its prior owners.
Weight: a substantial 55.3 grams.
Did you know that you can take 3 months to pay, on my convenient layaway plan?
Vintage Signed Hechilay Zuni Women’s Enameled Sterling Belt Buckle