What makes a Fetish necklace valuable?

Hey guys, I found this really helpful guide from the Keshi foundation of New Mexico, a public non-profit promoting Zuni arts.

“In the seventies, mass produced fetish necklaces flooded the market, suppressing sales of authentic Zuni necklaces. Fabrications were still considered by many, to be the real thing. Zuni artists continue to be harmed by the sale of imitations.”

If you are unable to zoom in without the text getting blurry, here it is in two separate halves and transcribed.

Look for:
-The name of the carver, attributable to a Zuni family known for carving Fetishes.
-Heishe (fine shell beads separating the fetishes), hand made, usually from Kewa Puebla.
-Where you buy them (Seller’s expertise is paramount, not just a high price and good presentation)
-Zuni fetish necklaces rarely consist of more than three strands with matching earrings are rare.
-Expect the price to be $300 or more per strand.

-No heishe between fetishes, called a “stacked necklace,” probably not Zuni.
-“Wrapped” string around the necklace: generally not Zuni.
-Armadillos or Katsina (Katchina) like figures usually indicate that it is not authentic.


Great info! I have been wondering about this for awhile.

Thanks for some Really Good info!!

Here’s a section of a Native-American-made fetish necklace which my mother purchased from a reputable dealer about 20 years ago.
There’s some confusion regarding whether she bought this in the 1970s or as late as early 1990s. However, this is the real thing.

I’m still trying to determine if this was Navajo-carved or Zuni-carved.

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A good vintage fetish necklace from the 1970s which my mother was given by her employer, who purchased from trading posts and reservations during that period.

Some of the bird fetishes on this one attributed to George Chee Chee Haloo or a family member. Those would be the larger birds with the fatter bodies and thick, flat tails.


Finally, a good single-strand fetish necklace which I purchased myself this past summer.

Still researching the artist, but attributed to Andrew Emerson Quam Sr.


Unlike the others, a questionable fetish necklace. Reputedly made by Tony Luala, who was not a real artist. Rather, this name was used to sell necklaces made within a cooperative.

I wear this one as costume jewelry.

The two coral ones are absolutely beautiful!:heart:


Thanks, I’ve been so glad to talk to others with more expertise in fetish necklaces and to learn more about the carvers.

There are a lot of those Tony Luala-attributed necklaces out there. They are attractive and colorful and whimsical. But there is a big difference in the quality of the carving, more apparent when you compare the fetishes to those in the two coral necklaces.

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I have never owned a fetish necklace. I knew there were too many fakes out there, so I didn’t want to risk investing into one. After seeing this information, I started looking at various fetishes for sale online, and I feel so much more comfortable purchasing one now. And I totally agree. The skills of the artist can really be seen in the genuine ones. On the faux ones, they sometimes have animals that I can’t even tell what they are!! I’ve noticed with the birds (like yours), genuine ones are entirely carved out, feathers and all, and are 3-D, whereas with the faux ones, they appear “flat” with little to no detail.

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I’ve been looking at fetish necklaces a lot and reading up on them. This is a very complex subject.

Note the Keshi Connection informational materials differentiates between “not Zuni” and “not Native American.”

There is some controversy and partisanship around fetishes carved by artists who are not of the Zuni tribe.

There are Navajo fetish carvers, though apparently the Navajo took up fetish carving late. It’s starting to look possible that the topmost necklace that I posted, the one with the thinner, sharper birds, may be Navajo-carved. The Tony Luala-attributed necklaces may be Navajo carved.

There are also Kewa-carved fetish necklaces with a very different style for their birds and other creatures.

As usual, the more I know, the less I know.


The other thing I noticed that the Keshi information fails to distinguish is vintage from new. I tend to assume, as with Navajo and traditional silverwork, that many of the techniques that were used in the 1920’s (like sand casting, etc.) are still used today. So, is it also safe to assume that Zuni fetish carvers of the 50’s also adhered to the same rules? Who knows.

I didn’t realize the Navajo picked up fetish carving as well. I now have more questions than answers.


Here are some Navajo fetish necklace carvers whose names I’ve seen online:

  • Neil Thomas (just acquired a necklace by him, will share photos soon)
  • Hector Goodluck
  • Corrine Ramirez
  • David Yazzie

I’m sure there are others, but that’s what I was able to find in the top half of a search page.

Complicated- bare with me as I learn. Is this an authentic style or would you expect a more detailed carving? What would you date these? Thanks, Sara

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Is it common to see the wax wrap on pieces and these types of carvings? Is this Authentic? The other side has a turquoise blue stone eye where the stone has fallen out here.

These beaded bears look like they have a little bit of wear to them. I think that how they are not carved uniformly is a good sign too. However, the turquoise looks like it could possibly be Chinese turquoise. Native artists are known to occasionally use foreign turquoise, but I have not often seen it with fetish jewelry. So I am thinking these may be imported as well. Because these aren’t strung on a necklace, I am having a hard time determine the age. @Jason could give you more information on these these than I could.

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As far as the fetish figure is concerned, the wrapping of the cord is common. The material appears to be pipestone. Fetishes are the area I know very little about. It looks like it could be authentic, however I have never seen a fetish with carvings like that. It’s a cool little piece either way.

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Here are the rest of the pieces making a set of eight in all. Purchased in a second hand store in Chattanooga, TN

Thank you Bigbree -you taught me a few things today : )

Looks like the bears are Chinese turquoise. I would guess they have been made in the last 20 years. These would not be Zuni, could be hand carved, I think most likely imported. The pieces are big and do have a value. It looks like the pipestone fetish has an artist name on the bottom?

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