Looking for Vintage Tommy Singer Jewelry? Learn about the history, materials used, jewelry marks, most collectible pieces, and where to buy in this buying guide.
Tommy Singer said about his jewelry, “Every piece is made with the various meanings from my traditional ways—the Navajo way of living.”
Brief History of Tommy Singer Jewelry
Tommy Singer was born in 1940 in Winslow, Arizona. He was a member of the Navajo Nation and grew up on the reservation. The art of silversmithing and bead work had been handed down for generations in the Singer family. Tommy’s father was a master silversmith and began teaching Tommy when he was a child. By the time he was 21, Tommy worked full-time as a silversmith.
His early works were done in the silver overlay technique, which is done by laying two or more metals, one on top of another, to give the design dimension. Usually, the bottom layer is oxidized to darken it. Tommy eventually added turquoise gemstones to his pieces, which led to his pioneering the technique of chip inlay that has been used by thousands of artists ever since. He hated wasting the scraps of turquoise left behind. He found that by crushing them (as well as coral scraps) and holding them together with epoxy resin, he could fill the empty spaces in a piece of jewelry with a colorful design.
It is primarily due to this innovation that Tommy is considered one of the greatest contemporary Native American silversmiths. Even when he gained international fame, he lived and worked simply, in a small studio on the reservation with his family and other members of his tribe.
Watch: My Passion of Tommy Singer Jewelry
Tommy’s pieces incorporate Navajo designs, such as those found in traditional sand painting and on rugs—designs that have been part of the culture for time immemorial. The Storyteller designs are among the most intriguing: The top layer is a scene that typically depicts life on the reservation with the people, animals, building, mesas and trees. The bottom layer provides the “canvas” for the 3D picture. He also handcrafted Dancing Kokopelli bracelets, Wild Horse Turquoise necklaces, White Buffalo Turquoise necklaces, and Horse Head earrings. Later in life, Tommy returned to creating very elaborate silver overlaid jewelry and, along with it, 14K gold overlaid on silver.
All of Tommy’s pieces from necklace or ring to bolo tie or belt buckle are unique. He made different styles and designs so that each of his customers would have something to cherish that was their very own.
Tommy died in a motorcycle accident in 2014. His wife Rosita (Rose), who had worked with him when he was alive, continues his legacy, as does their son Richard, by creating jewelry from his designs.
Some of Tommy Singer's jewelry marks include:
- “T. SINGER”
- “T. Singer”
- “T☾ Singer” (crescent moon)
- “T☾ Singer”
- “T&R Singer”
- Sterling Silver
- Gold fill
- Gold vermeil
- Goldstone (glittering glass)
- Turquoise with natural matrix (fine-grained material with larger grains embedded)
- White Turquoise
- Appaloosa Stone (white magnesite with brown mottling, like the horse)
- Freshwater pearls
- Tiger’s eye
- Sugilite (stone that contains various shades of pink to purple)
- Variscite (green stone sometimes mistaken for turquoise)
- Gaspeite (green stone that looks similar to rare green turquoise)
- Picture Jasper (an opaque quartz with bands and veins in shades of brown)
- Spiny Oyster Shell
- Eagle Bone
Favorite Collectibles: Vintage Tommy Singer Jewelry
1970s-1980s. Necklace has a Boho vibe with stacked turquoise discs and sterling spacer and barrel beads overlaid with gold vermeil. Measures 33 inches.
20th century. Sterling silver cuff bracelet adorned with turquoise and coral, 1 ½ inches wide.
Rare, vintage. “Yei” is the Navajo name for the supernatural beings who bring their healing powers to medicinal ceremonies, portrayed as front- facing stylized stick figures. Yei-be-chai” is the name of the masked human dancer participating in the healing ceremony and impersonating the Yei.
Sterling silver with inlaid turquoise and coral, 5/8 inch tall, screw backs.
1960s. Sterling silver belt buckle with turquoise center stone and turquoise and coral crushed-stone inlay. 2 ¼” wide by 3 ½” long.
Kachina dolls are given as gifts to wish the recipient future abundance and health. According to legends, each year Kachinas come, they walk upon the earth, they dance to bring life and renewal, then return to the spirit world.
This kachina pendant is sterling silver with silver and gold overlay. It is 5” tall.
The turtle represents healing, wisdom, spirituality, and safety to Native Americans. For the Navajo, the turtle’s shell is used to dispense medications and make dance rattles.
Tips for Buying Vintage Tommy Singer Jewelry
- Since Rose and Richard Singer continue to create pieces from Tommy’s designs, you need to be careful if you are collecting only Tommy’s jewelry. Richard’s hallmark is “R☾”. Pieces worked on by Tommy and Rosa together are marked “T&R Singer” as are all pieces created after Tommy’s death.
- If a vendor tries to sell you a Tommy Singer piece that isn’t signed, be skeptical. Anyone can forget to sign a piece on occasion, but it is doubtful that Tommy ever did. He was very conscientious about that.
- There is a very fine Navajo jewelry designer named Emma Linkin. It has been known that some unscrupulous vendors try to pass off her work as Tommy’s—due to no fault of hers.
- Learn as much as you can. Browse online, particularly price the jewelry.
- Have a budget in mind as you start out shopping. Stick to it—while buying the best you can afford.
- Buy from a reputable vendor. Ask for a signed receipt or a certificate of authenticity, which includes the Tommy Singer name, Navajo as his tribal affiliation, retail price (for insurance), and a description of the piece. Ask for the provenance.
- With the increase in counterfeit Tommy Singer jewelry, dare to ask the vendor if he or she is under federal investigation. An ethical vendor will not mind. But then, an unethical one could lie.
- Feel free to contact the Indian Arts and Crafts Board with any concerns or questions.
The Navajo And Pueblo Silversmiths is a full account, as well as an array of fabulous photographs, of the silver jewelry fashioned in the Southwest by the Navajo and other Pueblo peoples for anyone interested in learning more about Tommy Singer’s traditions and designs.