Romancing the Stone: The Enduring Beauty of a Uniquely American Art Form

A selection of Vicki Turbeville’s Native American Jewelry
Photo: vickiturbeville.com

Vicki Turbeville specializes in high-end vintage and contemporary Native American jewelry. It is a sustainable, uniquely American art form. I was reminded of Vicki’s exceptional jewelry after I saw some of her postings on Instagram. I had an instant visceral reaction. Last week, I spoke by phone with Ms. Turbeville, who is a legend. From 2006 – 2012, her double shop at the Antique Showplace on West 25th Street was a hub for many top stylists, editors, collectors, and dealers.

Vicki Turbeville
Photo by Nia MacKnight iwanttobeher.com

Most of the pieces Vicki sells feature beautiful turquoise stones. Turquoise is revered and treasured by many cultures around the world, but it holds special meaning for many southwestern Native American tribes. It has symbolic and economic value, which contributed to Native American culture.

Vicki Turbeville loves to mix turquoise with coral stones
Photo: vickiturbeville.com

For many tribes, jewelry wasn’t only used for decorative or ceremonial purposes. It held an important and valuable place in the trade economy. “Turquoise is not manufactured. It’s a rock that gets smoothed and formed. It connects us to the ground and to the people who make it,” Vicki enthused.

Uma Thurman wearing Vicki Turbeville’s concho belt on the cover
of Elle Magazine February 2005

When Uma Thurman appeared on Elle Magazine’s February 2005 cover wearing a concho belt from Turbeville’s collection and was featured on a few pages inside, Vicki’s website lit up, and it has not stopped. This put her on the map. At the time, Vicki was selling at the summer antique shows in Santa Fe. That is where she first met Steve Nelson, her current life partner, who was also in the same business.

In 2012, Turbeville closed her NYC shop, and they merged their businesses into his shop in Redondo Beach, California, a coastal city in Los Angeles. It is stocked with Zuni, Hopi and Navajo bracelets; rings and earrings featuring turquoise and coral set in sterling silver; pueblo bead necklaces; kachinas, and much more. “No two pieces are alike. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you find something more unique”, says Turbeville.

Cindy Crawford wearing Vicki Turbeville concho belt, bracelets & rings
Photo: Elle Italia March 2019

This is just one of the reasons her loyal customers cannot stop collecting. Turbeville also pointed out that in this digital age, everyone, especially younger people, is craving the pull of something handmade. The prices range from about $20 to $5000, but the sweet spot is between $200 and $1200.

Vicki handpicks each of the vintage (1920s-1970s) and contemporary pieces she sells. They are primarily made by independent craftspeople and artisans in Arizona and New Mexico. Vicki also finds great beaded cuffs and earrings in Oklahoma, Minnesota, and the Great Plain States. The partner jewelry makers are primarily Navajo, Zuni, and Pueblo Indians.

A Navajo Indian
Photo: Jay Foxx

Turbeville supports First Nations peoples through ethical sourcing practices and philanthropic giving. She has forged longstanding relationships with artists and dealers throughout Native communities. She is committed to best practices regarding the provenance, identification, and authentication of all of her jewelry and she gives back to Native American communities through several charitable organizations

Doug Bihimaier’s personal collection of Native American jewelry
Photo: jewelrythecavenderdiary.com

No fashion designer has done more to promote the beauty and authenticity of Native American jewelry than Ralph Lauren. Vicki has enjoyed a longstanding relationship with Doug Bihimaier, the head of Ralph Lauren vintage. He is the man that virtually defined the entire image, the aesthetic, and the general nostalgia that you get from the Ralph Lauren brands. It’s his job to shop the world to fill Mr. Lauren’s stores with one of a kind vintage jewelry, concho belts, fashion rugs, accessories, and anything else he finds amazing.

Vicki Turbeville’s concho belt was used in the Roberto Cavalli Spring 2017 runway show
Photo: vogue.com

Roberto Cavalli used 10 concho belts from Turbeville’s collection in his spring 2017 runway show in Milan.

Cindy Crawford on the cover of Elle Italia March 2019
wearing Vicki Turbeville’s rings and bracelet

Elle Italia featured Cindy Crawford on their March 2019 cover and on the inside pages. The iconic model was wearing a statement bracelet and rings from the Turbeville collection. Vicki’s jewelry has appeared in every major fashion magazine including Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. She currently has things locked up at W Magazine’s jewelry closet. As they were preparing for a shooting in the desert, the pandemic hit, and everything went into lock-down.

One of Tuberville’s loyal fans is Matt Jacobson. Matt is head of market development at Facebook and second in command to Mark Zuckerberg. He is known for his style, which is something of an anomaly in the Silicon Valley. Matt is partial to Vicki’s turquoise and sterling silver bracelets. He told me that “Vicki and her curation is very special.”

Large Yei Bolo tie by Toby Henderson
Photo: vickiturbeville.com

Vicki’s shop is open 4 days a week, but it is now closed. 50% of her sales are done through her website, and she observes that people are now indulging in fun, impulse “quarantine shopping.” Bracelets, rings, and earrings continue to be popular. Vicki always keeps in stock those Yei figure bolo ties Iris Apfel is known to wear.

Bracelets from Vicki Turbeville’s collection
Photo: vickiturbeville.com

Many of Vicki’s customers tell her that they feel like “Wonder Woman” when they wear one of her big cuffs on each wrist. Vicki always listens to her customers, she has a personal connection with them and is always available on her website vickiturbeville.com phone and email, +1 (347) 256-0127 or vicki@southwesternjewelry.net.

Marilyn Kirschner
Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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