Opening a bezel

I bought 3 antique “new pawn” (1960’s) Navajo squash blossom necklaces at a yard sale years ago.
two of the are set with red stones and the third have turquoise alternating with red stone. the red stones could be simulant or a brown red coral. A local jeweler told me that to test there red stones, they would need to cut the bezel off and replace it with a new one. Current prices in Albuquerque range from 2 to 6K each. I paid 1K for all three.
My question is if there is a way to loosen the bezel and pry a stone out to get tested without destroying the bezel and then replacing the stone in the same bezel. I know that this is a tough question, but I don’t want to go thru the hassle of replacing the bezel. I have retired from jewelry making and have given away a lot of tools so I will have to struggle to replace the bezel myself.

We recently had a fairly involved discussion about opening a bezel to remove the stone. There are ways to do this as long as the stone isn’t glued into place. Solvents used to dissolve the glue may also damage the stone. If this is an antique piece, you may want to explore what happens to the value of the piece if the bezels are replaced. I am also curious if the red stone can be tested in place. Just my thoughts, I have never worked on a squash blossom necklace…Rob

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This is basically what I came here to say.

the stone appears to be red coral of low quality. If it’s removed, it can tested for specific gravity which is 1.48- 2.6 range… which is fairly light… the back side of the stone could be also tested without ruining the cabbed side… the hardness is quite soft: 4 Mohs, it could be scratched with aragonite or fluorite that comes in a test kit… it will also effervesce with a drop of weak acid as it’s mostly calcium carbonate. I don’t think the stone has been glued… removing and replacing one bezel will look like a repair. It won’t impact market value significantly.

Any ideas about how to loosen the bezel without scratching a soft stone? I can’t pry it along the edge of the bezel and along the stone without risk of scratching the stone, even though it could be republished.

So far as anyone who can do an antiques appraisal here where I live, there are none… all of the professional jewelers,including appraiser that I called are just quoting me the potential value of the stones and the melt down value of the silver. They can’t or don’t want to venture a guess on the jewelry value nor the antique value. But I can tell from the stye that it’s definitely 1960’s New Pawn…Old Pawn goes back 1890’s thru 1930’s, and is twice as valuable. A similar piece of New Pawn at an antiques consignment store was as asking $1,500 at about the same time… I thought it was over priced for the time, but the seller wasn’t willing to negotiate. I will have to sell it in Santa Fe for the best price, or in Albuquerque where I have friends. Selling on consignment may be the easiest but it will calso coast the most… up to 40%. RIght now I’m just trying to confirm the identity of the red stones and trying to get an idea of the range of the antique price. If the red stones are plastic simulants, then all of them will have to be replaced with turquoise for it to be worth anything. The Navajo silversmiths did work with coral and still do using it as an accent stone. It was prized as much as turquoise was.

Finally so are as testing in place is concerned, I don’t think it’s possible to do non-destructively in a cost effective way… X ray diffraction would tell you that it’s aragonite/coral. A CAT scan would differentiate coral from plastic by X ray density,. A hot needle test would burn both… none of the X ray techniques are cost effective. The only home test that I can think of that would be minimally destructive is to use a hydrochloric acid drop to check for effervescence… the reaction would have to be immediately stopped with baking soda but the stone will still have to be repolished.

I remember a Paul Harvey radio show where he talked about “Old Pawn” turquoise and faking the stone. Some place I have the transcript in a file of papers we found in Dad’s safe. The turquoise was faked by grinding Tupperware Spatula handles into a piece of aluminum foil, dribbling in some India ink, and baking until the whole mess congealed. Apparently the ink would create some nice spider web and it all looked like Kingman Turquoise of one grade or another.

According to the Paul Harvey article the true test was to touch the stone with a hot wire. If it melted it was plastic. I suspect no vendor, honest or not, was going to allow a hot wire near the stone on anything for sale. Dad and I drank a lot of coffee over this subject and decided the only test we could think of was just as unlikely. Drill a small hole in the back of the mount and do a hot wire test on the shavings.

I don’t recall anything mentioned about coral in the transcript. My biggest wonder in all this was why it was of interest to Paul Harvey.

This answers no questions but I thought there might be some interest in the story.



Thanks for the suggestion… I was thinking about drilling a hole in the back to test it using the hot wire technique as a last quick resort. The turquoise in the third necklace should also be tested.

If you are talking about Paul Harvey who had the radio show, I also remember him. That shows how old both of us are!!! Why Paul Harvey would have an interest in old Navajo jewelry is a mystery to me too, but I can see that talented people are multifacted in their interests and knowledge base.

Now my problem is finding them again. I hid them somewhere and don’t remember where I hid them… another indication of how old I am… poor short term memory registration!!!
If all of the stones are plastic, it might not be worth the expense nor my time to DYI and to dig all of them out and replace them with real stones. That being said, both old and new pawn jewerly will still have antique value which still can be fairly high.

I am not suggesting you drill a hole in the back of the bezel. I am only recounting a conversation with my father from years ago. We never tried doing such a thing. I wonder what that action would do to the value of your squash blossoms.

And yes, THAT Paul Harvey.

Good luck with the search.


I did it once to push a stone out of a bezel. I got it out with prying and pushing but it was a hard stone that didn’t scratch with mild steel tools. It wouldn’t work with coral or a resin simulant, except for testing the drill powder effervescence with acid and sticking a hot needle in the hole or trying on some of the powder to see if it burns. I still need to find them and take them to a professional jeweler to see what they can guess at for the red stones. Any imperfections on an antque piece other than looking like a repair will diminish the value, as the value lies only in it being an antique.

That Paul Harvey, yes… he had a great sense of humor and a lot of common sense, whether or not you agreed with his views… It just goes to show how badly talk show radio has deteriorated now. It’s sad that suposedly informed commentary has fallen to personal attacks and name calling.

Don, you opened my eyes to a problem encountered back n the early 70’s. worked t Zion Natl Park, man lodge’s curio shop. We sold a very large selection of Indian Jewelry. sold one bracelet that had a child’s fist sized center stone. t was left in a more rough form instead of the rounded cab look. The couple came back a ew hours later and demanded to see the supervisor. They had taken the bracelet to their cabin and did that exact Paul Harvey hot wire test. t was a large spot where they had scraped the polish of and then tried to push the wire into the stone. It did not penetrate the stone. A beautiful Morenci Turquoise boulder. What they wanted was a full refund and then another bracelet of their choice and me fired. Since they had purposely damaged the stone, the supervisor and the lodges managers both told them no. They then tried to have me arrested by the park rangers. That didn’t work either. wonder how many pieces of jewelry have been damaged because of that test?

Sorry some of the keys stick and i forget to proof read.

I knew about the hot wire test from years ago. I have quart bottle of heavily stabilized turquoise nuggets that I bought for dirt cheap and the stuff was dirt!.. there was so much resin on it, that when I test it deliberately with first a hot wire, it burned a hole… with a torch, the resin caught fire… I couldn’t let it burn because the smoke was noxious… burning plastic… since I have a lot more, I can take one outside and burn it up to see what’s left… however, natural turquoise of good quality will also be damaged by high temperatures…but it definitely won’t catch on fire… I don’t want to ruin an antique using a hot wire test.

The people who did the hot wire test on the bracelet were not thinking about the consequences. They did the test on a visible part of the stone and ruined the finish. They rightly so owned their piece of jewelry. It was up to them next to get the burned spot refinished,

That still does not help me with how to remove something soft like coral or turquoise from the bezel without either scratching the stone or ruining the bezel. If I could get the stone out, I could do a hot wire test on the back of the cab,getting the stone out is the problem. The cost of having a professional do it by cutting through the bezel and then replacing the bezel and stone might not justify the cost.

I did look thru some of the archived posts on this topic. Some of the solutions were ingenious but it still leaves the problem of not scratching a soft stone. Prying around the edges would still risk putting in a deep scratch which wouldn’t be easy to polish out without changing the shape of the cap a little… I would not want to even scratch a plastic simulant, as the value is purely antique. Even if real stone, both coral and unstabilized natural hard turquoise, are both still quite soft and easily prone to scratching.

As was previously suggested, drill a small hole in the back of a bezel. I don’t know if you need to test them all. Do the hot pin test or acid test. Then clean and dry the hole and back of the stone. Once this is all done take the piece to someone with a laser or pulse arc welder and have them fill in the hole. This is not as easy as it sounds. I have a pulse arc welder and have yet to figure out how to fill a hole, but I know that it is done. Finish off the now filled hole. I still think that, with some care, you could make a very thin pointed knife and open the bezel enough to test below the bezel line, then reform the bezel, clean up any damage and you have your answer…Rob

I think either method might do… drilling a small hole may be less invasive if it can be pulsed arc’d in… There’s a place that did some custom casting for me once… I’ll have one of the bench jewelers there look at it, if they’re still in business… it’s been a long time. Only one red stone needs to be tested. I’m not going to mess with the turquoise. Thanks.

PS: the only minimally other destructive way I can think of is to acid test one of the coral like stones… if it fizzes,I can drop baking soda on it right away… repolishing should be easy, if I don’t let the acid bite into it. No reaction at all would make me think it’s plastic. I won’t test anything other than one red they all were made into one piece and all look like the same stuff… What do you think of that idea? I still have to look and find where I hid them.

This reminds me of the time a guy came into the store where I was working and wanted us to tell him what a great deal he had gotten. He had stopped outside a reservation out west and bought a big “silver” belt buckle from an old Indian selling jewelry out of the back of his pickup truck.
It seems that he had talked the guy down from $800ish bucks down to $300. Supposedly an old antique piece from a century ago, blah, blah, blah…

He was not smiling when he left. I flipped it over and showed him clearly where the buckle said: “Made in Taiwan”. Holy shit was that guy pissed.

I know that these pieces are new pawn. They are old. I bought them in the early 1990’ a yard sale. The seller did not know what she was selling. I bargained the price down by buying all three necklaces. The seller threw in a bracelet and ring as part of my offer… At the time of purchase, the style was New Pawn. Unfortunately, the maker did not stamp his name on the back.
Signed pieces of Old Pawn Navajo jewerly are worth a lot more. The designs were typical of the 1960 thru the 1970’s, which is why it’s called New Pawn. There was at that time, an interest among some of the Navajo young people in a revival of Navajo art and culture. Squash blossom necklaces were typically Navajo. Now everyone makes them. The craftsmanship of New Pawn, however, was poor to only fair as compared to some of the traditional Old Pawn jewelry. The Zuni’s had been making jewerly continuously and had the best craftsmanship. Even back then, they were making jewerly using inlays of ablalone shell, tuquoise and coral…This style of jewelry has become widespread. The Sioux tribe silver smiths which is a relatively new phenomenon, adopted these styles…I lived in NM during the late 70’s and early 80’s and had Native American friends living at Taos Pueblo and at Shiprock. The latter at Shiprock was a friend from college…the fromer made pottery…What is now avaiable for sale at the Indian Market in Santa Fe is very expensive. The styles have adopted more modern styles. Asking prices are too high.
I haven’t been looking to learn the market for Navajo and Pueblo jewelry but am being forced into researching it… I’m quickly discovering that there’s no other way other than a deep dive into it…Chinese made knock offs did not start until much later, when they strted to knock off everything from advanced tech to jewelry… One has to be careful nowdays… too cheap to be for real is not for real… and as the previous post mentioned, even knock offs are asking the real prices. Native Americans are reticent about befriending “outsiders”… I’m luck to have at least one Native contact after decades of living far outside of NM…

Great story!!!.. love it!.. goes to show that people who don’t know what they’re doing end up literally burning themselves… you break it, you own it… these people got what they deserved… Glad that all of the managment stood up together against their demands. I suppose that that was THE exception to the rest of your clients… you always get a few with loose screws…

the above is for everyone. I know that these are the real thing. I’m going to bring them with me the next time I go to Albuquerque. I can get them assessed there.