Early Native American jewelry (pre-1930’s) was usually hand forged from hand-made, hand-poured ingots. An ingot is simply a bar or block of metal. The blocks can be any shape but are traditionally rectangles. To make an ingot, the chosen metal is melted, then poured into block forms. Once cooled to the perfect working temperature the blocks can be hammered into sheets, wires, or other shapes needed for the piece.
Silver, sterling silver, and coin silver are all malleable, that is they are soft enough to be worked with hand tools – the silver is often reheated in a fire pit or forged several times before the piece is finished. Silver is hammered while it is still hot because it’s much softer than when it’s cold. It stretches and spreads faster when hot. It needs to be reheated after only a few hammer blows because if hammered too long it will crack. It takes a lot of experience to hammer an ingot without it cracking. If it is not hammered on all sides before reheating for the next round, it will crack and then back to square one, remelting and making another ingot.
Jewelry that was hand forged and hand hammered is now rare, collectible, and expensive because most modern jewelry is no longer hand-hammered from ingots except by master smiths preserving the tradition. One way to tell that jewelry has been hand hammered is the impression of tool marks and surface wrinkling on the underside of a piece.