Harpo, Paris: Generations of Amerindian jewellery 

Monday, April 25th 2022
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Not many people seem to have heard of Harpo, but it ticks many of the boxes for a Permanent Style reader: craft, authenticity, a classic style, and all family owned. 

It’s a store in Paris, selling jewellery and other crafts made by Native Americans such as the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni. It’s been there since 1971, founded by Gerard ‘Harpo’ Nadaud, and run today by him and his three daughters: Dorothée, Valentine and Ella.

At one point during our interview, I asked Valentine (pictured below, with her father) why Harpo only works with Amerindians still - and not, for example, some of the skilled non-tribespeople that she said now make excellent work, and were often trained by those tribes. 

(Many of them, menswear fans will be unsurprised to hear, are Japanese.)

“It’s a question of generations now,” she said. “My father started working with several craftspeople, and they handed the work on to their children - and at the same time our father handed parts of the business to us. Given that history, it would just seem strange now to work with anyone else.”

The silver and turquoise jewellery - for which there has been something of a vogue in menswear in recent years - ranges hugely in price. 

A simple stamped bracelet might be €65, but a complex piece - perhaps using a rare type of turquoise, or made by a famous artisan - can be €6000 or €7000.

This makes it a wonderful place to visit as a tourist. You can buy a little gift (I bought a couple for my daughters) or invest in something special, having spent an hour talking to Valentine about the history of a particular design and maker. 

There are also ancillary pieces, such as bolo ties, concho belts and hand-woven rugs. I was particularly interested to see the latter, given our recent article on the craft of Navajo weaving.

However, the thing I spent most time chatting to Valentine about was what makes particular pieces special: what are the factors that govern quality, style and price?

The first thing she explained was the different types of turquoise used. The silver won’t vary much, but some turquoise is very sought after - because it’s are, or because it has particular characteristics. 

For example, ‘sleeping beauty’ turquoise comes from a mine in Arizona that closed in 2012, and so has a limited supply. The name comes from the mountains around the mine, which are shaped something like a sleeping woman. The large cuff below is made in that turquoise.

Other types are valued for their depth of colour, or because they are a particular shade in the broad colour spectrum of turquoise, from muddy green to azure blue. 

None of this is objectively better or worse. For example, I have a vintage cuff that has more veins and colours, which isn’t considered quite so valuable. But I like the effect.

The only thing that objectively turquoise should have is density. It’s a naturally porous stone, and if it’s not dense enough it can become brittle. Poorer quality stones sometimes have resin injected into them, to keep them together. 

The second thing that makes particular pieces special is the artisan. 

Most jewellery at Harpo has the name or stamp of the maker on it, so even if you don’t recognise the stamp patterns, you can tell which were made by the same artist. 

In fact, something that sets Harpo apart is that 90% of the pieces they hold are unique - they’re not duplicates, with the same designs being made year after year, but individual works. More like works of art in that sense. 

In terms of specific makers, one prominent example is Navajo artist Sunshine Reeves, who made the flask shown below

As with most pieces made in this style - with repeated stamped patterns - it’s easy to tell it’s handmade because of the little variations in the way each stamp has been placed. 

Bigger names make their own stamps, which makes them more recognisable. And often they’re handed down between generations. 

That’s why some - like the stamp above - can be many decades old, even if originally they were just made from iron that was lying around, such as railroad nails. 

Reeves’s work is pretty typical for Navajo work, which tends to be more masculine and typically ‘western’, with silver designs around a single stone. 

Zuni work often looks more modern, perhaps even a little ‘new age’. 

Bracelets made with inlays of different pieces of turquoise - like the one I’m wearing below - are typical Zuni. The challenge with those is cutting the stone so each piece has the exact same curve as the bracelet itself, sitting flush with its neighbour.  

It’s also Zuni that tend to make more fun pieces, or reference pop culture, such as pieces using cartoon characters that are sometimes referred to as ‘Zuni-toons’. My Red Rabbit pin is in that tradition. 

As you might expect, the longer you talk about these styles and traditions, the more details and idiosyncrasies you discover. 

For example, the ring above is an example of ‘shadow box’ technique, where the artist makes a silver dome over a flat piece, leaving a little cave that can be left empty, or partially filled with a stone. 

The store itself is full of stories too. There’s a huge piece of museum-quality turquoise - the size of a small child - sitting in front of the office. It’s pretty valuable, but apparently would require several people to move. 

The central glass cabinet, meanwhile, contains an old saddle from a famous shop in Arizona run by silversmith Victor Begay. So many people have asked to buy that that it now has a sign reading ‘Not for sale’.

The in front of one of the cabinets is a motorcycle helmet decorated with hundreds of pieces of turquoise, and a pair of bull horns. 

“My sister Dorothée had this bucket of stones for ages, and always said she was going to decorate something for the shop,” recalls Valentine. “During lockdown, with time on her hands, we finally did it. She got this old bike helmet and started decorating the whole thing.”

There are similar stories - of old myths or just family shenanigans - everywhere in Harpo, and you get a real sense of history and personality. 

As the links throughout this piece attest, Harpo does sell online, so they’re pretty accessible. There are also some international stockists, which I have listed below. 

But as with most shops PS covers, it’s really worth visiting in person if you can. Paris seems to be better at this than London - giving good space to pretty niche or quirky stores. 

Perhaps London has just become too expensive, or mainstream. 

www.harpo-paris.com

19 Rue de Turbigo, Paris

Photography: Alex Natt @adnatt

Harpo stockists: 

  • Ron Herman, Japan, 
  • Montaigne Market, St Barth
  • Jane de Boy, Cap Ferret
  • Byblos, Nantes
  • Unglamouse, Korea
  • Ikat, Switzerland
  • Ya-ta-hey, Belgium
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Chris

Thanks for this nice article Simon, Harpo is a brand I love.
For those who are interested, Bonne Gueule recently wrote an article about Amerindian jewellery, its history, with a long interview of Dorothée.
https://www.bonnegueule.fr/%F0%9F%8E%AC-les-secret-des-bijoux-amerindiens-6/

P.A.

Lovely piece, will definitely have a look at the shop next time I’m wandering in the area.
Some of these pieces are quite “a look”, but a lot of the simpler designs are really wearable in a casual outfit.
I have a silver bracelet from Gambia passed down by my Dad, and I wear it pretty much all week-end. People on the internet often get controversial about wearing ethnic jewellery (cultural appropriation, etc.) but in real life, I received nothing but compliments and will keep on wearing it as long as I can.

Hugh

Indeed. What an impoverished culture it would be if we could only create, enjoy, or interact with art with which we have “lived experience”

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/24/opinion/lived-experience-empathy-culture.html?fbclid=IwAR2EnuAjEwDLuYfZOjOPlbCfMxA2DM8in96k9ozK3-yu7pQOP91JLoSfmzk

Fred

I can’t wait to visit this shop!!

A point about cultural appropriation, a highly relevant but controversial subject in menswear. I agree completely with comments that this is not cultural appropriation however CA can be and is an issue in menswear. Firstly, it is very important to note that Indigenous American peoples are an empovershed and disenfranchised minority in the USA despite being the original inhabitants of the continent. There is also the genocide in the 1800s to consider. It is essential that the craftspeople from these cultures are supported and platformed rather than imitated by fast fashion or extorted by Western buyers who sell their work without properly paying the artisans. Secondly, some items are appropriated disrespectfully…I am thinking here of headdresses in particular, which have significant spiritual significance to indigenous peoples. It is not particularly sensitive culturally for people to wear these items out of the proper context, perhaps in the same way that many people would be offended by the inappropriate doning of clerical clothes.

From what I can tell, this us far from the case here though, where the artesan, the people and the craft are celebrated!! Let’s just make sure that we are nuanced in discussions of CA. The term exists for reason, even if it is not always understood and used correctly.

Adam

“It’s pretty valuable, but apparently would require several people to move.”

Next week in the headlines, several suspiciously well dressed men are accused of stealing a large piece of turquoise from a Paris jewellery shop. Plot falls apart when one of the robbers reveals his identity to correct the news story that he was not wearing a blazer, but a sports jacket.

Craig

One bystander reported they were all wearing double monks.

Sam

Luckily, several were easily captured by authorities as the men had inexplicably worn their shoes unbuckled, thereby rendering them useless for running in. One suspect is quoted as saying Je ne regrette rien – my stylish nonchalance is more important than my freedom.”
In a freak event, another suspect was trapped in a revolving door by his overly long back tie blade, which he claims “not to have noticed – it just ended up that way when I was getting dressed this morning“, but which police have concluded was a “frankly a pretty lame and contrived attempt to look interesting”.

RMD

They were found a mere 5km from the site. Reports suggest that their pants were too tight to move it any further.

Tom

Great article, thank you. I am in Paris for work tomorrow so looking forward to checking out this shop and Anatomica too.

Dan James

Interesting article. Not really much of a fan of jewellery apart from my watch and wedding ring but that could change with age.

Simon-I think there is a small typo in the second paragraph after the photo of all the rings.
“ because it’s are, or because it has particular characteristics” should be “ because it’s rare…”

Thanks.

Dan Hawes

I bought a Turqoise ring from the Crazy frog in Soho when I was 18. Wore it for years and flogged it when skint. Regret it somewhat but it did feel a bit 70s era Robert Plant and my style changed.

Tore

What trousers and jacket are you wearing in the pictures here, Simon? Thanks!

Peter K

I visited the Harpo website after reading this article. It is very well designed with excellent product photography. Not something you see consistently across menswear or accessories websites.

I wonder if an article on what makes for a good website might be useful Simon?