Concho Belts - Native American Belts, sometimes spelled concha, comes from the Spanish word meaning shell. Some of the first “conchos” were made of melted silver dollars and resembled a shell—it is commonly thought this is how the name came about. In Spanish, the correct word is concha, with an a at the end and is pronounced like an ah sound. However, most people now-a-days refer to the Native American style belt as a concho belt, with an o.
Although it is commonly said the Navajo (Dine’) borrowed the idea from Spaniards. Concho Belts also known as "Native American Belts" began appearing in Navajo country in the late 1860s or early 1870s. Other Native Americans including the Zuni and Hopi also made traditional Concho Belts before long.
The Navajos owned concha belts long before they learned silversmithing. They obtained them from the Southern Plains Indians, through looting or trade. The concept of the concha belt began with the Plains Indian's belts. They were blended with early Spanish/Mexican concha designs (1700 - 1750 CE). These early designs originated from iron harness buckles and cast silver conchas with scalloped edges used for spurs.
The Navajo (Dine') learned how to work silver in the mid-nineteenth century. They had long appreciated silver jewelry that they acquired from Southwestern Hispanics and Plains tribes. It is generally believed that they did not learn how to make metal jewelry until circa 1850 when Atsidi Sani became friends with a Mexican smith named Nakai Tsosi. Tsosi taught him how to work iron so that he could make bridles that he could sell to other Navajo. After the end of the Navajos' internment at Bosque Redondo near Fort Sumner in 1868, Nakai Tsosi taught Atsidi Sani how to smith silver for jewelry. He, in turn, taught his sons and other Navajos.