The railroads arrived in the Southwest in the 1880s. The Fred Harvey Company opened shops in the railroad stations and provided a ready market for Navajo silver. As a result, silver smithing flourished and designs were elaborated, often reflecting Anglo taste. This concho belt has arrows,cactus,snakes,lizards and thunder birds that are intricately worked into the design, an example of some of the high-quality Fred Harvey jewelry that was offered.
The word concho, 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, the concho belt has become a long-standing Native tradition. Concho Belts reportedly began appearing in Navajo country in the late 1860s or early 1870s.
“Third Phase” of concho belt development, you started to see the “butterfly” appear between conchos and also the use of turquoise as an adornment on the face of a concho. A “butterfly” is simply another smaller concho in between the bigger conchos and its shape somewhat resembles that of a butterfly (a bow shape). Copper for the strap across the back becomes more prevalent than a silver bar as you go further on in time also. A belt with butterflies (and sometimes turquoise) from the early 1900s through the 1930s is generally thought of as “early third phase” and a belt from the 1940s through 70s (or so) would often be referred to as “vintage” while anything newer would be modern to contemporary.