Conchos are popular leather fittings for belts that are available in a wide variety of designs that range from simple metal discs to more intricate patterns that include the addition of turquoise and various colors. Many of these designs originated from Southern Plains Native Americans and Mexican influences, which created a fashion trend unique to the southern United States and Central America. Let’s take a closer look at the origin of these designs with a quick history lesson on Navajo concho belts.
Early Concho Designs
The earliest concho designs originated during the 18th century, with the basic metal plate being a staple of ornamentation for Southern Plains Native Americans. The metal discs featured a hole or slot in the middle of the concho through which fabric or leather could be laced. However, these wouldn’t become true conchos as we know them today until Mexican influences were introduced. Scalloped edges, which were commonly used for spurs at the time, would become a defining characteristic of early concho belts, with more intricate designs carved into the edges of the silver. The biggest downfall of this early design is that designs were limited to the edges of the concho because there needed to be enough space left to lace the belt.
Soldered Copper Loops
The most important part of this history lesson on Navajo concho belts relates to the addition of soldered copper loops, which would prove an integral innovation. With these loops applied to the back of the metal concho disc, belts would no longer be laced through the middle of the concho itself. This, in turn, freed up the center of conchos for decorative designs. This innovation came about near the end of the 19th century and would be integral for creating the modern conchos we see today.
The Introduction of Turquoise
The addition of turquoise to concho designs would be the last big innovation that still characterizes concho belts to this day. With much more real estate on the concho discs for decoration, Navajo smiths took to adding turquoise stones to their designs. Turquoise was once a much scarcer resource, lending greater value to the stones and making concho belts that included turquoise even more unique. The addition of turquoise would become a true staple of concho design once mines in western America began exporting greater quantities back east, allowing the modern concho designs to spread further throughout the country.