Turquoise – The Fallen Skystone

There is enormous variety in turquoise from US mines


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Image: ©2004
A brief overview of some prominent
US Turquoise mines

1. Carico Lake, 2. Kingman, 3. Pilot Mt., 4. Royston,
5. No. 8, 6. Canderlaria, 7. Fox, 8. Blue Gem,
9. Lone Mt., 10. Orvil Jack, 11. Cerrillos,
12. Morenci, 13. Sleeping Beauty, 14. Bisbee

Courtesy Silver Sun-Santa Fe remote

Turquoise, the "fallen skystone", "gem of the centuries", is indigenous to the Americas, Egypt, ancient Persia (Iran), Tibet and China. Throughout human history, the stone has been revered and admired for its beauty and reputed spiritual life-enhancing qualities. The oldest known piece of jewelry, a turquoise bracelet, was found on the wrist of a 7000 year-old mummified Egyptian queen (bless her heart).

The oldest mine of any kind on the North American continent, the Cerrillos turquoise mine just south of Santa Fe, New Mexico, dates back at least 2000 years. Native American Pueblo peoples dug deep into the stony ground using antlers and stone mauls to bring up the precious turquoise, a true labor of love. To the Pueblos and the Navajos, turquoise is sacred, takes its color from the sky, and symbolizes the supreme, life-giving and healing power of the Creator.

Originally, indigenous peoples of the Southwest carved turquoise into beads or animal fetishes or overlaid it onto wood, bone, or shell using such fixatives as beeswax or piñon pine pitch. The Spanish introduced silver mining, smelting, and smithing technology into the Southwest in the sixteenth century. Combining that new knowledge of silver with the turquoise stone, the Native Americans created an industry of beauty.

Silver and turquoise jewelry is increasingly renowned around the world. Turquoise is New Mexico's gemstone and is recognized as the birthstone of December. It has been known by this name since the French purchased the "turkey stone" from Turkish traders, never realizing that the turquoise was mined in Persia and later traded to the Turks. Today, celebrities adorned with this valued stone are omnipresent in fashion magazines and on television. Interest in this beautiful and varied stone has reached a new high, similar to the craze of the sixties and early seventies.

Turquoise generally forms in arid climates and therefore large deposits have been found in the southwest United States, China, Iran, Chile and Mexico. Each turquoise mine is marketed by its name, such as Cerrillos, Bisbee, Sleeping Beauty, Kingman, Morenci, Number 8, Royston, Pilot Mountain and Blue Gem. These are all American mines.

China and Tibet have large mines also. In fact, about 80% of all the turquoise on the market worldwide today is Chinese or Tibetan. The currently popular chunky blue green turquoise nuggets with dark spider web matrix is mined north of Bhutan high in the mountains of the former Tibet. Northwest of Shanghai is the Ma'ashan turquoise mine, and the Hubei Province produces turquoise colors reminiscent of the much-prized blues and greens of the now closed mines in Nevada. Most of the remaining 20% is American, coming from the Sleeping Beauty and Kingman mines. The other American mines are producing very little or no turquoise. Stones from these highly collectible but depleted mines come onto the market from collections from time to time.

As for shopping for turquoise jewelry, there are some basic understandings necessary in order to make a savvy choice that will serve one's artistic and economic needs. Turquoise (hydrous cupric aluminum phosphate) is a porous stone that is created in a manner that is not well understood. Let us say that water gradually seeps through a host rock, interacts with copper, iron and aluminum in a very rare situation over a period of thousands (or millions) of years, producing a turquoise of various hardnesses that can have many colors, ranging from deep green and yellow green to a strong bright blue and very light blue. Also, part of the host rock or other minerals included in the turquoise can display a handsome design of black, browns and other colors, known as matrix. This overall process is so rare that diamond formation is common by comparison.

There are five “kinds” of turquoise as described by law

Natural turquoise - turquoise that is so hard and beautiful that it is simply mined, cut, polished and set into a piece of jewelry or carved into a fetish or sculpture. Less than 3% of all the turquoise on the market worldwide is natural.

Stabilized turquoise - soft or "chalk" turquoise has been infused with a clear epoxy resin. The resin, under pressure, absorbs into the rock, which permanently hardens the rock and deepens the color. Unlike the collectible natural turquoise which deepens in color over time by gradually absorbing oils from the skin as it is worn, the colors in stabilized turquoise are permanent. Most of the turquoise on the market is stabilized and should not cost as much as natural. Stabilized turquoise can be very beautiful, and is a good buy.

Treated turquoise - soft or "chalk" turquoise that is stabilized as described above, except that the epoxy resin is also dyed. Colors in treated turquoise have a tendency to look artificial. Prices should be much less than natural or stabilized.

Reconstituted turquoise - turquoise "chalk" that is very low grade and has been ground into powder, saturated with epoxy resin, dyed, and compressed into blocks or cakes to be cut into shapes for jewelry making. Prices should be most inexpensive.

Imitation turquoise - there is no turquoise in this category. Either there are stones like howlite (white stone, very porous) dyed to look like turquoise or there is pure plastic (epoxy resin) that has been dyed to look like turquoise. It is a shame that these materials are set in silver and priced as if they had intrinsic value.

Unfortunately, treated, reconstituted and imitation turquoise can be made to look remarkably like collectible stones. Trust is the bottom line. Be sure that the seller guarantees that the jewelry is what he or she says it is, not just verbally, but in writing, including a signature on the sales document with the name of the store on it. Be sure the description is complete. Also be sure to shop at businesses that offer refunds, whether the item was bought on sale or not.

Lovers of the skystone can find out more about shopping tips by writing or logging onto the web site of the

Indian Arts and Crafts Association remote
4010 Carlisle NE, Albuquerque, NM 87107
E-mail: info@iaca.com

Thanks to Cheryl Ingram of the Silver Sun remote in Santa Fe.

Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe, Taos and Albuquerque - Volume 17

Related Pages

Antique Indian Silver Jewelry article
A Sacred Place: Meditations on Corn article

What is Heishi? article
American Indian Signs & Symbols

Collector’s Resources


House of the Shalako rem By Appointment in Peralta | 505-242-4579
Wright's Indian Art | 505-266-0120

Santa Fe

Chimayo Trading & Mercantile | 505-351-4566
The Johnsons of Madrid Galleries of Fine & Fiber Art | 505-471-1054
Keshi - The Zuni Connection | 505-989-8728
The Rainbow Man | 505-982-8706
Sherwoods Spirit of America | 505-988-1776
Tresa Vorenberg Goldsmiths | 505-988-7215
Wadle Galleries Ltd pic 128 West Palace Ave | 505-983-9219
Roger Wilbur | 505.983.7885


Artwares Contemporary Jewelry | 575-758-8850
Bryans Gallery 121 Kit Carson Road | 575-758-9407
La Tierra Mineral Gallery | 575-758-0101
Millicent Rogers Museum | 575-758-2462


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