Turquoise is usually a product of dry climates, typically found in Iran, northwest China, the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, and Southwest America.
I’m partial to Southwest American turquoise because of the story behind it. Native Americans have valued its beauty and spiritual qualities for thousands of years. They had as many different words for turquoise as there were languages spoken. They believe that turquoise, the “fallen sky stone,” is where sky meets water and father sky hugs mother earth. To them, turquoise is life. It brings happiness, luck, and health. In the 19th century, the American Indians learned silver working techniques from the Europeans and began using turquoise and silver to make their own distinct style of jewelry. By combining the sacred (turquoise) and the secular (silver), the jewelry symbolizes the dynamic balance between human and nature in the eyes of a Navajo. At any traditional ceremonies, most American Indians will be wearing turquoise.
During one of my trips to the Southwest, I saw a group of Gallup women dancing joyfully in a plaza. Their turquoise necklaces, bracelets, rings, and adornments swung and sang with them. After their performance, I asked them where they get those beautiful turquoise jewelries. They eagerly responded: “My father made this necklace for me when I got married;” “This bracelet was my brother’s first silversmith work;” “My mom gave the ring as a gift for my adult ceremony;” “My son gave the pendant to me as a birthday gift.” I can feel their enthusiasm even to this day. Turquoise for them, for the Navajos, is not only a beautiful stone, but a culture, a history, a way of life.
American Indian dancers in front of the Gallup City Hall
Important as it is for the native Americans, turquoise is on the verge of extinction. The supply of natural turquoise has been dramatically reduced in the past few years. Worldwide, China has been the world’s largest producer of turquoise since 1985. However, it temporarily suspended turquoise mining about five years ago. Since then, little Chinese products has entered the market. Turquoise from Iran came to an end several years ago. Egyptian has not been produced in volume for many years.
Domestically, almost all Arizona mines, including the Sleeping Beauty Mine have been closed for some time now. The Sleeping Beauty Mine, which got its name from the fact that the mine is said to resemble a sleeping woman, used to be one of the top-producing mines. It was closed in 2012. Within months of its closure, the price of rough stones from the mine skyrocketed. Buyers are paying 5 times more per carat at wholesale since the mine closed; it’s now edging closer towards $50 per carat.
Sleeping Beauty Pendant
The only remaining actively producing Turquoise Mine in Arizona is the Kingman Turquoise Mine. In Nevada, only one out of over 160 of the most important turquoise mines is still active. That is the Royston Turquoise Mine, famous for its stones’ rich colors and dynamic matrix. It’s a pity that such fine quality turquoise stones are found less and less. To date, out of approximately 180 turquoise mines that were active in the 1970’s, less than 10 mines are still open.
There is US government restrictions on mining that results in high cost of mining operations, including mining permits, equipments, fuel and other costs. Therefore, it’s almost impossible to search for new turquoise mines and very few mines are operating commercially. Instead, most of today’s turquoise is retrieved as a byproduct of copper mining.
All in all, high quality turquoise jewelry is becoming a collectible. The handmade, one of a kind Navajo turquoise jewelry, with its symbol of native culture and rich generational tradition, is even more valuable. I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you find something you like, get it before it’s too late.