Friday, January 23, 2015

Turquoise ... That Weird Blue-Green Rock!

Yesterday was a day of rest ... sort of!  I was a little tired, but there's always stuff to be done.  It started off with laundry, then the decimation of the Chance Christmas tree and rig cleaning.  I baked brownies for dinner ... hey ... it's okay to have brownies for dinner ... and got my puppy play fix.  Since that's nothing to write home about, I'll fill you in on what I've learned about turquoise jewelry.

Almost every mine produces a different color of turquoise with different characteristics, as you can see in this picture.  Turquoise is a hydrous phosphate of copper and aluminum.  The color comes from the mineral's properties which are different in every mine, ranging from white to power blue to sky blue to green.  The more blue, the more idiochromatic copper, with green having less copper and more iron.  Sounds simple enough, but it's not.  There's lots of turquoise not worth the  phony silver it's placed in.  The stones in each of these pieces came from different mines.  If the mine happens to be closed, the value increases since that limits the number of pieces.
Turquoise comes in three varieties, which you should know if you wish to purchase some and not get stung by fake pieces.  It is either natural (from the mine), stabilized (filled with epoxy) or treated (enhanced).  Most of the tons of beads you see are reconstituted (treated) ... shaped and hardened from turquoise dust.  Natural is of course the best and will cost the most.  If you go to a Gem and Mineral Show, you can easily see the difference.   Pick up a cut and polished stone and look at the back.  More expensive pieces will have no backing.  Less expensive pieces will have thick backing.  If you look at the edge, you can tell exactly how thick the stone is versus the backing and you can see where the backing has been used to fill in broken edges.  Backing can help stabilize thin turquoise that would otherwise break.  With jewelry already made, the backing (usually dark brown) may be visible around the edges, making it not as valuable.

The veinlike marks, called matrices, are highly desirable and more rare.  If it is a solid very bright sky blue color, chances are it's reconstituted turquoise.  If you ask whether it is natural or stabilized, they should tell you, but not everyone is honest.  In New Mexico, the law states if you ask, they not only must tell you if it's natural, but must provide a certificate with the jewelers name, including the name of the mine and where it was made.  If you think it's an amazing deal, it's probably not.  Good turquoise Indian jewelry is NOT cheap!!  The light colored one above is pretty rare, as the mine did not stay open long and didn't produce much due to family squabbles.  That of course, makes it more expensive!!

If you want the real deal and don't mind paying the price, jewelers like Calvin Begay and Tommy Singer are ones to look for.  There are many more great artists you can find on the internet.  I prefer Old Pawn jewelry, collected by many pawn shops over the years, but beware ... their prices are out of this world.  It all depends on if it's a nice stone and how much you love it.  It only gets more valuable with age.  I found a couple of years ago that the Grand Canyon stores sell some Old Pawn, and being a government store, are not allowed to overprice the pieces.  The second from the left in the image above came from there ... a lucky find for sure!!

One more thing to look for ... in the old days, Indian jewelers would not put their name to a piece they didn't think was good work.  If you don't see a name or initials on the back, then I probably wouldn't purchase it.  If you see four or five earrings exactly alike, I probably wouldn't purchase those either, unless you just love them and didn't care who made them.  I have a couple of those!!

I'm going to go take a nap now ... been up most of the night from the wind whipping my slide covers like shaking out a rug!!  I've been rocking and rolling since about 2:00 am when I got up to put in the bedroom slides for a little quiet.  When Dan said it got a little windy here, he forgot to mention it was gail-force winds ... and 34 degrees to boot!!  Now THAT's chilly!!


  1. Wow, a Phd in photography and now a Phd in Turquoise, who would have known. Thanks for the educational presentation as well as the great photography. Jim

    1. Hahaha you're funny Jim!! No PhD's, but if you're going to spend a big 1K on jewelry, you should at least know a little bit!! It's really easy to get ripped off!!

  2. Way to go my kind of lady brownies for dinner. I made a patch this evening.
    I remember passing through where you are as a kid. back then it was on route 66 (just dated myself) they were shops selling Turquoise even then.

    Jim M.

    1. I'm also a firm believer in dessert for breakfast, Jim!! Back then, you could be pretty sure you got decent turquoise. Nowadays, it's a different story.