Turquoise of the Southwest

Written by on May 22, 2016 in The Southwest - Comments Off on Turquoise of the Southwest

Turquoise Necklace
The Southwest U.S. is famous for its turquoise. For thousands of years, it has been prized and used as a valuable trade commodity among the Native American tribes. Turquoise was left in rough nuggets and polished, carved into beads and strung together or used as inlaid mosaics. The fancy silver and turquoise jewelry so famous today is a product of the 1880s when a trader persuaded a Navajo craftsman to make a piece using a silver coin.

The name turquoise may have come from the word Turquie, French for Turkey, because of the early belief that the mineral came from that country. Another possibility could be the name came from the French description of the gemstone, “pierre turquin,” meaning dark blue stone.

Turquoise is formed when groundwater percolates through rock that contains iron, aluminum and most especially copper, and develops to a particularly fine quality in desert, arid, semi-arid or volcanic environments. Depending on the types of minerals present in the rock, color of turquoise actually varies from green, greenish-blue, bluish-green, paler blue shades, and fine sky-blue. Much of the material is spiderwebbed with thin veinlets of limonite and other minerals to create gorgeous tapestries of color.

For years, Persian turquoise was considered the finest quality in the world, until pioneers discovered (or rediscovered) the deposits in the Southwest. Because the process of formation can differ from region to region, and even from different locations in the same region, leading to unique turquoise appearance, turquoise is often named after the mine from which it came. An example is “Sleeping Beauty Turquoise,” which comes from the sleeping beauty mine near Globe, Arizona.

Today, the U.S. is the largest producers of turquoise, and Arizona turquoise ranks first in terms of value of production and quantity of turquoise. This is primarily due to the fact that Arizona is also queen of the copper mines and copper is a necessary element in the creation of turquoise. Naturally, the two deposits tend to be found close to one another. Colorado mines turquoise from only one location, near Manassa in Conejos County, although other mines have operated near Leadville, Colorado Spring and Villa Grove. New Mexico turquoise came from the deposits in the Cerrillos and Jarilla HIlls and the Burro, Little Hachita and Gaudelupe Mountains, although commercial production has all but stopped.

Throughout the Southwest today, Native American craftsmen and women create the most astonishing and beautiful jewelry and works of art using turquoise. We’d love to tell you there are especially good places to discover great pieces, but luckily for you, the Native American people are scattered throughout the Southwest — at Indian Markets at the side of the road, in trading posts, in high-end jewelry stores, galleries and museums, as well as being present at art festivals and shows.

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