Turquoise Information

What is turquoise?
     Turquoise stone is a hydrous basic phosphate of copper and aluminum which is formed as water trickles through a host stone for about 30 million years, gradually leaving a deposit.  If the mix has more copper, the turquoise will be colored in the blue range; if more aluminum, in the green to white range.  The addition of zinc yields a yellow-green color and hardens the stone even more.  The yellow-green color has been found so far only in Carico Lake, Damali, and Orville Jack turquoise from Nevada.

What is the "matrix" in turquoise?
     Other colors that appear in a turquoise stone come from the host stone that the turquoise formed in, and are called "matrix."   A black matrix is usually from iron pyrite; a gold-brown matrix from iron oxide, and a yellow to brown matrix from rhyolite.  Matrix that is thin and evenly spaced over the surface of the stone is commonly known as "spider web" matrix.   Spider web matrix usually enhances the collectibility and value of turquoise.

How has turquoise been used throughout history?
     The Middle East has been supplying turquoise for ancient Egyptians, Nubians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans for centuries.  Most early European turquoise came from the Middle East by way of traders in what is modern day Turkey.  In fact the word "turquoise" is derived from the French word for "Turkish."
     Native Americans had as many different words for turquoise as there were languages spoken.  However, many of the words translated into English as the "skystone," evoking the sky-blue shade of the stone most commonly found.   Native Americans had been working turquoise mines with stone mauls and antler picks for centuries before the arrival of the Europeans.  Most often, in the Southwest, the stone was carved into beads (heishi), fetishes, or overlaid onto wood, bone, or shell.   The Spanish brought to the Southwest their knowledge of silver and silversmithing.   This was combined with Native American lapidary technology to produce a turquoise jewelry tradition that lives today.  Native American jewelry, whether traditional or contemporary, is the harmonious melding of separate but complementary art forms.
     Turquoise in the U.S. today is predominately mined in the states of Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico, with Nevada the leader in production.   Some of the most rare and expensive turquoise varieties are Lander Blue, Bisbee, Blue Gem, Carico Lake, and Cerrillos.    In 1997, the first new turquoise mine discovered in North America since the 1500's was opened and production began.   This is the Enchantment turquoise mine near Ruidoso, New Mexico.  It is available in limited quantities in a few outlets, including the Silver Sun.  Because the U.S. mines are mostly depleted or already closed, turquoise from other parts of the world, particularly Tibet, is also used by Native Americans to make jewelry.

How is turquoise mined today?
     Most turquoise mining operations are very small, some as small as one family.  The mining sites, of course, are very isolated, and living and working conditions are primitive and sometimes dangerous.  One advantage modern miners have over previous miners, who worked with hand tools, is a gas generator.  To this the miner hooks up a saw with a diamond cutting blade and a machine with a grinding wheel.  Using water to cool the cutting blade, the miner cuts away chunks of host stone to get to the turquoise vein.  Refined extraction and shaping of the turquoise is done with the grinding wheel.  Final shaping is done and the piece is backed by epoxy to form a cabochon, a cut and polished stone ready for setting.  The epoxy backing helps to protect the stone against chipping and breaking when it is set in silver jewelry and worn.  This is all very labor intensive and time consuming.  The picture above shows Kingman turquoise on the left in both the raw and finished states.   The turquoise on the right is from the Turquoise Mountain mine.
     Native American artisans may buy turquoise cabochons directly from miners, but most buy from jewelry supply stores or trading posts.  For its own jewelry, Silver Sun buys directly from miners.  Silver Sun only buys stones from stone dealers who guarantee the quality and authenticity of their product.

What are the different "kinds" or grades of turquoise?
     1.  NATURAL turquoise means a stone with no alteration to its composition.  Such stones are merely polished and cut into shapes before being mounted in jewelry.  Natural turquoise remains porous, as all natural stone  is to varying degrees, and may tend to change color over time as it is worn and handled.
     2.  STABILIZED turquoise means that the natural mineral has been chemically altered to harden the stone, usually by infusing epoxy or polystyrene into the porous surface of the stone.  The stabilization process serves to "freeze" the color of the stone so it will not change.
     3.  COLOR-TREATED, color-enhanced, or   color-infused turquoise means that the natural mineral, usually too soft and pale   to finish for use in jewelry, has been chemically altered to change the color of the stone (and often the hardness also).  Dye is mixed with a stabilizing epoxy   or polystyrene liquid and infused into the stone under pressure.  Silver Sun avoids selling this stone in its jewelry.
     4.  RECONSTITUTED turquoise is the name used for turquoise dust and chips that are mixed with plastic resins and compressed into a solid form so as to resemble natural turquoise.  Silver Sun avoids selling this stone in its jewelry.
     5.  IMITATION or SIMULATED turquoise is any synthetic compound (usually dyed plastic) which is manufactured to resemble turquoise, but which contains no actual gemstone.  Silver Sun avoids selling this product in its jewelry.


Turquoise Mines Featured at the Silver Sun:
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Bisbee Blue Diamond

Blue Gem

Candelaria Carico Lake Castle Dome Cerrillos
Chinese Cripple Creek Crow Springs Damele
Dry Creek Easter Blue Enchantment Fox
High Lonesome Indian Mountain Kingman Lone Mountain
Manassa Morenci Nacozari Number Eight
Orvil Jack Paiute Persian Pilot Mountain
Red Mountain Royston Sleeping Beauty Stenich
Stormy Mountain Turquoise Mountain Tyrone