USGS Turquoise History - Turquoise Facts
Turquoise, the robin's egg blue gemstone worn by Pharaohs and
Aztec Kings, is probably one of the oldest gemstones known. Yet, only
its prized blue color, a color so distinctive that its name is used
to describe any color that resembles it, results in its being used
as a gemstone. Turquoise has been, since about 200 B.C., extensively
used by both southwestern U.S. Native Americans and by many of the
Indian tribes in Mexico. The Native American Jewelry or "Indian
style" jewelry with turquoise mounted in or with silver is relatively
new. Some believe this style of Jewelry was unknown prior to about
1880, when a white trader persuaded a Navajo craftsman to make turquoise
and silver jewelry using coin silver. Prior to this time, the Native
Americans had made solid turquoise beads, carvings, and inlaid mosaics.
Recently, turquoise has found wide acceptance among people of all
walks of life and from many different ethnic groups.
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 (the turquoise most likely came from Alimersai Mountain in
Persia (now Iran) or the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, two of the world's
oldest known turquoise mining areas.) Another possibility could be
the name came from the French description of the gemstone, "pierre
turquin" meaning dark blue stone.
Chemically, a hydrated phosphate of copper and aluminum, turquoise
is formed by the percolation of meteoric or groundwater through aluminous
rock in the presence of copper. For this reason, it is often associated
with copper deposits as a secondary mineral, most often in copper
deposits in arid, semiarid, or desert environments.
For thousands of years the finest intense blue turquoise in the world
was found in Persia, and the term "Persian Turquoise" became
synonymous with the finest quality. This changed during the late 1800's
and early 1900's when modern miners discovered or rediscovered significant
deposits of high-quality turquoise in the western and southwestern
United States. Material from many of these deposits was just as fine
as the finest "Persian." Today, the term "Persian Turquoise"
is more often a definition of quality than a statement of origin,
and the majority of the world's finest-quality turquoise comes from
the United States, the largest producer of turquoise.
The increased acceptance of turquoise resulted in higher prices, some
of the most desirable materials going for as much as $2,200 per kg.
The increased demand could not be met through production of acceptable
mine run materials. Therefore, an industry emerged--the business of
turquoise stabilization, reconstitution, and the manufacture of synthetic
and simulated turquoise. In most instances, the stabilization and
reconstitution of turquoise involve the use of earthy or highly porous
types of turquoise which are pressure-impregnated with hot acrylic
resins. The resins improve the color, hardness, and durability of
the material to a point that inexpensive porous, poorly colored, or
nearly colorless materials become suitable for use in jewelry. As
long as the materials are represented as treated, stabilized, or reconstituted,
the marketplace can accept or reject the materials based on decisions
that are purely business or economic.
Arizona.--In Arizona turquoise ranks first in terms of value of production
and is also the best known of its gem materials. As stated earlier,
nearly all important deposits of turquoise are located near copper
occurrences or in copper deposits in arid desert regions of the world.
Thus, the world famous turquoise deposits associated with certain
of the large Arizona copper deposits are to be expected. Turquoise
is or has been mined from a number of these copper mines as a byproduct,
usually by outside contractors.
The financial and operating terms of the collecting contracts vary
from mine to mine. Some of the operations are little more than the
efforts of individual commercial collectors. Some are essentially
full-scale mining operations that are simultaneous with, but separate
from, the regular mining operations; and still others operate on an
on-call basis as turquoise is uncovered by the regular copper mining
operation. Regardless of the size or the sophistication of the initial
mining or recovery operation, the actual turquoise is recovered by
careful extraction using hand methods.
California.--The production of turquoise from deposits in California
can be traced back to pre-Colombian Native Americans. Prehistoric
mining tools have been found in some of the old workings of the turquoise
mines in San Bernardino County.
Over the years, the State's deposits have produced a substantial amount
of turquoise. Deposits are located in San Bernardino, Imperial, and
Inyo Counties. The material occurs as nodules and as vein filling.
Most of the nodules are small in size, about the size of the end of
your thumb, and the vein material is about 4 millimeters thick. In
the better grade materials, the color varies from a pale to a dark
blue, poorer grade materials are greenish-blue and green in color.
Some of the material has yellow-brown limonite spiderwebbing.
In the past, a number of turquoise mines operated in the State, several
or more mines in each of the counties. Today, only a single mine,
the Apache Canyon Mine, is commercially producing turquoise. Material
from the mine is a fine blue color, hard, and takes a good polish.
Colorado.--Turquoise is produced from several locations in Colorado.
Currently the only commercial production is near Manassa, Conejos
County. Other production was from Leadville, Lake County; near Colorado
Springs, El Paso County; and near Villa Grove, Saguache County.
New Mexico.--Until the 1920's, New Mexico was the United States largest
producer of turquoise. However, since then Arizona and Nevada has
surpassed it in terms of both annual and total production.
Production of turquoise from deposits in the Cerrillos Hills, Santa
Fe County; the Burro Mountains and Little Hachita Mountains, Grant
County; the Jarilla Hills, Otero County; and the Guadelupe Mountains,
Eddy County; can be traced to prehistoric Indians. Several different
mines operate or have operated at each of the New Mexico locations
mentioned, producing seam and nugget turquoise. Many of the more famous
and higher-quality deposits are economically depleted. Turquoise from
these deposits was as good as that from any deposit in the world and
were the first to displace true Persian turquoise in the U.S. market.
Color varied from light to dark green, greenish-blue, bluish-green,
paler blue shades, and fine sky-blue. Much of the material was spiderwebbed
with thin veinlets of limonite.
Currently, with the exception of byproduct material from copper mines,
production of turquoise from deposits in New Mexico, for all practical
purposes, has stopped. Turquoise still can be found in New Mexico,
but production in any significant quantity is a question of economics
and the determination of the individuals involved.
Nevada.--Nevada has been a major producer of turquoise since the 1930's,
and until the early 1980's, the State was the largest producer in
the United States. It is estimated that over the years, 75 to 100
different mines/prospects produced sizable quantities of turquoise.
Production varied from a few thousand dollars worth of material at
some of the properties to more than a million dollars at others. To
date, total production of rough turquoise is estimated to be in the
range of $40 to $50 million.
Turquoise from Nevada comes in various shades of blue, blue-green,
green-blue, and green. Some of the turquoise may contain iron, if
it does, its color is pale green to yellow-green to yellow. The material
can be solid colored or spiderwebbed with either brown or black webbing;
the spiderwebbing may occur in any of the different colors or shades.
Some of the blue material is represented as the finest pure-blue turquoise
produced. It can occur in thin veins or seams or as nodules, with
single nodules reported as large as 150 pounds. The quality varies
from hard solid material that takes a good polish, to soft porous
material that can only be use as feed stock for treatment, enhancement,
or stabilization processes.
Associated with some of the turquoise deposits are two other gem materials
that can resemble certain colors and shades of turquoise, but are
separate mineral species. The first is variscite, and the other is
faustite. Both have been mistaken for and marketed as turquoise. Attractive
gem stones can be cut from both variscite and faustite and therefore,
would be note worthy as gem materials on their own.
We are always looking for great Turquoise and rare turquoise examples
from all over the world. Please contact us if you know were to come
across any, right now we are looking for Turquoise from California,
Montana, Utah, and Virginia. We also collect rare gemstones. We are
looking for great, magnetic lodestone. E-mail:
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