Scratching the Surface on Buying Turquoise

Barrett Walters

Posted on March 19 2019

Scratching the Surface on Buying Turquoise


Good Afternoon fellow gemstone lovers!

Recently, I posted an Instagram post with a detailed description about some turquoise we were finally able to acquire in our yearly Tucson gem show trip.  I know my description was longer than normal (and maybe a bit dramatic), but there is a reason - which is why I’m writing this!  If you didn’t come here from Instagram and just love turquoise, welcome fellow gemstone lovers!  Let’s dive into this somewhat short but still detailed summary about turquoise.

I’m going to start with the reasons why finding natural turquoise in general is difficult and expensive, and why finding turquoise nuggets/beads the way we use them is practically impossible.  First and foremost, the most important inconvenience is turquoise’s constitution, a.k.a. how it’s made up.  Turquoise’s structure is extremely fragile - and as a result, it crumbles extremely easy - not just cracks or faults, literally crumbles.  What does that mean?  Well, it means that when turquoise is cut into shapes, there is a lot of waste stone that crumbles off.  Rule of thumb: the more waste created when cut, the more expensive purchasing a natural stone will be.  

Completely 100% natural turquoise needs to be set in metal and treated with great care in order to keep it in tact.  There is no other way to safely incorporate turquoise into jewelry.  Turquoise has the consistency of chalk (think the sticks you used to draw on the sidewalk) - it won’t stand up to any rough treatment.  

This has unfortunately led to a huge market for fake-turquoise.  What does fake turquoise mean?  To us it means product has a majority of non-turquoise material in it.  Just about all of your affordable turquoise (think jewelry under $150) is one of three things: the turquoise waste powder they have reformed into stone using resin and then colored, a less expensive stone (usually howlite or magnesite) dyed to have a turquoise color, or just straight up resin imitations.  Legally, US law states that you are required to disclose whenever turquoise is not natural; however many gemstones suppliers come from outside of the US.  When a designer purchases a turquoise strand that is supposedly natural (you’ll see “AAA quality natural turquoise” on a $30 strand), they may not know better (or may not care, but that’s a whole other issue) than to sell you an inexpensive necklace as being natural turquoise.  Also take into account that fake turquoise jewelry, especially in jewelry using non-fine metals, is rarely prosecuted, and you’ll get the idea.

Put all of this information together and you’re probably wondering how we are a) able to get turquoise in the shape of beads that do not have to be set in metal; and b) how do we know we are selling real turquoise?

Simply put, we know we are selling real turquoise because we have researched for over three years to find reliable suppliers.  As we posted on our instagram, we finally found a company based in the U.S. - most turquoise in the market is mined in the Americas; and in this case, we purchased directly from the mines themselves.  We have two fine turquoise necklaces from another supplier we purchased about a year ago that we have been able to trust for over four years now.  The new mines we found are official suppliers of the Native American reserves - considering true Native American turquoise jewelry is guaranteed authentic turquoise, this goes a long ways towards credibility.  

How are we getting turquoise in the form of beads?  Easy - all natural turquoise that has been formed into beads has been stabilized.  What is that?  Our turquoise beads were formed by taking a natural turquoise nugget and inject a small amount of resin into the bead.  The resin basically gives the stone a backbone to keep its shape.  Don’t misunderstand, even stabilized these are very delicate necklaces!  Please note, there have been absolutely no coloring dyes, enhancements, or treatments applied to these stones.  I have scanned the certificate from the mining company and included it their words below.  


Sleeping Beauty - Arizona, USA

Sleeping Beauty turquoise is known for its sky blue coloring with only moderate black veining up to no veining at all in finer specimens.  It used to be found in a mine in Arizona that was called “sleeping beauty”, because the mine’s formation looked like a woman lying on her back with her arms crossed.  It is the only mine that produces Sleeping Beauty turquoise, so natural turquoise of this form is very limited.  It is still being mined today.

Kingman Turquoise - Arizona, USA

The Kingman Turquoise Mine is one of (if not the) oldest and highest producing mine in Arizona.  Native Americans found the mine over 1000 years ago.  It is famous for both its sky blue turquoise on one side of the mine and its green turquoise on the other side (via Turquoise Mountain).  Its sky blue variant is the most expensive and sought after turquoise specimen, and the greener variant rivals Sleeping Beauty in value and demand.


Nacozari Turquoise - Sonora, Mexico

Limited supply doesn’t even begin to describe the Nacozari turquoise.  Found in one copper mine in Sonora, Mexico; Nacozari turquoise is known for its two variants: a sky blue color, and a dark navy blue color.  Unfortunately a Canadian company bought out the copper mine and declared that they would allow no more turquoise mining and that the mine was closed “for good”; so whatever Nacozari turquoise is on the market is all that is left for the foreseeable future.  


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