Friday, June 26, 2009

Turquoise of the Southwest

What do you think of when you hear the word turquoise? Most of us think of the Southwest,where turquoise has been a part of Native American tradition for thousands of years.

Turquoise has been minded in many places throughout the world. Clear blue Persian turquoise it thought by many to be among the finest turquoise. Mines in India produce green turquoise. Chinese mines are currently selling a great deal of turquoise in varying colors to the jewelry industry. Mines in the southwestern US, many family owned, yield turquoise in a variety of colors and qualities.

Turquoise forms when water percolates through rocks that contain copper, aluminum and other minerals. A chemical reaction takes place that results in deposits of what we know as turquoise. That's a simplified way of describing a process that takes millions of years and only happens when a complex set of conditions come together.

Many ask why turquoise is different colors? The blue in turquoise is enhanced when copper is present. If the area where turquoise is formed contains more aluminum, the turquoise will shade to green. When zinc is present, the deposits are a yellow-green color, a rare combination that so far has been found in only a few areas, including the Carico Lake and Blue Ridges mine in Nevada.

The dark markings in turquoise is what they call matrix, the rock that the turquoise formed in. When stones are cut, some of the matrix remains bound to the turquoise Matrix color varies because turquoise can form in different types of rock
**black matrix may be iron pyrite
** yellow matrix could be rhyolite
** brown is probably iron oxide
** The term spider webbing refers to stones with thin lines of matrix distributed throughout them.

Hardness of turquoise used for jewelry usually varies from 5-6 on the Mohs scale. The hardest turquoise is usually found nearest the surface of the earth, where it's had a chance to dry,or cure. Softer turquoise is chalk like---too soft and porous to be used unless it's treated.

Stabilized Turquoise is when an epoxy resin or other substance is infused into the pores of the turquoise. No longer porous, it's color remains the same over time. Natural turquoise develops a lovely patina as its worn and absorbs oils from our skin.
Stabilization allows designers to use poorer-quality turquoise that might otherwise not be suitable for jewelry.

Many also color treat their turquoise with chemicals to enhance or change the color to make it more appealing to the eye.

Other techniques are used to turn soft,porous turquoise into a usable product. Watch out for terms like reconstituted, which describes turquoise chips that have been mixed with resin then molded into shapes.

Most of the turquoise found in today's jewelry has been treated or enhanced in some way, and there's nothing wrong with that as long as you know it is treated and pay a suitable price for it. If jewelry designers had to rely on only high quality, natural stones, high prices would prohibit many of us from owning any turquoise at all.

Natural turquoise many have been cut and polished, but no artificial changes have been made to the gems. Color many change over time as body oils and other sources of moisture are absorbed into the stones. Only high quality turquoise can be used in it's natural state.

Handle your turquoise jewelry carefully to avoid scratching it. Don't store turquoise with harder gemstones or other material that might rub against it and cause damage.

Keep turquoise away from high heat and chemicals such as oils,perfumes, and household cleaners. Even stabilize turquoise can be affected by a constant bombardment of chemicals.

Clean your turquoise in warm , sudsy water and dry it immediately with a soft cloth. Avoid commercial jewelry cleansers.

Any time you pay a premium price for jewelry you should be sure the person you are buying it from is reputable and knowledgeable about all aspects of the item.

We tend to become attached to our turquoise jewelry. Choose turquoise because it speaks to you, not because it is the current fashionable color with the currently-popular amount of matrix.

Wear it often and you'll never give it up.

Compliments of Carly Wickell !

Thanks to you all !

Gayla Self

Friday, April 10, 2009

Native American Turquoise Jewelry

In the 1920's and 1930's, the concho belt changed from a single belt to a more ornate belt with one to multiple turquoise stones in all the individual sections of the belt. The tourist jewelry of that era is highly collectible today. It began to be noticed that sales of Native American Jewelry had significant potential to provide a reliable income source to tribal members across Arizona and New Mexico. During those years, schools and classes were established at several reservations to train young men in the trade of making Native American styles Sterling and turquoise jewelry. In the following decades, many very talented artists came out of these schools. During the years following WWII, many Americans traveled across the country, and on their trips through the Arizona-New Mexico area, discovered that local traders had rooms full of this Native American jewelry, which the traders called pawn pieces. Most of these were jewelry pieces the Indian people made for themselves and pawned for one of two reasons: either they needed money, or it was considered a safe storage place. As a result of the popularity of these pawn pieces, a host of trading posts sprang up in the Southwest and knowledge of this unique style of jewelry became much more widespread. New jewelry was also created to meet the growing tourist demand. Those who appreciated the beautiful American turquoise began to recognize the general difference in matrix patterns and color, etc. between the different mine sources. During this time, which extended to the early 1950's, turquoise began to be named, for sales purpose, after the mine in which it was found, such as Lone Mountain, Royston, Blue Gem, and others.
An increasing number of American Indians continued to handcraft silver jewelry in the 1950's and early 1960's in the traditional way. Up to that time their work was generally popular only in the southwest region of the US, but the increasing amount of material available began to enable a larger audience to see and appreciate this beautiful style of jewelry art. Even so,it did not become widely popular across the entire US until the late 1960's and early 1970's. At that time the simple and natural beauty of turquoise jewelry became the rage of the American fashion scene. The prices of the old pawn jewelry rocked upward, and a craze for Indian turquoise jewelry swelled and boosted demand (and prices) for turquoise to previously undreamed levels.
The increased prices and demand caused the re-opening of many mines and the import of Indian "style" jewelry made by manufacturers in Mexico, Taiwan, and the Philippines. In time, the market became glutted, the consumer was confused by overpriced synthetic, stabilized and plastic imitation materials and by 1981 the supply was height abut the demand was gone. The market collapsed and most of the American turquoise mines were shut down and have remained closed since that time. Turquoise demand hit a low water mark in the early 1980's , but has been slowly and steadily increasing in popularity since that time. Most American mines has remained closed and in recent years high demand for natural American turquoise has caused once again significant increases in prices.
Many artists have now started using a variety of other stone alone or to compliment their turquoise pieces. The belt pictured above is an good example. This sugalite stone concho is a beautiful work or art.
Hope you enjoyed a little history on the Native American Jewelry.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Native American Turquoise Jewelry

The beautiful blue and green hues of turquoise have long been prized by the Native American people of the southwestern part of the USA. Entire cultures were built on mining turquoise and crafting sacred and special items from the attractive stone in areas which are now part of both New Mexico and Nevada. American Indian people were making necklace strands and other turquoise jewelry by hand many centuries before the first European settlers arrived. Because turquoise was so highly prized, it was widely exchanged and circulated among the Native people of the Americans, and then each of the tribes developed their own unique names for the striking blue stone. Scientific testing has proven that some ancient beads found in central and South American were originally dug from the Cerrillos turquoise mines near Santa Fe, New Mexico.

When the Europeans brought the technology of working metals like silver with them to the new world, the American Indians who learned the silver smith trade eventually began to add turquoise with the silver to develop their own special type of jewelry. A Zuni man by the name of Kineshde is believed to be the first to add turquoise to the hand crafted silver items he was making in the late 1800s.
Turquoise first came into popular high fashion in the US during the early 1890s, but Persian turquoise was the focus of the demand at that time, and only a few deposits of high quality turquoise were known in the US. In the following years, a number of high quality deposits previously worked by Native Americans were " rediscovered", and shortly after 1900 Americans began to recognize that American turquoise from the Western US was the equal of any in the world. Interest again began to peak around 1908-1910, and a considerable amount of American turquoise was mined, especially in Nevada. The majority of the Turquoise jewelry produced prior to 1910 was made by well-known jewelry manufacturing companies like Tiffany's, and was produced in the standard Victorian styles of those time.
None of this was what we would recognize as Indian style turquoise jewelry. There were a few Native American making turquoise and silver pieces in what we now see as the traditional style, but they produced very few pieces and their simple tools increased the man hours each piece needed for completion. That era was essentially the dawn of the traditional styles for silver-turquoise jewelry. America's fascination with turquoise and genuine Indian Jewelry really began in earnest during the 1920's when more people from outside the southwest began to see the beauty of this artistic jewelery. At that time, the Harvey House restaurant chain opened a number of facilities across the southwest during the great days of popular rail travel across the US. At first, Indian Jewelry was only sold as curios in the restaurants for the patrons touring the west. Earrings and thin, small bracelets stamped with arrows and bows and containing symmetrically cut small oval pieces of turquoise were the types most in demand. The pieces produced during this time are still termed as having been made in the "Fred Harvey" styles. Heavy Indian Jewelry did not become popular until after 1925, when the classic squash-blossom craze lasted until about 1940, when they were discontinued for the most part by most Indian artisans for requiring too much work and too much turquoise.
As you can see this beautiful stone has been around a very long time, and admired as much now as in the past. It is a staple in everyone's jewelry box.

Friday, February 13, 2009

How to spot fake Turquoise Jewelry

For at least 8000 years people have coveted turquoise. In the early times, different cultures believed turquoise brought luck. Due to the high demand, turquoise was heavily mined leading to the decrease of high quality gemstones. Different enhancements used on low quality stones make them difficult to tell from the real thing. Follow these steps to spot fake turquoise.
1) Ask where the jewelry comes from. Today, turquoise is mined in Iran, China, Tibet and the southwestern United States. Fake turquoise can come from anywhere.
2) Look at the vibrant colors of real turquoise, which ranges from a light sky blue to a gray-green color. You want to see a uniform color throughout the stone. Fake or low-quality turquoise is a pale, chalky stone injected with dye. Turquoise comes from a process of millions of years where water leaks over rocks with high mineral content of copper, iron and aluminum.
3) Study the quality of the color. The bad or fake stuff often appears clear, as if you could see through it. The good stuff carries a more solid, opaque quality to it. However, even good quality turquoise can fade over time when exposed to sunlight, heat or chemicals.
4) Check the turquoise for the existence of veins or blotches, which are called the matrix. Although not all real turquoise has it ,many stones do have a matrix that varies from white to black in color ( see the above photo for a heavily matrix-ed piece).
5) Notice any smell to the gemstone. Reconstituted turquoise carries a certain odor that comes from the resin used to bond turquoise dust and pieces together. Dyes and minerals try to duplicate the color and matrix of real turquoise.
6) Price the piece of jewelry and expect it to be high. With turquoise supplies dwindling, the prices of good turquoise are rising. Consider high quality turquoise as an investment that will appreciate like diamonds or emerald.
7) Buy real turquoise jewelry from a reputable dealer and ask for a certificated of authenticity. Most of the good pieces are signed by the artist.
Hope this helps you with your turquoise shopping.