5 Things You (Probably) Don’t Know About Turquoise

Here’s a prediction: Those of you headed to Las Vegas for the JCK show at the end of this month—as well as those who plan to join the jewelry industry there vicariously—will see a LOT of turquoise. The sky stone is enjoying a popularity not seen since the 1970s. That’s when fashion’s love affair with bohemian style fueled a turquoise boom that lifted the profile of the blue and green stones mined in the American Southwest.

This time around, countless designers—from both the fine and fashion jewelry realms—have incorporated turquoise into their repertoires. If we were talking about any other gem, that statement would suggest a tide of same-same looking jewelry coming our way—but turquoise is the Sybil of gemstones: It’s blessed with multiple personalities. Read on for a handful of surprising facts about one of the gem trade’s most popular yet least understood stones.

1. The first and foremost factor in turquoise valuation is origin.

The mine where a piece of turquoise was found—not its color, nor its matrix, which refers to the veins and patterns of the stone—is the primary factor in determining its value. Historically speaking, the finest turquoise came from the mountains of Iran’s Khorasan Province. In the 20th century, however, the copper-rich American Southwest supplanted Iran as the primary source of rare, and valuable, specimens, including collector favorites such as Bisbee, Lander Blue, and Number 8 (Black Web). Today, buyers are looking to China, a historical source that recently ramped up production, to supply the bulk of the world’s turquoise.

2. Prices on collectible turquoise can be sky-high because many come from so-called Nevada hat mines.

“Lander Blue because of its rarity is what we call a Nevada hat mine—that means you can almost put everything you mined in a hat,” says Joe Tanner, owner of Tanner’s Indian Arts in Gallup, N.M.

As a fourth-generation trader whose family has been supplying Native American artisans with turquoise since the 19th century, Tanner is intimately familiar with the appeal of turquoise. He describes “Bisbee blue” as a color of such intensity that it’s worth the ordeal that is required to extract the stone from the earth (at a wholesale value up to $500 per ct.!).

“Mining turquoise is the best known way to starve to death,” Tanner says. “Mother Nature is pretty stingy with her turquoise, and it’s not a picnic to get it out.”

3. Italians played a role in popularizing Sleeping Beauty turquoise.

For most of the world, the word turquoise conjures an image of Sleeping Beauty, the iconic robin’s egg–blue variety found in Arizona’s Gila County. And there’s an interesting reason for that. In the 1970s and 1980s, jewelers sought out turquoise boasting a consistent color and clean appearance, and only one mine in the world fit the bill and produced a steady supply: Sleeping Beauty.

Courtesy Sterling Turquoise

Sleeping Beauty cabochons

The Italian cameo-makers of Torre del Greco were among its biggest fans. “They preferred the light blue color because it looked great with coral,” says Matthew Foutz, cofounder of Sterling Turquoise in Phoenix.

In the decades since, Sleeping Beauty has become something of a poster child for the American gem industry. “There isn’t a more significant gemstone from this country than Sleeping Beauty,” says Foutz.

The gem’s legend—and pricing—is set to grow. In 2012, the Sleeping Beauty mine closed and sent prices skyrocketing (not because the mine was spent, but because the copper mine that owned the mining concession sold the mine, and its new owner decided not to pursue the turquoise mining operation, according to Foutz). Buyers used to pay $10 per ct. at wholesale for Sleeping Beauty; it’s now edging closer to $50 per ct.

4. The vast majority of turquoise is not the genuine article.

“Ninety-five percent of turquoise is imitation,” says Joe Dan Lowry, co-author of Turquoise: The World Story of a Fascinating Gemstone.

While statistics vary, there’s no denying that turquoise—whether it’s dyed, painted, enhanced, stabilized, impregnated with plastic or resin, or synthesized altogether—is an attractive stone to imitate. The popularity of Sleeping Beauty has played a significant role in that. “There was only so much stone to supply all that demand,” says Foutz. He described the rise of synthetic varieties of turquoise, as buyers clamored for the look of Sleeping Beauty at prices commensurate with fashion jewels.

The upshot for collectors—especially the Japanese and Germans, who are turquoise’s most ardent fans—is a greater focus on American-made gemstones.

“They don’t want anything to do with Chinese turquoise,” says Tanner. “The reason for that is everything the Chinese mine has has been impregnated with plastic, so you lose that zeal of the gemstone. They want United States domestic turquoise. The most famous and most sought after is the Lander Blue. Then there is Lone Mountain, which has been a much bigger producer than Lander Blue. And also incredible Bisbee turquoise.”

5. Make way for Kingman turquoise.

Now that Sleeping Beauty is no longer producing, expect Arizona’s Kingman mine to fill the gap in production. Light blue to dark blue in color, the material has a white matrix that is typically dyed black. There is also a beguiling green variety of Kingman. Designers such as Jacquie Aiche and Pamela Love are besotted with it. Turquoise from Arizona’s Morenci mine, another leading producer, is a close second.

Courtesy Sterling Turquoise

Rough turquoise from the Kingman mine in Mohave County, Ariz.

Regardless of the variety (personally, I’m partial to rare, spider-web-looking Number 8, while the celebrated Navajo jewelers Lee and Raymond Yazzie prefer Lone Mountain), you can’t go wrong with stocking turquoise.

“I’ve seen it come and go as a trend, but it’s starting to attain that classic status and become a staple, like pearls,” says Foutz. “It’s a great ride to be on.”

  • Mr.Mopar

    Would someone please clarify the information? Fifty DOLLARS a carat? That would make turquoise more valuable than gold. Shouldn’t that maybe read fifty CENTS a carat?

    • Erica Perry

      No, it’s not 50c a carat; the sleeping beauty type of turquoise is rare and in demand. So the prices have gone up a lot. Regular turquoise is still rather cheap.

      • Mr.Mopar

        Thanks, Erica. That’s remarkable. I have a small coffee can with about 2.5 pounds of Sleeping Beauty raw turquoise. My dad used to work in that mine many, many years ago, and he gave me that coffee can full of S.B. turquoise probably about 30 years ago. I never had any idea it had value. My family was all from Globe, AZ and turquoise was always somewhere around. Never gave it much thought. My dad used to give away a lot of that stuff. I guess he didn’t know it had any value either. Since I’m not a jewelry maker, if I could find someone who wanted some nice S.B. turquoise, I would probably sell it. Do you know anyone who buys raw Sleeping Beauty turquoise?

        • Tyler

          Hey Mr.Mopar,
          I would be interested in purchasing. Please let me know if you are still selling?

          • Mr.Mopar

            Hi Tyler,
            As you may have read in my communication with Erica, I have approximately 2.4 pounds of Sleeping Beauty turquoise. It’s some that my dad obtained when he worked at that mine in the 40s and 50s. About 30 years ago he gave me a coffee can of that turquoise. I never realized it had any particular value until recently. I would certainly consider selling it; it’s not doing me any good just sitting around, and since I don’t make jewelry I have no real use for it. I can send you a few photos of it if you like. I completely understand no one is going to buy this turquoise without being satisfied with its authenticity, and it would certainly be valued at a wholesale price since it’s raw and not polished or processed in any way. If I had even a ballpark number of its potential value, I could make a determination of where to proceed. Thanks! Mike

          • Tyler

            Hey Mike,
            I would love to see some pics, can you please send them to my email or text to phone. My email is Thpond@aol.com or 631-740-7627. I make and sell turquoise jewelry and would have it stabilized and cut. In order to make you a fair offer I would Definetly need to see some pics.

          • Kamen TDG

            Hi, How are you Jim Powell. Please send me picture of the parcel you have.
            i am also interested to buy anything unique you can get.
            Jas Long

          • Walter McMillan III

            Kamen TDG, I have 10 pounds of Sleeping Beauty Turquoise- varied grades and sizes. Contact me @ safetysurewalter@gmail.com.

          • Sheen Queen

            Hello I am looking for genuine Sleeping Beauty Turquoise if anyone is interested in selling. I can be reached at smirkar@hotmail.com. This is for my personal use so please be prudent on the pricing. Thank you

        • Kamen TDG

          Hi, How are you Jim Powell. Please send me picture of the parcel you have.
          I would be interested to buy SB Turquoise Large size 12-17gm each piece, A-grade on regular basis, Please let me know what you can get.
          Looking forward to hear from you.
          Jas Long

        • Tom Henderson

          Hello Mr. Mopar. Did you sell your Sleeping Beauty turquoise? I would be interested. Tom

          • Henry Frapp

            Hi Tom, I still have it. I haven’t really been aggressively marketing it because I just really don’t know how to find the right buyer. It’s just raw and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of interest in it. I had hopes that it might have some value but it sort of seems to not be what most people want. Most of the inquiries have been centered around people looking for refined/stabilized turquoise, which this is not. I have just about 2 1/2 pounds of it.

  • Heidi Paul

    My father gave me 3 large rocks of raw arizona turquoise. How would I go about getting a value for them?
    The prettiest one , in my uneducated opinion, probably weighs close to 3 pounds.. I’d be happy to send pictures.

    • Rob Schaefer

      Hi! If you like message me thru Facebook robschaefer.52 Turquoise has become a thing of hobby and work for me that has givin me more happiness and drive thanbanyyhing I’ve ever become involved with or have done. I’d be more than happy to give you my best idea as to what you may be holding. You can see my work there as well. It may be worth keeping it as is but if it is high grade or. Overall good material often it.can be worth having it cut and pushed into cabochons. if that’s the case and you would like to have some or all of it you cut and polished I am more than happy to to cut for anyone often for just a small share of the finished stones rather than cash payment. it helps me build my collection and I get to work with different varieties so that’s an option should you choose. If nearby I can even work up the stones in person or if not I can still make them shine like glass of willing to entrust the work to me to be done. no pressure I’m just as happy to give you just my best thoughts if you send pictures and if you like to talk some about making it ready for jewelry or whatever afterwards then we can chat about that too…. Look forward to taking a look at your stones -Rob

      • Stephanie Lynn Sansoucie

        Hi I was wondering if u could maybe tell me if what I have are really turquoise rocks and if so what is the value of them if I send u a pic of them

        • Rob Schaefer

          Sure, be glad to help!

    • Kamen TDG

      Hi, How are you Heidi Paul, Let me know the size , weight, if you can send me picture of what you have.
      I would be interested to buy SB Turquoise Large size 12-17gm each piece, A-grade on regular basis, Please let me know what you can get.
      Looking forward to hear from you.

      • Amal Ibrahim Balasmeh

        I have one natural turquoise stone.. where can I sell it?

        • democrat CockRoach

          Try ebay

  • Beau James

    hello i have a 375 carat turquoise stone with dark blue gold and quarts running all trough it and idea of its value can post pics if needed

  • Karan Rawlins

    My father gave me some turquoise he said was sleeping beauty turquoise. How do I know for sure if it is? I can see what looks like silver in some of the pieces. Some of the smaller pieces are in bags labeled River Gems and Findings. Others are unlabeled.
    I would like to know their value if possible and may be interested in selling some of them.

  • Anoush Na

    Very nice. I have about 200 Carat Natural Sleeping Beauty Cabochon.

    • nomi khan

      sir listen plzz

  • Michael Frizzell

    Hi, I have recently inherited a fair amount of turquoise from my father who made native American jewelry, and was wondering if I sent you some pictures you could tell me it’s value.

  • Sharon Lewis Mayhugh

    Hello: I was gifted two string of turquoise stones from Tibet by a famous San Francisco attorney for whom I worked in the late 1980’s. He went on a tour which included Tibet and brought these back to me. They were on a couple of white cotton strings. They are drilled so I made a simple necklace and two strand bracelet on wire combined with gold-filled beads. Are these Tibetian turquoise stones of value? Thanks.

  • Donna Gotches Knox

    I have a ring with four sleeping beauty stones and they are from the Globe mine before it closed. The ring was stepped on and one stone came out,but all the stones are in good condition. I went to a jeweler today and would cost $70 to fix,so if anyone wants to buy the ring and either remove the stones, or fix the ring, please let me know. Donna

  • Leeanna

    I have some for sale