Turquoise, the Sacred Stone of the Southwest

Doug Williams' turquoise is in different phases, starting with raw stone slab and ending in a cabochon.

Doug Williams’ turquoise is in different phases, starting with raw stone slab and ending in a cabochon.

Linda Shanahan

Turquoise was thought to have been sacred pieces of the sky by Persians, Tibetans, and Mayans. This stone is a combination of aluminum, copper, phosphorus, water, and other local ingredients responsible for changing the color or adding matrix. The most rare and valuable stones are found right here in the Southwest. There are about 20 mines in the Southwest United States that supply or have supplied gem-quality turquoise. The most common mines are found in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. Most of these mines have been mined out, with the exception of Nevada and a few in Arizona. Turquoise stones set in silver from Navajo artisans have become an icon of this part of the country. The silversmithing aspect dates back to 1828, when the Spanish occupied the Southwest region and shared this skill with the tribe.

When purchasing turquoise, be aware that there are many different grades of stones. Stabilized stones are soft, low-grade turquoise, that has gone through a special process that enhances its color and hardness. This process involves putting the stone under pressure so that it absorbs a type of clear filler made of epoxy or plastic. The process makes the stone harder, making it easier to manipulate and cut. There are also reconstituted or chalk stones. These are actually fragments of stone that are crushed into a powder and mixed with epoxy. This results in harder blocks that can be cut into slabs or stone shapes. Lastly, there are imitation (dyed plastic) stones on the market made to look like turquoise. Make sure you know what you are buying. High-grade turquoise is worth three times the value of gold, because it truly is that rare. If it is inexpensive, it is not good turquoise. If you are purchasing a silver piece, look for a “925” or a “Sterling” stamp somewhere on the back. This will assure you are not getting silver-plate or some other metal.

As a healing stone, turquoise is among the crystal healing master stones. According to followers of the New Age, the healing powers of turquoise can benefit the whole body, with special strengths in healing ailments of the immune, respiratory, waste, and skeletal systems.

Regardless of what attracts you to this stone, natural, gem-quality turquoise is one of the most rare and most collectable stones in our world today.

Please note: Doug’s creations, along with other SLRGS Club silversmiths, will be available for holiday sales Dec. 1 to Dec. 20. For more information, check the December Splash under Silver Belles. Shopping will be by appointment only, for social distancing purposes.