Have you ever worn real turquoise jewelry and wondered about its origin and history? Turquoise is a stunning gemstone, used by indigenous people for thousands of years.
New Mexico’s turquoise mining industry not only provides a valuable resource for jewelry makers worldwide but has also played a significant role in developing the turquoise jewelry market.
At Palms Trading Company, we sell real turquoise jewelry bought directly from artisans and authenticated by our buyers. As a New Mexico-based business, we want you to know how the state’s turquoise mines have impacted tribal jewelry.
Early Turquoise Mines in New Mexico
New Mexico has been producing turquoise for centuries, with the Pueblo and Navajo people particularly known for their skill in shaping and carving this gemstone. The earliest known turquoise mines in New Mexico date to around 900 A.D. and were most likely established by the Pueblo people.
However, it wasn’t until the Spanish arrived in the 16th century that turquoise mining began in earnest, with the Spanish using Native American labor to extract the stone.
The Cerrillos and Turquoise Hill mines are 2 of the most famous mines from this period, with the Cerrillos mine being known for its beautiful blue-green turquoise.
Notable Turquoise Mines
As demand for turquoise increased in the late 1800s and early 1900s, new mines were established in New Mexico. These mines were often operated by non-Native American entrepreneurs who recognized the value of the turquoise trade.
One of the most famous mines was the Tiffany Mine, located in Cerrillos Hills near Santa Fe, New Mexico. You may be familiar with Tiffany & Co. since it’s the well-known luxury jewelry company heralding from New York City.
George F. Kunz, one of the gemologists for Tiffany & Co., announced in the late 1800s that since the turquoise from this mine closely resembled the color of their boxes, it was considered gem quality. It then became known as Tiffany blue turquoise.
The Lost Mine of Enchantment was discovered by a gold prospector in 1996. It’s located in Lincoln County, near the south-central part of New Mexico. The Enchantment Mine is one of the first to be discovered since the 1500s.
It’s said to produce high-quality turquoise ranging from deep green to deep blue.
Located near Silver City in the Burro Mountains, the turquoise of the Tyrone Mine is highly prized for its beauty and rarity.
Back in the 1980s, owner Phelps Dodge changed the copper processing to acid wash, destroying the turquoise in the copper. Known for its deep teal coloring, it’s said to be one of the most uniquely colored turquoise stones you can find.
The Hachita Mine was also located near Silver City and named after the nearby Hachita Mountain Range. This mine was used by the indigenous people well before settlers came into the area to begin mining the turquoise themselves during the late 1800s.
The original turquoise coming from the mine was more of a pure blue. Most of the Hachita turquoise on the market today is green with a light or dark matrix.
Depletion of the Mines
Over time, many New Mexico turquoise mines became depleted or were forced to close due to economic pressures.
The Cerrillos mine, which had been in operation since the 1700s, was one of the first mines to close. The Tiffany mine was also eventually depleted, and collectors and investors quickly snapped up the remaining turquoise. Today, it’s difficult to find genuine Tiffany turquoise.
Impact on Native American Jewelry
Despite the depletion of many of these mines, their legacy lives on in the beautiful jewelry produced. Native American artisans were, and are, exceptionally skilled at working with turquoise, and their jewelry remains highly sought after by collectors today.
One of the most significant periods for the use of turquoise in Native American jewelry was the late 1800s and early 1900s. This was when the Transcontinental Railroad began bringing tourists and settlers, increasing the demand for authentic tribal turquoise jewelry.
Through the influences of non-Native American entrepreneurs, Native American artists began incorporating turquoise into their jewelry designs in new and innovative ways. They created beautiful necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and other pieces that showcased the natural beauty of the stone.
Turquoise is believed to have spiritual and healing properties for many Native American tribes and cultures. It is said to promote good health, happiness, and good fortune. The gemstone also protects from negative energies and is used in many ceremonial practices.
In many Native American cultures, turquoise is highly respected and considered a sacred stone that can connect its wearer with the spiritual realm.
How To Identify Real Turquoise Jewelry
The depletion of turquoise mines created a growing market for faux turquoise jewelry. Here are some tips on how to authenticate real turquoise jewelry.
Carefully Read Labels
US law requires that all turquoise be transparently labeled as either natural or stabilized. Stabilized turquoise is still genuine, just treated to make the stone harder.
US law also requires that Native American jewelry be transparently labeled. If you see “Native American style” or “Indian style,” then the piece is not authentic.
Buy From Reputable Sellers
Do your research on the companies or stores selling turquoise jewelry. Reputable sellers often buy their jewelry directly from tribal artisans and can speak to the background of each piece. They’ll also follow US law requiring them to clearly label turquoise and authenticity.
Look at the Craftsmanship
Authentic Native American jewelry is hand-made. That means there won’t be machine stamping or perfectly symmetrical lines and shapes.
Also, authentic turquoise jewelry doesn’t use plastics or other synthetic materials. Look for metal markings indicating the type of metal used, such as silver or gold.
Where To Go for Real Turquoise Jewelry
At Palms Trading Company, we sell authentic tribal jewelry made by our regional artisans. We also carry a vast selection of pueblo pottery, fetishes, and kachina dolls.
Come by our Albuquerque store or shop online today to find your next piece of real turquoise jewelry!