With a history set deep in the East, this iconic stone found a fashionable foothold in the West. Today, the turquoise trend reaches the entire fashion industry while setting wearers apart from the crowd.
By Kate Bradley Byars
Turquoise is not new, nor trendy, for traditional followers of the Western lifestyle. But today, the jewelry is causing a stir on social media and in new fashion areas because of the individuality it portrays.
While images of Navajo tribesmen sporting the stone have been inviting emulation since the 1800s, the gemstone’s true history defies its Wild West stereotype. Turquoise originated in Persia, the present-day Middle East, and has even been found in ancient Egyptian jewelry.
Today, the gemstone is re-emerging as a means to add color and status to personal fashion and home décor from the East Coast to the West. Fashionable wearers stride across the streets of Europe, walk the New York City runways and step off planes in Dubai, reaching everywhere in between, too.
“Turquoise always has a story to tell,” said Amanda Alexander of Peyote Bird Designs, a Santa Fe, New Mexico-based company started by Mark Alexander in 1973 to focus on quality gemstone designs. “Like all old and beautiful things, turquoise has come to represent many things to many cultures. In our experience, trends may come and go, but turquoise is forever.”
The People’s Stone
While turquoise is more often associated with the Southwestern United States, the gemstone’s name actually derived from the trade route that ran from the mines in Persia, through markets in Turkey and to purchasers in Europe. According to Prism, the American Gem Trade Association’s publication, turquoise was the first stone to be worked into jewelry by the Persians, and turquoise stones were found in gravesites dating back to before 3,000 B.C.
Laura Ingalls of Laura Ingalls Designs, a Wisconsin-based jewelry company, says turquoise is known as the people’s stone. In addition to selling accouterments featuring the stone, her company shares turquoise jewelry trends on Facebook and Instagram with a growing number of followers.
“It is amazing that the stone is so old, but still so beautiful,” Laura said. “Egyptian tombs, like that of King Tut, have beautiful pieces made of turquoise.”
The stone’s lore, including its name, made its way to the New World with the 15th century explorers. Spanish explorers like Francisco de Vazquez de Coronado encountered Pueblo and Native Americans wearing the iconic blue and green gemstone in present-day New Mexico and Arizona. American history suggests that the Pueblo people of New Mexico mined the stone as early as 900 A.D.
In the late 1880s, the beautiful stones were set in gold and silver to make them more marketable to European settlers, kick starting a thriving turquoise market that continues today in the United States. Purchasers are faced with a variety of color options and price points. It can be daunting to look at a full turquoise squash blossom necklace priced near to $1,000 and weigh its worth.
For as widely available as turquoise seems to shoppers, there are only 42 producing mines in the Southwestern United States located namely across Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, according to the AGTA. Each mine yields stones of distinct color and matrix variations.
Turquoise is formed within an aluminous rock or host stone. When groundwater seeps into the stone, it brings minerals such as copper and aluminum together to cause a chemical reaction that forms veins of turquoise shot throughout the host stone. The stone’s color is derived from the heavy metals in the ground where it is absorbed, and the matrix—marks of contrast that look like sandy lines—is determined by the host stone, such as copper.
Some mines produce hard stone of the highest quality; others produce beautiful, softer stones, which require stabilization to maintain their shape. Laura says each mine has a method to stabilize these softer stones with an epoxy or resin that dries hard and helps hold the stone together. This type of stone is known as stabilized turquoise. Peyote Bird Designs created a sales guide that outlines the types of turquoise stones sold in the industry:
Find Our Fashionistas
Brit West • Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Facebook: Brit West
Cholla’s Turquoise • Azle, Texas
Facebook: Cholla’s Turquoise
Laura Ingalls Designs • Denver, Colorado
Facebook: Laura Ingalls Designs
Peyote Bird Designs • Santa Fe, New Mexico
Facebook: Peyote Bird Designs
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Fall 2017 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.