Nevada Turquoise gem stones TURQUOISE: COMING BACK IN FASHION?



Probably more than any other gem, turquoise has been subject to the ups and downs of the fads of fashion. This has been true for over a century in the US, with the first surge in demand coming in the early 1890s. Those of us who are old enough, we remember when turquoise was really in vogue and popular during the 1960s and 1970s.  At that time, the strong demand caused a huge increase in turquoise prices, and much turquoise was mined in Nevada. The popularity of Turquoise fell off somewhat in the early 1980s, but it has been consistently increasing in popularity in recent years and definitely is making another comeback. It seems the tides have changed again and many fashion magazines have featured turquoise jewelry recently. Well-known entertainment and TV personalities once again regularly feature turquoise to accessorize their wardrobes. Both Lapidary Journal and Rock and Gem magazines have done special "turquoise feature" issues within recent years. In addition, there has been a "run" on rough turquoise the last couple years in at the Tucson gem shows. Prices for rough are increasing - in fact its quite difficult to buy high quality natural rough turquoise like our Nevada mines produce. Every day more and more people are coming to appreciate the enduring beauty of fine turquoise. So is turquoise coming back into contemporary fashion? It certainly seems so. While it is true that fashion trends will come and go, fine quality always endures and never goes out of style. Natural, gem-grade turquoise will always stay beautiful to look at and be exciting to wear.


Folks often are curious about why gem quality natural turquoise jewelry sells at such a high price. Unfortunately, this is often asked by way of comparison with plastic turquoise stimulants or plasticized / stabilized turquoise. Actually, a similar situation exists in many other gemstone markets as well. Fine natural diamond, ruby and emerald command very high prices. However, there are inexpensive glass stimulants and good looking synthetic materials on the market for those stones as well. Cubic Zirconia costume jewelry is available at a tiny fraction of the cost of a genuine diamond. Most people have difficulty telling the difference between the two without special equipment, but history shows us that even a small natural diamond will always be considered many times more valuable than even a large cubic zirconia. Stimulants are simply not the real thing - by definition, they are an imitation.

Down through the ages and especially now, fine gems and jewelry have often been a commodity more stable than money. Imitations and stimulants have their place, but they have never held the full beauty, rarity and investment value of genuine gems. Imitations are common and produced inexpensively by the ton in factories, so they never have any real value, but genuine gemstones are truly rare and have significant value because they are made in limited quantities by nature. We must realize that turquoise is a finite resource, one that is becoming more rare every day, rarer than diamonds or gold and its value will likely remain strong. As a result, top quality turquoise is never cheap, in the same way that real diamonds are always far more costly than costume jewelry imitations.


Turquoise is still mined in a primitive manner by breaking it out of rock with a pick or a hammer and chisel. This type of technique is necessary to remove the turquoise from its mother rock without damaging it. It is a very labor intensive process, so it is no accident that most of the world's turquoise supply now comes from China where manual labor costs are very low.  Most of the turquoise mined world-wide is just not hard enough to use without treatment. Some material is so soft it can be cut with a knife, it it often termed chalk. That kind of stone cannot be used by jewelry craftsmen  without first being impregnated with plastic. Only a small portion of the world's turquoise comes right out of the ground as top, gem grade - this kind of turquoise is quite hard, and will not scratch easily with everyday use. Its rarity and the costs of hand mining contribute to its high cost. It is important to buy from a  reliable source that can be trusted to be honest about the gems being sold.

High-grade turquoise is sold by the ounce, or gram, other natural material is sold by the pound. Finished turquoise is sold by the carat (which is 1/5 of a gram). With losses of 60% in cabochon making, and as much as 85% in bead making, most of what the Lapidary artist ends up with is very expensive "mud". The turquoise that cost $1200 a pound to buy in the rough turns into a couple ounces of cabs or an ounce and a half necklace. Cabs may have a slightly better recovery rate, but there is still a considerable loss on cutting. This is another factor in the high cost of natural gem grade turquoise.

It is now fairly common now to see beautiful natural American turquoise processed overseas where beads are made; sliced, drilled, and strung on filament. These necklaces still cost from $600 and up per strand for a small choker at wholesale! If the beads are processed by hand by a famous Native American bead maker and the value increases considerably. A similar process applies to cabochons, which are also processed overseas. This is another factor is to why gem turquoise has a significant value - the labor cost of cutting isn't cheap! In today's retail market for top quality gem turquoise, you must expect to pay from   $10.00/carat (for loose stones) and possibly up to as much as $50/carat or more for turquoise in finished jewelry.

If you would like to see some photos of our Nevada turquoise mines, and get a feel for what a turquoise mine looks like out in the field, then take a look at our TURQUOISE MINE TOUR PAGE. If you'd like to see our silver turquoise jewelry, or just get a piece of natural Nevada turquoise for yourself, you can take a look here: TURQUOISE JEWELRY    If you'd like to see some of the turquoise cabochons that have been produced from our mines, you can take a look at this page: TURQUOISE CABOCHONS

Please note that the author, Chris Ralph, retains all copyrights to this entire document and it may not be reproduced, quoted or copied without permission.

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