There are many different kinds and types of turquoise here in the U.S., where most of it is mined in the southwest - Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. And, there are several Native American tribes that use it in their silver jewelry making - Navajo, Zuni, and Hopi Indians are the masters of turquoise and silver jewelry making. They learned their silver smithing skills from the Mexican Native tribes when they traded their sheep and cattle for silver smithing instructions. Today, our Native Americans are making beautiful silver jewelry encrusted with beautiful turquoise gems, that they have learned how to make from generations ago.
Turquoise is an opaque, blue to green mineral that is hydrous pohosphate of copper and aluminum. Its chemica formula is CUAle(PO4)4(OH)8 * 4H2O. The word turquoise comes from Old French in the 16th century and it means "Turkish" because the mineral was first brought to Europe from Turkey but came originally from the turquoise mines in Persia, which is modern day Iran. Turquoise is also mined in China and the turquoise from both these places is very popular in jewely today. I just happen to prefer the turquoise jewelry made by Native Americans, although I have worn Chinese turquoise also.
The color of turquoise varies from white to powder blue, to sky blue and from blue-green to a yellowish-green. Blue is attributed to idiochromatic copper and the green is believed to be the result of iron impurities or dehydration of the gem. Turquoise may be peppered with flecks of pyrite or interspersed with dark, spidery limonite veining.
Turquoise is a secondary mineral coming originally from copper. Copper comes from chalcopyrite, malachite or azurite.
Aluminum comes from feldspar and phosphorus comes from apatite.
Therefore, turquoise comes from a little bit of all these minerals to make up its substance. Climate also plays an important role in forming the turquoise gem as it is usually found in arid regions, filling or encrusting cavities and fractures in highly altered volcanic rock. Turquoise occurs as a vein or seam fillings and as compact nuggets mostly small in size.
Turquoise was one of the first gems to be mined here in the U.S. Many historic U.S. mines have been depleted already, but some are still worked today. Usually they are still worked by hand with no mechanization today. Often turquoise is found as a by-product of large copper mining operations in the U.S.
Today, Arizona is the most important producer of the turquoise gem by value. Several important turquoise producing mines in the state are Sleepiing Beauty Mine in Globe, Arizona and Kingman Mine in Kingman, Arizona. Nevada is another state that is a major producer of turquoise. There are approximately 120 mines which have produced significant quantities of turquoise. The chief producers of turquoise in Nevada are Lander and Esmeralda counties.
Native Americans and Turquoise Jewelry Making Today, Native American Jewelry making, using the turquoise gem, is defined as the personal adornment and accessories made by the indiginous people of the U.S. The silver and turquoise jewelry reflects the cultural diversity and history of the Native American Tribes here in the U.S. It remains, even today, a major statement of tribal and individual identity to the Indian silver smithers, metal smiths, beaders, carvers, and lapidaries combine a variety of metals, precious and semi-precious gemstones and other materials to create jewelry. Contemporary Native American jewelry can be made from hand-quarried and processed stones and shells to computer-fabricated and titanium jewelry. I prefer the hand-quarried and hand-made turquoise and silver pieces made by the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni tribes who reside in the southwest U.S.
Silversmithing and silver working was adopted by native southwestern artists beginning in the 1850s when Mexican silversmiths had to trade their silverwork knowledge for cattle from the Navajo Indians in the U.S. The Zuni Indians learned silvermaking from the Navajo and by 1890 the Zuni had taught the Hopi how to make silver jewelry.
The Dine people or the Navajo began working silver in the 19th century. In l853, Atsidi Sani was the first Navajo silversmith and learned his skills from a Mexican silversmith and in 1880 the first turquoise was known to be set in silvers. As time moved on, turquoise became more readily available and used in the Navajo silver jewelry. Today, turquoise is closely associated with Navajo silver jewelry making.
Silver jewelry making was introduced to the Zuni Pueblo native americans in the 19th century. Today, silver smithing and turquoise in jewelry making as always been in use in the Zuni region. They use turquoise as well as jet, argillite, steatite, red shale, freshwater clam shell, abalone and spiny oyster in their jewelry making.
Kineshde, a Zuni silversmith in the late 1890's is given credit for first combining silver and turquoise in his jewelry. Zuni jewelers soon became known for their turquoise clusterwork.
The Hopi Indian silversmiths are known today for their overlay technique used in silver jewelry designs. WWII Hopi indian veterans, through the U.S. Department of Interior, learned cutting, grinding and polishing, die-stamping and sand casting of stylized Hopi designs for jewelry.
Victor Coochwytewa, is noted as the most innovative jeweler for adapting the overlay technique to Hopi jewelry. Coochwytewa, along with Paul Saufkie and Fred Kabotie, organized the original Hopi Silvercraft Cooperative Guild within their Hopi Indian Tribe.
Overlay is constructed with two layers of silver sheets. One sheet has the design etched on it and then it is welded onto the second sheet with cut out designs. The background is made darker through oxidation and the top layer is polished where the bottom layer of silver is allowed to oxidize. The un-oxidized top layer is made into a cut-out design, which allows the dark bottom layer to show through. I am so fortunate to have a silver Hopi cuff bracelet made of this silver overlay and it is beautiful Hopi Indian craftsmanship.
Surprisingly, except for my trip to Colorado in my early 20's, I have not traveled to the southwest in search of Native American jewelry. I am fortunate to have a great authentic Native American Indian Jewelry store right here in Naples. FL. The last several pieces I have bought have been from this Naples store, so I haven't had to go far for the real deal. The gallery manager, Lisa Milburn, is a reputable buyer of southwest native Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni jewelry pieces, and brings it to us here in Naples. She has another store in Highlands, NC, as well. If interested, you can contact her at:
Silver Eagle 651 Fifth Ave. South Naples, FL 239-403-3033 or Silver Eagle PO Box 422 468 Main St.
Highlands, NC 28741 828-526-5190 I know that over the years, Native Americans have gotten a "bad rap" and have been disenfranchised over gambling casinos and alcohol and drug problems. But, in the area of silver smithing and turquoise jewelry making, Native American Indians are artistic masters. They have spent many hours learning and honing their trade. And, Native American Indians are renowned for their beautiful and creative jewelry making. Their jewelry making represents the best of them, their culture and the great heights our Native American Indians can achieve. They are to be commended for their creativity, originality and painstakingly hours upon hours it takes to make their lovely creations. I hope you will enjoy turquoise and silver jewelry as much as I have, and at the same time, have a beautiful keepsake made by our native country The links below can help you get started on obtaining information and on starting to buy your own turquoise and silver jewelry crafted by Native American Indians.
I have recently relocated to Taos, New Mexico and I am in turquoise heaven here. The pueblo Native Americans here make beautiful silver and inlaid turquoise of all colors in their jewelry here. It is gorgeous. Now, I can actually visit the Native American tribes and particular silver smiths I mention in this article. Look for more articles on this topic.