Turquoise has been used as an iconic gemstone in Chinese jewelry for centuries. Chinese bronze artwork with turquoise accents dates back 3,500 years ago. Chinese turquoise was often used to supplement or replace jade, which was valued higher by Chinese culture throughout history. Much of the turquoise used by Chinese artists was imported from the Mongol and Turkic regions of central Asia. Wide-scale turquoise mining is a relatively modern development in the central Chinese province of Hubei.
Chinese Turquoise Color and Grade
China is a vast country, and the many turquoise mines within it produce colors across the entire range from light blue to dark green. High grade Chinese turquoise compares well with the best American stones, bringing deep colors and spiderweb matrix. However, almost no high grade Chinese turquoise is sold in the United States. High grade stones are snapped up quickly by artists and collectors within China, so any Chinese turquoise found in the United States is going to be medium grade at best.
Most Chinese turquoise found today is lower grade stabilized chalk turquoise. The stones are infused with resin, to make the stone workable. Some less scrupulous producers will also inject the resin with dyes, to make the stone’s colors more vibrant. Sadly, this type of stone is cheap to produce and use in jewelry, so many foreign reproductions will use Chinese turquoise. If you stop into a tourist trap along a New Mexican freeway, it is likely to be full of pieces using this stabilized Chinese turquoise.
Chinese Turquoise Mines
Modern Chinese turquoise accounts for much of the current world turquoise supply. Chinese mines are productive, and much less restricted by regulations than their Western counterparts. In fact, the Chinese government has had to slow or stop production at many mines in recent years, due to rampant pollution and safety hazards. A turquoise fashion boom has created a higher internal demand for turquoise within China, as well. These factors make Chinese turquoise less dominant on the current open market. Where Chinese turquoise accounted for upwards of 80% of all raw turquoise sold in the United States in the early 2000’s, now that number is closer to 50%.