For years, turquoise mining was extensively carried out in the southwestern United States, with stones from certain mines prized for their quality and rarity. Although the stone remains popular today, many of those mines no longer mine turquoise. That scarcity affects the price of natural turquoise. Turquoise has been a mainstay in Native American jewelry for years. The stone is not only symbolic but sacred to certain tribes. Its meaning and beauty reflect cultural beliefs held by Native people about the world itself.
Turquoise is a semi-precious stone, but there is a variety in the quality that makes the price vary as well. Mines in Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado all produce the high-quality stones needed for use in jewelry. For the work they put in, less than five percent of what they take out is of the necessary quality to be used in fine jewelry. The time and labor necessary to prepare the stones for use add to the overall cost.
The largest change behind the price of natural turquoise can be found in the closure of many of the mines which formerly marketed the raw stones. Governmental restrictions on mining combined with higher costs for permits, equipment, and other necessities made the mining of turquoise more difficult and less profitable. As turquoise is found in conjunction with other minerals such as copper, some mines chose to forego the turquoise and concentrate on other operations. Some closed altogether.
Another issue for mine owners was turquoise coming from out of the country, in particular from China. The popularity of the stone created the incentive for other countries like China to produce their own turquoise for sale in the world market. Unable to compete with the cheaper stones being imported, some mine owners in the US opted to slow down or cease turquoise mining, with the belief they could go back to it after the influx of Chinese turquoise slowed. But that hasn’t happened. Today it is estimated that close to seventy-five percent of the turquoise on the market comes from China.
These issues have affected the price of turquoise and subsequently, the price of Native American jewelry. With the high-quality natural stones becoming less accessible, the price for those that remain has risen. There is still turquoise coming from China, but the quality of much of it is not up to the same standard as the raw stones mined previously. Often Chinese turquoise is enhanced or stabilized, and there is some that are synthetic rather than natural stones. The use of these pieces affects the overall quality of the jewelry. Buyers interested in authenticity will find the higher price for natural, high-quality stones is worth the investment.
A buyer seeking genuine Native American jewelry may find that the price for a piece is a bit higher than manufactured pieces, but they can be assured that the quality of the jewelry they purchase will be much higher as well. In spite of its price increase, turquoise remains an important stone for Native artists and their work.