Why is Turquoise Becoming Rarer and More Valuable Than Diamonds?

With depleting mines, turquoise, the most sacred stone to the Navajo, has become increasingly rare.

turq

We publish courtesy of: Smithsonian

Author: Saba Naseem

sky-blue colored stone with a gray and gold spiderweb matrix sits melded into an intricate silver ring with engraved feathers along the sides. This one piece of jewelry may have taken years to make and is worth thousands of dollars, but the story it tells is priceless. It’s the story of a stone, of a culture, a history and of tradition—the story of the Navajos.

FROM THIS STORY

The stone is turquoise, an opaque mineral, chemically a hydrous phosphate of copper and aluminum. Its natural color ranges from sky blue to yellow-green and its luster from waxy to subvitreous. The mineral is typically found in arid climates—major regions include Iran (Persia), northwest China, the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt and the American Southwest. The word itself is derived from an Old French word for “Turkish” traders who first brought the Persian turquoise to Europe. It has graced the halls and tombs of Aztec kings and Egyptian pharaohs, such as Tutankhamun, whose golden funeral mask is inlaid with turquoise.

The importance of this gem lies far beyond its name (Doo tl’ izh ii in Navajo) and characteristics in the culture as showcased in the exhibition “Glittering World: Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family,” which opened last week at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City. The show features more than 300 examples of contemporary jewelry made by the Yazzie family of Gallup, New Mexico. It is the museum’s first exhibition to explore the intersection of art and commerce and the personification of culture through jewelry. Although turquoise is not the only stone incorporated in the jewelry, it may be the most important.

“Turquoise is a great example of a secular and sacred stone,” says Lois Sherr Dubin, the curator for the “Glittering World” exhibition. “There is no more important defining gem stone in Southwest jewelry and part of the exhibition’s purpose is to expose people to turquoise that is not dyed or stabilized, but is the authentic stone.”

Turquoise is a central element in Navajo religious observances. One belief is that to bring rainfall, a piece of turquoise must be cast into a river, accompanied by a prayer. Its unique hue of green, blue, black and white represents happiness, luck and health and if given as a gift to someone, it is seen as an expression of kinship.

There are some 20 mines throughout the American Southwest that supply gem-quality turquoise, the majority of them are in Nevada, but others are in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. According to turquoise expert Joe Tanner, when Spanish conquistador Coronodo took home riches to the Spanish king, the turquoise from the jewelry was traced back to the Cerrillos mine in Arizona, the oldest known in America.

“What the Yazzies work with is the finest from the mines,” says Dubin. “We’re saying it’s more rare than diamonds.”

Less than five percent of turquoise mined worldwide has the characteristics to be cut and set into jewelry. Once a thriving industry, many Southwest mines have run dry and are now closed. Government restrictions and the high costs of mining have also impeded the ability to find gem-quality turquoise. Very few mines operate commercially and most of today’s turquoise is recovered as a byproduct of copper mining.

Despite the lack of mines in North America, turquoise is readily available on the market, with more than 75 percent coming out of China.  However, much of this turquoise has either been filled with epoxy for stabilization or enhanced for color and luster.

Lee Yazzie, known as one of the world’s leading crafters of this artform, prefers his turquoise from the Lone Mountain in Nevada. “I was exposed to the stone in my early life,” he says. “My mother wore it and I remember her working with turquoise to make rings and other pieces. Later, I learned it was considered a sacred stone.”

He set out to find the sacredness of this stone. “One day, I tried to connect to that spirit. I started talking to it and said, ‘I have very little knowledge on how to work with you and need you to give me direction on what it is you want.’ I can testify to you that when I started communicating in this very special way, I discovered why the Navajos considered turquoise to be sacred—everything is sacred in this life.”

This idea of sacred and secular coincides with the idea of preserving tradition through innovation, a common theme in the Yazzie family’s production of jewelry.

“My tradition has always been in my work, no matter how contemporary my pieces look,” says Raymond Yazzie, whose jewelry is distinguished by the quality of his domed inlay work.

“The ability to take traditional forms and make it contemporary is a clear expression of how native people have transitioned from their traditional cultures into a world that is very different,” says Kevin Gover, the museum’s director, “yet they have managed to retain their cultural identity.”

Raymond incorporates turquoise into his designs, although he is better known for his use of coral, which he says is also rare when trying to find good quality.

“The Lone Mountain and Lander Blue mine are coming to be like diamonds,” says Raymond, “with how much you pay for the turquoise.”

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/exquisite-turquoise-more-rare-and-valuable-diamonds-180953420/#S1RzDACQv1OTlvCa.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

New mining and rough gemstone export legislation passed in Tanzania

This could lead to Jaipur facing raw material shortage

Courtesy of: Diamond World

Recently, the parliament of Tanzania took a decision to ban export of rough gemstones from Tanzania, reports say. The purpose behind this move is to develop a cutting and polishing industry in Tanzania itself and boost local employment. The gemstones under purview of the new legislation include diamonds, tanzanite, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, turquoise, topaz and others, reports add. At the parliament session, William Ngeleja – Minister of Energy and Minerals said that the decision followed a long drawn discussion on this bill, and has finally been passed.

Under the revised legislation, the mining of gemstones will be reserved for locals; foreigners are required to enter into joint ventures with Tanzanian nationals; it is mandatory for mining contracts to be reviewed every five years, with specific areas set aside by the government to avert recurring conflicts with big miners. Also, Tanzania will not issue new gemstone mining licenses to foreign companies. Current agreements with foreign mining companies remain unchanged. Gemstone producer Tanzanite One (TNZ.L), will not be affected by the new ownership rules.

This new legislation will bear heavy on the Jaipur gemstone industry. Today, cutting and polishing of tanzanite is a major business for the Jaipur gemstone industry, which procures all the rough from Tanzania – the only source for tanzanite.

Rajiv Jain, Vice-chairman, GJEPC, said, “We know that this kind of bill has been passed. The talks at the higher government level have already been initiated and we are trying to find the best possible solution for the trade of Jaipur”.

Jagdish Tambi, KL Tambi & Co., Jaipur, said, “I am hearing about this and I hope that some solution should come out for the same. The Tanzania government is expecting to get employment there but currently it is not possible to cut and polish the gemstone in Tanzania. The tanzanite one sight holders would be benefited from this as the company has a license to export and the new laws are not applicable on them . But this would definitely make the shortage of the raw material, which is anyway tough to procure.”

Sanjay Phophalia, United Jewellers, Jaipur said, “I am aware of this bill but there are lot of uncertainties which would be clear in the due course of time. This should be taken care at the government level and the Ministry should try and help the trade of Jaipur, as the policy if applied could negatively affect the Jaipur manufacturing trade.” Inviato dal dispositivo wireless BlackBerry®