Getting to Know Turquoise

The Art of Turquoise

When visiting New Mexico or when thinking of Native American art, turquoise immediately comes to mind. From Santo Domingo Heishi beads to Zuni Pueblo Channel Inlay, turquoise is a common sight in Native American jewelry, but there are all kinds of artists and art forms that use turquoise—Persian, Chinese, Tibetan, Mexican—and their turquoise art is sold around the world. Turquoise is a global gemstone with China and Mexico being its number one and two producers, respectively.

Native American Turquoise Jewelry

 

Used Since Time Immemorial

For thousands of years, Native American people of the Southwest have made, worn, and traded mosaic inlay and beads of turquoise, shell, bone, or stone. Before the arrival of metal, ancient Puebloan people, the ancestors of today’s Pueblo Indian tribes, mined turquoise in what is today Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado.

Chaco Canyon, in northwestern New Mexico, was at the center of turquoise trade routes stretching from the Pacific Northwest to Central America. Turquoise was not set in silver until the late 19th century after Navajo and Zuni artisans learned metalsmithing. 

The blue and green gem quickly became a favorite with Native American silversmiths, and was extremely popular with tourists visiting the Southwest in the early 20th century. Today, turquoise jewelry is often seen in the regalia of dancers on Pueblo feast days, or given as gifts. 

Handcrafted by Navajo and Choctaw silversmith Damian Cotton, this is a striking piece with beautiful embossed and polished sterling silver bead accents. This ring showcases a trio of unique pieces of Royston turquoise, and is set in sterling silver. A unique triangular shape makes this an exquisite addition to any Native American jewelry collection. Royston turquoise comes from the Royston mining district near Tonopah, Nevada.

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The Sky Stone

Today, turquoise is one of the most iconic images of the Southwest and is still revered among Native American jewelry artists. Some Native Americans believe the gem was a gift from the spirits and call it “The Sky Stone”

Handcrafted by Zuni Pueblo artist Claudia Peina, this dancing bear fetish is a stunning and unique representation of a unique art. Hand-carved from Kingman variety mosaic turquoise, this dancing bear stands happily on one foot with black jet eyes, coral necklace and a smile raised toward the sky. This carving is a symbol of strength, courage, healing, and protection, making this piece a meaningful addition to your Native American art collection.

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This traditional cluster pendant was handcrafted by Zuni Pueblo artists and features blue turquoise gemstones set in sterling silver in the traditional Zuni style of petit point. Requiring superior artistry, finely cut turquoise gems have been arranged in a floral cluster shape to create a beautiful pendant with hidden bail that can be worn with necklaces up to 1/8" wide. 

Cluster work is a jewelry style that is unique to the Zuni people and not found anywhere else in the world. Early Zuni jewelry resembled Navajo silverwork but in the 1920s and 1930s, Zuni artisans developed a signature style that involved setting large groups of hand cut gemstones into extremely intricate settings. The finely cut gems were often arranged in beautiful patterns that resembled flowers, snowflakes or wagon wheels. Though Zuni cluster work is most closely associated with turquoise, jet and coral, any gemstone may be used. Petit point and needlepoint are two types of Zuni cluster work and can be distinguished by the shape and size of the gemstones. Petit point refers to gems cut into round, oval, rectangle, pear or square shapes, while needle point refers to gems that have been cut into a thin sliver or needle shape. Cluster work is an extremely time consuming process and fewer and fewer artists are taking the time to hand cut their gemstones. A true piece of Zuni cluster jewelry is an exquisite piece of wearable art that showcases the unmatched lapidary skills of Zuni artists and will be an heirloom for generations to come.

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Sitting Down with the Turquoise Expert

From our archives, here are some interesting facts that we learned in 2018 when our staff sat down and "Talked Turquoise" with world-renowned turquoise expert, Joe Dan Lowery, of the Turquoise Museum located right here in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

Joe Dan Lowry is world-renowned for his knowledge about turquoise and is sought after for appraisals, interviews, and lectures. His research has led him to work with many experts in the fields of geology, mineralogy, and archeology, and he has seen some of the most spectacular turquoise specimens and artifacts on display in the world's museums as well as private collections. He owns one turquoise mine, has worked at many mines around the world, is a skilled lapidary, and is co-author of the book Turquoise Unearthed. He developed and is curator of the Turquoise Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he lives. Joe P. Lowry has been the president of Zach-Low since 1973 and is the founder and president of the Turquoise Museum since 1993. He has been involved in bringing education to the turquoise and Indian jewelry industry at museums and national parks around the country and has worked with the Indian Arts and Crafts Board in Washington, D.C. He co-authored Turquoise Unearthed with his son, Joe Dan Lowry.

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Generations of Lapidary

In Native American jewelry, the artistry of the jewelry is primary, with turquoise being secondary. If you travel anywhere else in the world, turquoise is primary and the artistry is secondary. The skill and craftsmanship that has been developed over the generations is exceptional, and in the Southwest, we get to feel and touch our history with this stone and the people who represent it. 

Turquoise: Mines, Minerals, and Wearable Art

Explore the fascinating story of turquoise, its history from ancient times to the present, and the influence of native artists in making this gemstone part of popular culture in America.

Immerse yourself in its history from ancient times to the present, and the influence of Native American artists in making this gemstone an enduring part of popular culture in America. Illustrated with over 500 color images, this updated second edition includes nearly 150 photos never seen before. It shows turquoise from Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada, plus Australia, China, and Iran, and the major localities in between. The gems appear in their natural state, cut, polished, and set into silver and gold jewelry.


Formed Within the Earth

Turquoise is formed when water enters an iron-rich limonite or sandstone that contains copper, aluminum and other minerals. It takes millions of years and the right conditions for turquoise to be formed. The gemstone’s blue color can be attributed to the presence of copper while the presence of aluminum adds a greenish hue to the gem.

To learn more about this fascinating stone, from mineralogy and history to its mystical qualities, we highly recommend Joe Dan Lowry’s book and a trip to the Turquoise Museum—an invaluable resource on turquoise for artists, collectors and dealers.

Explore the many ways in which Native American jewelers have incorporated turquoise into their creations by visiting our turquoise collection. We thank you for trusting Indian Pueblo Store as your connection to authentic Pueblo art and artists.

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8 comments

  • Thanks for the info

    Patricia Batson
  • You all do beautiful work and should be encouraged. If I win the Powerball lottery I’ll be back!

    Gary F Wieselman
  • Very interesting reading. I happened to learn the presence of copper gives the blue color and the presence of aluminum gives the greenish color. Now, I understand a bit more about the variance of colors.

    Douglas Causey

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