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Women across America are digging in the back of their drawers, searching the bottom of their closets, and dragging the knick-knack bins out from under their beds. What are they looking for? Their old turquoise jewelry, of course. Even the young ones, not old enough to have a turquoise stash, are heading out to the silver huts in the center of our malls hunting for rings, pendants, bracelets, necklaces, and earrings set with the season’s hottest stone.

Every time we think turquoise jewelry is gone for good, love for the mineral resurfaces, and this fact has held true for what seems like all of human history. As early as 6000 BC, the stone was mined by Egyptians on the Sinai Peninsula and was transported through Turkey to Europe. In fact, this transportation route accounts for the name which means “from Turkey” in French. Many gemologists feel that the finest rough still comes from this part of the world, specifically Iran.

Of course, some would argue that the mines in the American West could give those Iranian mines a run for their money! Generations of American Indians have used this material to make ornamental and ceremonial jewelry. The Apache believe that turquoise contains the spirit of the sea and sky helping warriors and hunters to aim their weapons accurately while the Navajo believe that turquoise is a piece of fallen sky. Other turquoise lore claims that the mineral endows the wearer with clarity, calm, and the ability to start something new.

In the ancient Southwest, turquoise was the basis of the Anasazi civilization, used as a kind of money. Cerrillos, New Mexico, for example, was home to an enormous underground mine that attracted settlers and miners alike. By 700AD, a trade center, complete with apartment houses, roads, trade fairs, and spiritual ceremonies, had grown up around the mine. After 900AD, a “turquoise road” ran south to the merchant towns in the central valley of Mexico.

What is turquoise, physically speaking? Turquoise is hydrated copper and aluminum phosphate. Occurring only in deserts and other arid climates, it is a secondary mineral deposited by circulating waters and is found in aluminum rich sedimentary or volcanic rocks. Middle Eastern turquoise usually appears in a black matrix while Southwestern rough, from mines in Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado, usually appears in a white or brown one. Rough has also been found in other places around the world such as Australia, Chile, China, Mexico, and Tibet.

So why the resurgence in popularity for this stone? After September 11th, we have seen a resurgence in all things American. We have seen flags appear on cars, houses, lapels, and we have heard Lee Greenwood belt out that he’s “proud to be an American” at least a dozen times. Turquoise is mined right here in the good ole U.S. of A.; it is a part of our Southwestern history. Indeed, the fashion trend this fall, in general, includes a very Southwestern look. Denim dusters, jeans, wide leather belts with large silver buckles, cowboy boots, cowboy hats, vests, and peasant blouses are all over our catalogues, magazines, and runways. These fashion choices are rooted in the Southwestern tradition, a tradition distinctively American - far from the fashion houses of Paris or Milan in terms of influence. And what better accent than turquoise jewelry?

So I stand here polishing the turquoise ring my mother gave me a decade ago. It will replace the Tahitian pearl I have been wearing on my right hand all summer. Tell me, does anyone know where I can find a turquoise anklet? I need one right away.

August 2002

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