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
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.