December Birthstone Turquoise: Becoming Rarer Than Diamonds?

Fossilized Turquoise Necklace by Raymond C. Yazzi
Fossilized Turquoise Necklace by Raymond C. Yazzie
Photo by Phil Bell via Smithsonian.com

Many people collect Southwest-style jewelry, especially those who will celebrate their birthdays this month with the December birthstone turquoise. According to a recent report from Smithsonian.com, the sky-blue colored stone — the most sacred stone to the Navajo — is becoming increasingly rare. Some say turquoise will be rarer than diamonds, due to depleting turquoise mines.

A new exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York City explores the “Glittering World: Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family.” For jewelry lovers the exhibit makes a great starting point for a holiday visit to NYC; don’t miss it if you are a fan of the December birthstone turquoise.

According to Smithsonian.com, Turquoise is…

Turquoise and Coral Ring by Raymond C. Yazzi
Turquoise and Coral Ring by Raymond C. Yazzie
Photo by Michael S. Waddell via Smithsonian.com

…an opaque mineral, a hydrous phosphate of copper and aluminum. Its natural color ranges from sky blue to yellow-green, and it is typically found in arid climates including Iran (Persia), northwest China, the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, and the American Southwest.

…the defining gemstone in Southwest jewelry. Part of the exhibit’s purpose is to expose visitors to turquoise that is not treated or stabilized, but is the authentic stone.

…secular and sacred, a central element in Navajo religious observances. One belief holds that a piece of turquoise must be cast into a river, accompanied by a prayer, to bring on rainfall. Its unique color represents happiness, luck and health; if offered as a gift, it is seen as an expression of kinship.

Turquoise Necklace by Lee A. Yazzie
Turquoise Necklace by Lee A. Yazzie
Photo by Kiyoshi Tagashi via Smithsonian.com

Supply and Demand

Only about 20 mines throughout the American Southwest supply gem-quality turquoise. The majority of these are in Nevada, but some are in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. Less than five percent of turquoise mined worldwide has the quality to be cut and set into jewelry, and most comes from China. Once a thriving industry in the Southwest U.S., most turquoise mines have run dry and are now closed.

Turquoise Bracelet by Raymond C. Yazzi
Turquoise Bracelet by Raymond C. Yazzie
Photo by Gregory R. Lucier via Smithsonian.com

“Glittering World: Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family,” through January 10, 2016 at the National Museum of the American Indian’s Heye Center in New York City.  Located at One Bowling Green, across from Battery Park.

Looking for authentic December birthstone turquoise jewelry? Don’t miss the museum’s gallery store featuring the work of up-and-coming Navajo artists. 

Source:   Adapted from “Why is Turquoise Becoming Rarer and More Valuable Than Diamonds?” by Saba Naseem, Smithsonian.com, November 24, 2014.

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