The Cerrillos mines of Turquoise Hill, New Mexico have a history with both ancient Native peoples of the Southwest and more recent American mining companies. The most famous of these is the Tiffany mine, located 18 miles south of Santa Fe. It is one of the most important and oldest pre-historic turquoise sources. For a 1000 years or more this turquoise was highly prized for its healing and spiritual powers. Using only stone axes, mauls, and antler picks, Pueblo miners dug pits, tunnels, and shafts into this precious deposit. They carried their tools and leather rock buckets on their backs as they climbed in and out of the mines on notched logs used as ladders. Turquoise obtained from this hard work was traded among early peoples from Mexico to the Midwest and from the east to west coasts. In New Mexico, many pieces of Cerrillos turquoise have been unearthed in the prehistoric ruins of Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon.
The highest grades are very hard with beautiful depth of color. Because of its history, beauty, and scarcity today, it is highly collectible. In 1892, George F. Kunz, top gemologist for Tiffany’s of New York, pronounced the beautiful sky blue turquoise from Turquoise Hill to be gem grade, thus creating an immediate demand. The American Turquoise Company (Tiffany’s of New York and Associates) was formed and the mine was acquired. The turquoise became known as “Tiffany” during the 1890’s as most of it was cut and sold by the Tiffany Company.
Chinese and Tibetan Turquoise Chinese and Tibetan Turquoise" There is evidence of turquoise use in China dating at least as far back as 1700 BC as evidenced by a bronze plaque with turquoise overlay displayed at the Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. Although some turquoise was mined in China in ancient times, more commonly it was acquired in trade with Persians and Turks. Mostly the Chinese used turquoise for carvings and other art. Jade has been the preferred stone for jewelry in Chinese culture.
The Tibetans, on the other hand, have preferred turquoise to any other gemstone and virtually every Tibetan possesses some turquoise. Believed to bring good luck, it is worn set in rings and bracelets, as beads in necklaces, and as adornment directly on hats and other clothing. Domestic animals such as horses wear necklaces of felt with turquoise sewn on.
Today, Chinese mines Northwest of Shanghai and in the Hubei Province produce turquoise in colors and quality reminiscent of the now closed mines of Nevada. This turquoise ranges in color from sky blue to spring green and is used by Native Americans to produce stunning pieces of jewelry. Chinese turquoise has usually been stabilized, meaning a clear epoxy has been applied to the surface to harden the stone before setting. A benefit of this process is that stabilized stone is less likely to absorb lotions and body oils that may change the color of the stone over time. Turquoise from China is widely used in the creation of Native American jewelry due to the scarcity of American turquoise. Only a handful of turquoise mines in the American southwest are commercially operating.