Wednesday, March 25, 2009


One of the most recognizable gemstones to anyone in the world is the blue stone, turquoise. There is not another like it. It has become the symbolic color and gemstone of the West. Its history starts in ancient Egypt where it was mined on the Sinai Peninsula. Later Prussian turquoise was mined as a solid sky blue. Tibet turquoise is wondrous blue-green and is considered a national treasure. More recently, Native Americans of the Southwest have mined its many shades of blues and greens.

From the 1950s to the 1970s turquoise was highly prized and sought after by consumers. At one point a poor prospector could find a new deposit and be wealthy beyond dreams within months. By the mid-1970s turquoise was loosing favor with consumers and the demand dwindled to the small trickle we see today. There is still some demand for high quality gem material with jewelers and mineral collectors but not enough to cause the huge price spike from the 1970s.

Utah has one good location for gem turquoise--the Bingham Copper Mine in Salt Lake County. The Bingham Copper Mine holds the unique designation as the largest man-made hole and the largest copper mine in the world. The mine is also famous for many spectacular mineral specimens. Most specimens mined at Bingham Copper Mine are discarded or crushed without any care for their intrinsic value.

One of the minerals that are general destroyed is a beautiful turquoise. It exhibits a dark robin-egg blue to a light powdery blue and often has inclusions of galena and pyrite crystals. When a face is polished, these crystals add to the distinctness of the specimens from this location. Unfortunately, the mine operators will not allow any of this material on the market. The mine will not even discuss it or their reasoning behind the policy. Excuses for this behavior range from rumors of contracts with other turquoise mines (non-compete), to a former president of the company that didn’t like the color. Regardless of the reasoning it is a shame that this world class turquoise is rarely seen by anyone. The turquoise from here that is available only comes from miners who, at some time in the past, smuggled it out in their lunch boxes.

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