Friday, May 4, 2012

Treated? Not Here!

In 1976 I became a full time Indian trader.  Right after graduating high school I joined my parents in the family business, which began my extensive training in Trading-Postology.  As a result, one of my primary interests was the precious stones used in Native American jewelry.  To better understand the subject, I took extension classes from the Gemological Institute of America in Santa Monica, California, eventually becoming a Graduate Gemologist.  During that period I had the opportunity to study diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds and almost every other precious and semi-precious gem on the planet.  The one I found most interesting, and the one I acquired a true passion for, was turquoise.  Because they view turquoise as pieces of heaven gifted to them by the gods, Navajo people refer to it as Skystone.  To them, turquoise is a reminder of the Sky World's beauty.

As I became more familiar with turquoise, I learned of the stone's numerous sources and the common characteristics of particular deposits.  I became fascinated by the lore and legends associated with the Bisbee mine, the #8 claim, the Lander Blue "hat" mine, Blue Gem from Battle Mountain, Morenci, Cripple Creek, Carico Lake and so many others.  The characters involved in turquoise mining were oh so colorful as well.  Old timers like Rita J. Hapgood, Lee Hand, the Edgar family, Dowell Ward, Orvil Jack and Clyde Wright were better than fiction.   When it comes to miners, modern day marvels the likes of Tony Cotner, Ernie Montoya, Bruce Woods and the Oddisons keep the "infamous character" moniker alive and well.  Background appeals to me greatly, but it is the unique nature of each individual stone, its color and texture, that keeps me engaged.  The intrigue of high-grade, natural turquoise, the satiny luster of sterling silver and the warmth of gold is what sparks my passion for Skystone.

In the 1970s, "gem-grade" turquoise was both readily available and reasonably priced.  Rumor had it Gilbert Ortega was paying $1.00 a carat for lavender Lander Blue turquoise.  That was thought to be an "outrageous" price, although presently it commands $250.00 a carat.  The cost of most cut stones was ten to fifty cents per carat.  Turquoise editions of Arizona Highways set the standard for excellence.  Silver was $6.00 an ounce, and Navajo and Hopi silversmiths were making a good living working for $7.00 per hour.  Life was good, business was great, and I had found my calling.  At this point in the story I should be saying that my parents and I were buying up all the "high-grade" we could get our hands on and packing it away in a Wells Fargo safe.  Unfortunately, I was not much of a visionary and did not do so.  As with all natural resources, there is a time when they begin to dissipate, and for turquoise that began long ago.  In hindsight, I shoulda', woulda', coulda' been more insightful.

The point of this tale is that "gem-grade", "high-grade" and "top-grade" turquoise has become a rare and valuable commodity.  From the miners we learn that, right or wrong, the Bureau of Land Management is becoming harder and harder to satisfy.  Permits, bonding and oversight are extremely restrictive, especially for small mining operations.  High fuel costs reverberate through all aspects of our lives, and affect everything from equipment to food costs.  We know that only one percent of what miners recover is gem-grade.  This "top end" turquoise is where most of the value lies.  The next eight to ten percent is commercial quality, and the remaining ninety some-odd percent is too soft, of poor color, chalky, all of the above or just plain junk, which must be treated, stabilized or altered in order to recover mining costs.  Additionally, because copper, silver and gold are found in association with turquoise, and are in huge demand, turquoise has become a mere by-product which is too troublesome to worry about.  Big mining companies want to quickly blow up, load up and deliver up their ore to the smelter, and this does not coincide with the hunt and peck manner of turquoise mining.  Correspondingly Skystone has fast become a nascence by-product that is not worth the effort to sort out and save.

Because the top grades of turquoise are becoming so rare, Steve and I are bombarded with efforts to promote treated, stabilized and otherwise enhanced stones.  Treated and stabilized turquoise has been around since some guy standing over a campfire realized he could dip his beads in a vat of fatty liquid and enhance the color of his necklace.  I personally prefer the natural, and at Twin Rocks Trading Post that is what we stick with.  Because of the ever decreasing supply of natural turquoise, we have begun to see a real push for the acceptance of enhanced material.  The problem is that Steve and I are not fans of unnatural turquoise, and don't even get us started on the faux stuff.  We realize there is a time and a place for such things, but prefer it not be our time or our place.  Natural, high-quality turquoise may not be easy to get, heck, it never was.  When we do find it and place it in a complimentary setting, however, the good stuff really shines.  Due diligence and a passion for top-end turquoise has allowed us to keep the store stocked with an altogether incredible inventory and has kept me passionate about Skystone.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and The Team

Great New Items! This week's selection of Native American art!

Our TnT's purchased new treasures! Check out Traders in Training!

Enjoy artwork from our many collector friends in Living with the Art!

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