Culture

The Southwest's Heart is Made of Turquoise


Running the numbers on the exquisite desert gem.

Words by Wildsam Staff

Wildsam

A Zuni man holds a turquoise and silver bracelet, in front of his home at Zuni Indian Pueblo, New Mexico. | Buddy Mays/Getty Images

Published

15 Apr 2024

Reading Time

5 minutes

5–6

Where turquoise ranks on the Mohs hardness scale. Formed in arid places where water percolates through copper- rich igneous rock, it’s harder than apatite, softer than opal.

5,000 YEARS

Approximate age of the oldest known turquoise jewelry, found in Egyptian tombs, with beads from turquoise mined on the Sinai Peninsula.

<5%

How much contemporary mined turquoise is considered gem grade.

$250,000

Maximum penalty, with or without jail time, for a first-time Indian Arts and Crafts Act violation: falsely marketing crafts as Native-made.

>1,500

Number of Indigenous craftspeople authorized to sell outside Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors, among the world’s best marketplaces for handmade turquoise jewelry.

$20

Price a “pea-sized” turquoise stone could fetch during the Southwest turquoise rush in the 1890s—the same as a whole ounce of gold.

200,000

Number of turquoise artifacts archaeologists have removed from Ancestral Puebloans’ dwellings and tombs at Chaco Canyon.

700 C.E.

When Pueblo peoples may have begun hand-mining turquoise in New Mexico’s Cerrillos Hills, the country’s oldest and most significant turquoise mine.

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