Why is Turquoise So Expensive?: Beauty, Rarity and Popularity

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Why is turquoise so expensive?

Turquoise is no more expensive than other semi-precious stones. Like them, its price varies according to quality. But most of all, it is a function of supply and demand. While demand is high, its supply is getting rarer and rarer.

 

The heading got your attention, didn’t it? And it is not plain hype. The blue gemstone Torquise has a very long history—longer than you can imagine. And if you read through the end, you will get to know what turquoise is, how it got its name, where it is most found, why it is more expensive than diamond (at times), and why it is staging a comeback. And many more…

But first things first.

Why is Turquoise So Expensive?

The word “turquoise” can be traced back to the 17th century and is derived from the French word “turquois,” meaning “Turkish” because it came through Europe via Turkey from the mines in historical Khorasan, Iran.

Turquoise is an opaque, blue-to-green mineral composed of hydrated phosphate of copper and aluminum. It is rare in finer grades and is a valuable and prized gemstone for thousands of years due to its unique hue.

Turquoise mining
Turquoise mining

The stone is formed by a chemical reaction when water containing specific minerals like copper and aluminum leaks through rocks. This reaction forms in veins, which so much later, years and years later, forms a clump of turquoise.

This is a gemstone that’s rich in history. The earliest evidence of it being used in jewelry or ornaments is found in Egypt where turquoise jewelry was found in royal burials as far back as 6,000 years ago. And about 4,000 years ago, Persian (now Iranian) miners produced a “sky-blue” or “robin’s-egg blue” turquoise.

Turquoise Price

Though there are several mines producing turquoise around the world, the stone quality they produce is but a pittance vis-a-vis the world’s demand. And where a gem is rare and the quality demand is high, you can expect it to be expensive.

Cabochon Cut Turquoise
Cabochon Cut Turquoise

The price of turquoise in the market can range from $1 to $10 or $0.05 to $1000/per carat – depending on a lot of factors, foremost of which is its quality.

Note: 1 turquoise carat = 0.2 gm.

Currently, the price per carat of turquoise is set by the TQI (Turquoise Quality Index) shown below.

TQI Price Chart
TQI Price Chart

Legend:

AAAA, AAA, AA – high-grade natural turquoise. unlike other gemstones, such as diamonds, there is a dearth of materials concerning turquoise grading. Currently, there are two grading systems: the Persian Method and the American Method.

Persian Method:

The Persian method has both old and new versions. In olden times, turquoise was graded by its description:  better, clear, harder, fresh, good, perfect, large, whitish, yellowish-white, and pleasing. This changed through the years. Now turquoise is graded according to color, hardness, clarity, matrix, size, color transitions, cut, weight, enhancement composition, and availability.

Persian Blue turquoise jewelry
Persian Blue turquoise jewelry

Ironically, when gem experts analyzed both the old and the new methods, they found out that both are the same. The only thing lacking is a quantitative way of describing each characteristic. Hence, the TQI was born.

American Method:

This method is based on the mine that produced it. Thus, it has the following turquoise grades:

Carico Lake

This is gem-quality, American turquoise. It is hard, and its high zinc content gives the stone an astonishing lime-green color with a unique spider web matrix. It is much sought after by turquoise collectors.

Dry Creek

Turquoise is mined in Austin, Nevada in Lander County. Before it was closed, it was known for its sky-blue to medium blue, webbed turquoise. But it gained popularity with its creamy pale blue coloring and golden to cocoa brown.

Golden Hill

Is a light blue stone with lavender hues. Its matrix can range from deep lavender to deep red, brown, or rust-like colors. It is mined in Kazakhstan, Russia, and made its way to the U.S. in 2018. Golden Hill turquoise makes an excellent pendant for a sterling silver necklace.

Ithaca Peak

Is produced by Kinman mining. It has a beautiful blue but with heavier pyrite inclusions.

Kingman

Turquoise ranges in color from light to very dark blue with tints of green in some stones. Its matrix can range from white, light brown to black, flecked with pyrite and quartz. Is Kingman turquoise valuable? You bet, it is, with its famous round nuggets in a black matrix.

King Manassa

Is mined in south-central Colorado. This turquoise grade is blue-green to green in color with a golden or brown, non-webbed matrix.

Number Eight

Is considered one of the great classic American turquoise mines. And because of that, it deserves a more lengthy discourse.

Number Eight was closed in 1976. But before that, it established a turquoise history not found elsewhere. The mine was located in the Lynn Mining District, Eureka County, Nevada. It was first owned by Earl Buffington and Lawrence Springer when they filed a mining claim for it in 1929. From there, it changed hands several times. Then in 1950, one of the new owners (brothers) found a 1,600-pound turquoise. Not just any turquoise but the best and very high-grade spider-webbed turquoise—the best found so far.

Number Eight is noted for the largest turquoise and in 1954, another huge nugget was found—150 pounds. It is also the chief source of spider-webbing turquoise that is light to dark blue color with a shade of green.

Dowell Ward was the owner of Number Eight when it was closed in 1976. But he had a stockpile of his mine’s turquoise output, which is still circulating in the market to this day.

Red Mountain

This mine is famous for its very fine turquoise with its distinctive dark blue with a dark matrix, and blue-green with stunning gold, or rust-colored spider web. Red Mountain is in Northern Nevada.

The bottom line? Turquoise has four main categories of rarity, which include stone condition, mine source, color, matrix, and/or clarity.

Is Turquoise Worth Any Money?

This is a question is often asked by turquoise collectors. And the answer is—it depends.

Bear in mind that the stone is very rare. And to give you an idea of how pricey it could be, only 25% of mined turquoise is usable in its natural form, which means that 75% of those traded are synthetics.

And how to identify real turquoise from fakes?

One smart way is to put a hot needle or pin on the surface of the stone. If it melts or produces a burnt plastic smell, it is fake. But that may get you in trouble with the gem dealer.

So here are three legit ways to identify a real turquoise from a fake one:

  • The price tag test – real turquoise is more expensive than synthetics. But some unscrupulous dealers may put a high price on their items, so do the next one;
  • Appearance test – fakes, in most cases, can easily be identified by their weight, inconsistent application of dyes, or smoothness. Real turquoise, being formed by nature, is not so smooth.
  • Scratch test – there are actually several ways to test a turquoise to know if it’s fake or real. But most of them are destructive. But this test is the least damaging of them all. Bear in mind, however, that most fake turquoise is made from howlite, which is even softer. Therefore, if it doesn’t scratch easily, then it could be the real deal.

Turquoise is one of the most beautiful and popular stones that practically everyone loves. The rich colors and gorgeous features make the stone easy to wear and easier to build a collection of.

The problem is supply.

Is Turquoise getting rare?

The seed of turquoise was planted millions of years ago in the bowels of the earth. Volcanic upheavals brought them to the surface and mined since time immemorial. Remember that its supply is very finite. Plenty of mines, once producing the stone, ran out of this rich resource. And with the current concern for global warming, many more are being closed for sustainability reasons. Add to this the fact that a lot of American mines are situated in Native American sacred lands whose inhabitants are extremely sensitive to the presence of outsiders.

These developments have exerted an upward swing in the prices of turquoise, making it very expensive.

So, is turquoise worth more than gold?

This is a difficult question to answer since it is not an apple-to-apple kind of thing. Turquoise is a stone while gold is a metal. But to have a good idea, 24-carat gold costs $ 11.425 while the ultra-best turquoise costs  $ 11,000/carat (see chart above).

And the most expensive turquoise is the Lander Blue—an entirely spider-webbed turquoise in medium to a deep blue color with a black contrasting matrix. But what makes it so expensive is not only its appearance but more its rarity. Only 90 to 110 pounds of this turquoise grade was produced before the mine was closed.

Lander Blue Turquoise jewelry
Lander Blue Turquoise jewelry

If price is the issue, not value, Lander Blue is the winner. But which turquoise is most valuable? That would be the Blue Turquoise.

The Blue Turquoise has an even, intense, medium blue color sometimes referred to as robin’s egg blue or sky blue in the trade. This is most prized among collectors—something they would give an arm or a leg for to add to their collection. The traditional source of this turquoise grade is the Nishapur district of Iran. Hence, it is often called “Persian Blue.”

But that’s talking about the big guys. How about the usual turquoise stone price?

Turquoise stones range in price from $1 to $10/carat. But it can reach up to $1,000, depending on quality. To the untrained eye, knowing a good quality to a bad one is next to impossible. So if you are simply a hobbyist, it is best to buy polished stones. Or consult the turquoise price guide 2020, to get a better idea.

Is Turquoise Making a Comeback?

Turquoise has been mined and used in Native American jewelry for thousands of years. They traded it, used it as ornaments and for ceremonial purposes.

Then in 1893, it caught the attention of American fashion purveyors. But the subject of their interest was the Persian variety, with only a trickle from the American mines. At that time, turquoise mining was essentially manual labor with a few hand tools with its output just enough for a mom-and-pop dime store.

Then in 1902, the Roystone turquoise mine opened up in Nevada. That set the stage for the US’s big-time production of the stone.

Things were running so well until the late 1900s when synthetic turquoise hit the market. It caused the prices of natural turquoise to plummet, as well as its demand.

Now things are again looking better for turquoise.

Heads up for Turquoise

People these days are more fashion-conscious than their predecessors. They want to dress up, look good and live life to the fullest. Corollary to this is their penchant for jewelry.

They want to wear jewelry with a blast from the past; jewelry items to make a statement. They want it big, weird, and wild. They want to mix their collection with a variety of colors; their emerald green tempered with a blue topaz like the one in this Perle de Lune review or turquoise.

This has spawned a $230 billion (2020) jewelry market. And this is expected to further grow in the coming years. The market is full of countless jewelry items with prices ranging from very cheap to atrociously expensive. This opened a slight window for the beautiful blue turquoise to creep in, staging a comeback.

People find turquoise unique in the sense that very few minerals on Earth have the kind of blue found in the stone—particularly the robin’s egg blue. This is one of the reasons why people are attracted to this gem. Another is its long history that can be traced back to prehistoric times.

And yes, they also want to take refuge under the umbrella of its meanings, which the stone is full of, such as prosperity and good health. It will make you physically and mentally motivated to work on your passions, projects, and business ventures.

Lest you forget, it is the birthstone of December—the merriest month of the year.

Robert Redford and Raquel Welch wore turquoise jewelry, as well as Cameron Diaz and Megan Fox. This speaks of the span of attractiveness and beauty the stone possesses. This doesn’t mean, of course, that you should wear or have one. But just on the off-chance that you want to add another color to your jewelry collection—a color you wouldn’t miss when you open your jewelry box, then you could never go wrong with turquoise.

Now, if you are a fan of blue gems but turquoise is a bit pricey for you, you might want to check out our article, “Top 12 Blue Gemstones: A Fancy Guide for Jewelers.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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