What is the difference between stabilized and natural turquoise?

3 Comments

If you're interested in Native American jewelry, it's important to know what stabilized turquoise is and how it's different from natural turquoise. This is a subject surrounded by much confusion and misinformation. With this post, we hope to shed some light on the subject. For a true expert on the subject, we recommend Turquoise Unearthed: An Illustrated Guide by Joe Dan Lowry. You can buy it on Amazon.

What is stabilized turquoise?

Soft, low grade, turquoise that has undergone a stabilization process to enhance its hardness and color. During this process, the stone is put under pressure, causing it to absorb a clear epoxy or plastic filler. This results in a harder stone that is suitable for use in jewelry. The stabilization process was first invented in the 1950s in Arizona.

Why is turquoise stabilized?

Turquoise by nature is a relatively soft, porous stone, and it can vary greatly in its quality.   Only higher grade natural turquoise is actually dense enough that it can be cut and shaped without damaging the stone.  Softer, lower grade turquoise has to be treated in some way in order for it to be usable in jewelry. The resulting piece of turquoise is then much stronger and easier to cut, polish, and set by a jeweler without risk of breaking. Stabilized turquoise can be produced in large quantities and is less expensive than natural turquoise.
 

What are the different types of altered turquoise?

  • Stabilized or Enhanced: An epoxy or a plastic filler is added via pressure to the stone.  If the stone naturally formed with holes or pits, they can be filled with epoxy for a smoother surface area. Some stabilized turquoise is color enhanced.
  • Reconstituted or Chalk: Fragments of turquoise are crushed into a powder form, which is then mixed with epoxy to make harder blocks that can then be cut into slabs or stone shapes. We do not sell, nor do we recommend buying, reconstituted or chalk turquoise.
  • Block or Imitation: Synthetic material (dyed plastic) or the manipulation of another stone (such as the Howlite) made to look like turquoise, but with no actual turquoise stone in it at all. We do not sell, nor do we recommend buying, block or imitation turquoise.

turquoise

Why is natural turquoise so much more expensive?

The price of natural turquoise is associated with its rarity. When turquoise is mined, the majority is too soft for use in jewelry. This inexpensive low grade material must be stabilized before it can be used in jewelry. It’s estimated that as much as 90% of turquoise on the market today has been stabilized or enhanced.  The lower grade the natural turquoise is, the more treatment it needs to become useful for jewelry. And generally speaking, the more the stone has been changed from its natural state, the less value it has.  

Turquoise Cabochons

Is it bad to buy stabilized turquoise?

Stabilized turquoise isn't bad! It does have its benefits. In fact, some people prefer it. After treatment, stabilized turquoise is harder and is unlikely to break or crack. The stone is no longer porous, so it doesn't absorb liquids or oils and the color is "locked" - unlike natural turquoise where the color can change, or deepen, over time.
Buying stabilized turquoise is fine as long as you pay stabilized turquoise prices. You should expect jewelry with stabilized turquoise to be priced significantly lower than similar pieces with natural turquoise. The problem arises when there is dishonesty around the condition of the turquoise and its quality. Always buy turquoise from an informed and reputable business!

It’s important to distinguish the fact that buying stabilized turquoise isn’t buying a fake stone.  Stabilization is a necessary process to make lower grade turquoise hard enough to be shaped.  

The cheapest forms of "turquoise" are block and imitation. These types of "turquoise" are made from synthetic materials - usually plastic. We caution buyers against purchasing block or imitation turquoise and we do not sell any in our stores.  

Is there a difference between American turquoise and non-American turquoise? 

Natural turquoise is natural turquoise -- no matter where it is pulled out of the ground. Other areas of the world can offer high quality turquoise; most notably China and Iran ("Persian" Turquoise). Some high grade Chinese or Persian stones can be quite valuable and expensive to work with. In the case of Persian turquoise, the majority was imported to the U.S. before sanctions were imposed on Iran by the U.S. Government in the late 1970s.

Quality American turquoise stones from the Southwest fetch higher prices. Folk lore and history may play a role but this is largely due to scarcity. Many of the best American turquoise mines have been mined out and are closed.

In recent years, prices of American turquoise have skyrocketed. This has led to an increased use of non-American turquoise by Native American artists. Often, it's a more affordable way to work with natural stones.

"Years ago when I first started doing jewelry, the cost of Chinese was like a tenth of what the American was. Even though it was natural.

Some of the stones of the Chinese Turquoise are fantastic. I mean they look like Bisbee, they look like Lander Blue. I mean, just excellent looking turquoise. But people looked down on them because it was Chinese.

But now you go out there into the market, you see a lot of high end American turquoise and the price is amazing. Sky high. Now people are looking to the Chinese turquoise. Natural."

-Wes Willie, Navajo Silversmith

What accounts for the price differences between turquoise mines?

Hardness, appearance, and rarity are three major factors when valuing natural turquoise. The hardest turquoise stones are considered "gem grade". Appearance is a matter of personal taste; the color and matrix will vary drastically between different mines. Generally speaking, darker color and a tighter matrix are considered desirable traits. Rarity refers to how much turquoise a mine produced and how much is still available for use.

Most collectors develop a preference for particular turquoise mines, and for the color and appearance it produces. The Lander Blue mine in Nevada (now closed) is widely considered to have produced the most expensive turquoise per carat.

Persian Turquoise

Chinese Turquoise

A few American Turquoise Mines

Bisbee

Blue Diamond

Blue Gem

Blue Moon

Broken Arrow

Candelaria

Carico Lake

Cripple Creek

Damele

Fox

Ithaca Peak

Kingman

Lander Blue

Lone Mountain

Morenci

New Lander

Number Eight

Orvil Jack

Pilot Mountain

Pixie

Red Mountain

Royston

Sleeping Beauty

Turquoise Mountain

Looking for more information about Turquoise? 

Read our post on the History and Chemical Makeup of Turquoise.

 





3 Responses

Liz
Liz

October 20, 2018

Thanks for the info. I bought 3 stones on 3 braided leather bands. I was trying to identify them. Your site helped immensely. I have cut and polished rocks over the years. My house is filled with geodes and crystals. I am very much a beginner. Best wishes Liz

Emily
Emily

October 20, 2018

THANK you for posting this article. I love the look of turquoise but can’t afford non-stabilized stones right now. You’ve been a great help to me!

Colleen McTaggart
Colleen McTaggart

January 11, 2018

This was very helpful! You you help me identify some stones?

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.


Also in News

Garland's Navajo Rugs featured in Sedona Monthly Magazine

When you think of Native American art in Sedona, some family names come to mind: Hoel, Wilcox and, of course, Garland. The Garland family moved to Sedona from Phoenix in 1970 (they had spent years vacationing in Oak Creek Canyon), and in 1972, patriarch Bill Garland opened Garland’s Oak Creek Lodge. Not all families can work together, but it seemed to come natural to the Garlands.

View full article →

Hanging Your Navajo Weaving

How to Hang Your Navajo Rug with Velcro. In our experience, Velcro is the easiest way to hang a rug. If you purchase a Navajo Rug from Garland's, we will provide you with Velcro for free if you wish to hang your rug on a wall. The velcro is self-adhesive and you can stick it directly to most surfaces.

View full article →

Introducing Our New Website!

For the first time ever, browse the entire collections of BOTH of our store locations, all on one website. This includes Jewelry, Navajo Rugs, Kachinas, Pottery, Baskets, and much more...

View full article →

Sizing

Although the best way to test the size and fit of a piece of jewelry is to try it on in the store, we know that is not always an option. In an effort to help you choose the piece that is right for you, we have included measurements of each piece on the website. Here is how our measurements are defined:

Bracelets

Finding the right size bracelet for your wrist has always been a tricky endeavor, since, unlike rings, there isn't a standardized, universal sizing chart for wrist size. One reason for this is that we all have different shaped wrists, some of us have round wrists, while others have more oval. Bracelets, like wrists, also have different shapes.

So, while bracelet sizing will never be an exact science, we've done what we can to ensure the greatest chance of a comfortable fit. The best thing you can do if you don't know your wrist size is to take a soft measuring tape and loosely measure the circumference of your wrist at the point you plan on wearing it. Try not to have the measuring tape dig into your skin, as this will result in a smaller than ideal size. Once you have the circumference of your wrist, compare it to the chart below to find the correct bracelet size. If your wrist measures in-between two sizes, we recommend rounding up to the larger size. (ie: if your wrist measures 6.375"- you should shop for size "Medium" bracelets.)

 Wrist Circumference

Corresponding Bracelet Size

5.5"

XX-Small

5.75"

Extra-Small

6"

Small

6.25"

Small-Medium

6.5"

Medium

6.75" - 7"

Medium-Large

7.25"

Large

7.5"

Extra-Large

7.75"

XX-Large

8"

XXX-Large

 

You may want to drill down further on the bracelet sizing to make sure the cuff is a comfortable fit. You will notice on our website that we generally list four measurements for bracelets:

Keep in mind that certain bracelets can be adjusted slightly to fit your wrist, but those with inlay or stones all the way around will be damaged if bent. In any case, it is always best to check with with us to see if a particular bracelet is adjustable.

Lastly, have no fear! If you order a bracelet that doesn't fit, send it back for one that does! We want this to be a positive experience, you should never wear something that isn't 100% comfortable. More on our return policy here.

Buckles

Sizing belt buckles is pretty straightforward. The height and width are self-explanatory, and the belt width describes the maximum belt width the buckle will fit on.

Concha Belts

We try to include the height and width for the conchas, as well as the buckle (if different), and the width of the belt they are on. The length of the concha belts can be less important, because these belts are often made quite long to accommodate many waist sizes, and then can be shortened to fit the wearer. If you are concerned whether or not a belt will fit you, just ask. We are happy to size most of our concha belts before shipping.