The cost for turquoise has jumped in recent years. And that means Navajo artists and other silversmiths might be raising their jewelry prices this holiday season.
The southwestern United States is home to several turquoise mines typically found next to copper mines. Turquoise is formed when copper and aluminum weatherize and oxidize.
But many mines in the U.S. have closed due to stricter mining regulations and chemical copper mining techniques.
Jonathan Day has been working with turquoise for 20 years. In his small Flagstaff studio he shows several different uncut stones from mines across the Southwest.
“The supply of natural good southwestern turquoise is not what it was in the 60s and 70s,” Day said.
Day said three years ago you could buy a type of sky blue Arizona turquoise called Sleeping Beauty for $200 a pound. Today that same stone costs $2,000 a pound. Day believes it has to do with the high demand for turquoise, especially in China.
“Chinese consume a lot of turquoise,” Day said. “And there’s also a really big upper-middle class in China now and they want really good turquoise. And American turquoise is the standard for the best turquoise in the world.”
And they’re willing to pay a lot more for it and buy hundreds of pounds at a time.
So Day said silversmiths are forced to either buy cheaper, lesser-quality turquoise or raise the prices on their jewelry.