One of the most popular semi-precious stones worn in the U.S. is the blue-green beauty we call turquoise. Turquoise is a mineral created when water containing copper and aluminum, among other elements, leaks through rock, forming hardened veins or nuggets. Sometimes referred to as the “oldest stone in man’s history,” turquoise has played a role in many ancient cultures, the earliest of which (that archeologists are able to tell) is Egypt’s first dynasty with the first known use of turquoise appearing the mummified arm of Queen Zar, circa 5,500 BCE. It’s also believed that turquoise appeared on The Breast Plate of Aaron, as detailed in Exodus.
In the Americas, turquoise was valued as a sacred stone by native tribes who lived in areas rich with turquoise. The Zuni, for example, carved colorful shapes from turquoise and created stunning mosaics of turquoise in their jewelry. Before the introduction of modern tools to these regions, turquoise was mined with stone tools. By the late nineteenth century, North American native tribes in the Southwestern United States began setting turquoise in sterling silver, using inspiration from European styles to create a distinct style of jewelry that’s still recognizable today. The Navajo, in particular, are credited with this beloved style.
Present-day Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, and California have produced the most turquoise in the United States with Arizona boasting the richest supplies. Sadly, due to the high cost of production, depleted mines, and the decline of the copper mining, an industry that often went hand-in-hand with turquoise mining, turquoise is increasingly difficult and expensive to source. One of Arizona’s most prominent mines, Sleeping Beauty, ceased production in 2012, and as a result, the price of untreated high-quality Sleeping Beauty turquoise has risen dramatically. Given the challenges facing the U.S. turquoise industry and the increased incentive to value natural resources and treasures, it’s likely that the value of turquoise will continue to increase.
Indeed, the spiritual value placed on the stone seems unwavering over the millennia. Once revered as a holy stone capable of bringing good fortune and warding off evil, the contemporary crystal healing tradition regards turquoise as a stone aiding self-forgiveness and strength. As a healing stone, it is sometimes used to treat depression, anxiety, exhaustion, and panic attacks. It is believed that turquoise helps us honor ourselves.
Whatever mystical associations turquoise may conjure for the wearer, it's undeniably one of the most beautiful and unique national treasures.
Are you a fan of this fascinating stone?
Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Pexels
More gem-quality sapphires are produced in Montana than any state in the United States. Montana sapphires (or corundums) come in a variety of colors (although rubies are rare).
The first sapphire found in the U.S. was found along the Missouri River by Ed “Sapphire” Collins in 1865. Other areas along the Missouri River in Montana, including Butte, Philipsburg, and Bozeman, have also produced sapphires. Some of the first sapphire finds were deemed low-quality, however, giving Montana sapphires a bad reputation. Because of their poor color quality and lack of clarity, many Montana sapphires are treated with heat to enhance their color and clarity (a general trend that does not apply to Yogo sapphires, discussed below).
Raw Montana Sapphire
Due to environmental concerns, high cost of recovery, and low-profit margins of general-variety, non-blue Montana sapphire, not many are mined today.
Yogo sapphires are found only in the Yogo Gulch, part of the Little Belt Mountains in Judith Basin County, Montana. The land was once inhabited by the Piegan Blackfeet Native Americans, and it’s speculated that “yogo” means “romance” or “blue sky” in the Blackfeet language, but no one is quite sure.
Purple Yogo Sapphire
Yogo sapphires are celebrated for their uniform clarity and brilliance. Trace amounts of iron and titanium render most yogo sapphires a beautiful cornflower blue (though about 2% of yogo sapphires are purple.
The first gold discovery at Yogo Creek occurred in 1866, at which point miners found “blue pebbles,” but these stones weren’t recognized as sapphires until 1894. In 1895, rancher Jake Hoover sent a cigar box full of these rocks to an assay office that sent it to Tiffany’s in New York City where these gems were declared “the finest precious gemstones found in the United Stated.” The discovery of Yogo sapphires was arguably more valuable than several gold strikes.
The allure of Yogo sapphires endured through the twentieth century. In the 1980s, gem company Intergem (which controlled most of the Yogo sapphires at the time), declared that Yogo sapphires were the world’s only guaranteed “untreated” sapphire, drawing attention to the fact that by that point, 95% of the world’s sapphires were treated to enhance color and clarity (the context of that figure is rather complicated, however, and sapphires can be treated in more than one way).
The life-size Tiffany Iris Brooch, contains 120 Yogo sapphires set in platinum (circa 1900).
Although Yogo sapphires continue to be valuable, the difficulty of mining them makes them expensive to produce and therefore less profitable than equally valuable gems that are easier to mine. These days, Yogo sapphire mining is mostly practiced by hobbyists, and most of the larger mines are inactive.
Photos: Wikimedia Commons
Looking to try your hand at metal and gem mining? While gems and precious metals are mined across the world, the U.S. alone offers a plethora of gorgeous stones. See our destination picks for some of the most sought-after treasures.