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Nevada Turquoise
Gem Profile

According to conventional wisdom, as expressed for the umpteenth time in the sixth edition of the gemologist’s bible, Gems, published in 2006, ideal, or so-called “Persian,” turquoise possesses the following attributes:

It should be “pure medium blue-colored . . . with the color uniformly distributed and with no spots, flaws, or inclusions visible.” In addition, ideal specimens should be “translucent on thin edges.” That’s how Michael O’Donoghue puts it. And those are the sentiments echoed by all the turquoise specialists I have talked to through the years. Archetypal turquoise should look like a shiny robin-egg’s blue chicolette.

For years, I have parroted those sentiments in every article I have ever written about this ornamental composite of hydrated copper and aluminum phosphate, which is usually a by-product of copper mining. Then, in the summer of 2007, I chanced by the booth of Albuquerque-based Sunwest Silver at a Philadelphia bead show and had every aesthetic notion about turquoise shattered as I looked at glorious spiderweb material from its Carico Lake mine in Lander County, Nevada.

The coup de grace came at Tucson 2009 held last month when a friend showed me a piece of Nevada turquoise (shown on the previous page) which he had bought for $200 from a miner at a trailer park. I found the stone so stunning I decided to champion matrix turquoise.

But, first, I needed to find champions of this turquoise who were not miners and who therefore could not be accused of self-interest in their praise. I had to find an artisan for whom matrix turquoise was a crucial element of self-expression and for whose art it served as an esthetic cornerstone.

Meet Duane Maktima, a Native American metalsmith who lives in Glorieta, New Mexico, where he is a master of textured gold and silver as well as gem inlay. Maktima has been smithing and stone setting for 35 years, 20 of them in his present workshop. Among his trademark gems are black jade, rosarita (red glass slag), opal, and matrix turquoise.

After looking at dozens of his designs, it becomes apparent that he is partial to matrix rather than uni-color turquoise, especially the deep blue-veined and lighter brown-streaked varieties. “I am a product of my surroundings and culture,” he says, “and I want the gems I use to remind people of these things.”

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Nevada spiderweb turquoise courtesy of Scott Stepanski.

Photo by Jim Lawson