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Bisbee Turquoise from Arizona: Beads, Cabochons and Pendants for High-End Jewelry Making

Updated on March 11, 2011
Chris Telden profile image

With customers worldwide, Chris Telden has designed and sold jewelry under the name "Ornatia" with a focus on organic, unisex style.

Interested in the Bisbee Annual Turquoise Hunt?

The Bisbee Annual Turquoise Hunt takes place every year in October.  Scour the Queen's Mine Dump for traces of turquoise and other minerals.  Find information on the hunt and the Bisbee Queen's Mine tour at the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum.

Learn the fascinating history of the Bisbee turquoise mine and more informormation about this gorgeous stone suitable for jewelry-making projects with necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings. See a selection of Bisbee turquoise beads, nuggets, cabs and even some pendants for jewelry making.

The high-quality turquoise beads, cabochons and pendants from the Bisbee, Arizona turquoise mine can be harder to find than Sleeping Beauty turquoise and other types of natural Arizona turquoise. The beautiful vivid blue turquoise with a dark, intricate matrix is perfect for making gorgeous high-end jewelry.

Last Updated March 11, 2011

History of the Bisbee, Arizona Turquoise Mine

The history of Bisbee turquoise is not your average mining story.  Bisbee, Arizona was a mining town financed by Judge Dewitt Bisbee in the late 1800s and known for its copper ore - not its turquoise.  A few years after the Copper Queen mine merged with the Phelps Dodge Atlanta mine in 1885, the railroad came to Bisbee.  Still, pretty much only copper was mined there for decades, until in the 1950s when a low-grade copper pit mine was opened up.

So the fascinating question is, how did we get the brilliant blue turquoise found in Bisbee, Arizona out of a copper mine?  Well, it came primarily from the Lavender Pit of the Phelps Dodge Corporation Mine in the 1950s through the 1960s, when veins and nuggets of turquoise turned up in the copper mines as "waste" rock of all things!  Other smaller sources include the shaft mine in Campbell and the Mule Mountain stream beds.  This waste rock was put aside.

Employees were responsible for recovering most of the Bisbee turquoise.  They sneaked home with this "waste rock" and turquoise nuggets and were responsible for much of the so-called "mining" of Brisbee turquoise.  So no real turquoise mining was ever done in Bisbee, Arizona. Bisbee tourquoise, was, amazingly, a by-product of copper mining.

The Lavender Pit Copper Mine in Bisbee, Arizona

Lavender Pit Copper Mine in Bisbee, AZ:
Lavender Open Pit Mine, Bisbee, AZ 85603, USA

get directions

The Lavender Pit Mine is where much of the Bisbee turquoise was obtained.

As with other stones, turquoise is graded according to its treatments, color, and the presence of dark-colored patterns (matrix).

The deep, bright blue Bisbee turquoise, like many other types of Arizona turquoise, tends to be naturally hard and gem quality, and is not stabilized. The brilliant blue color makes it a highly-prized gemstone for jewelry designers.

The paler blue turquoise from the Bisbee mine is softer and not generally gem grade. You may also occasionally see green Bisbee turquoise, though it's less common and lower quality than the blue stones. Some of the lower grade turquoise has been stabilized for use in making jewelry.

Why does Bisbee turquoise cost more--both the treated and untreated varieties?  According to many Native American jewelry experts, pretty much all the available turquoise in Bisbee mine has been mined. The Bisbee turquoise beads, cabochons and pendants you see for sale are usually from existing collections of beads or jewelry.

Versatile Turquoise Bead Strands

Brisbee turquoise rondelles in graduated sizes are terrific for either plain turquoise strands or broken up by sterling silver and centered with a pendant.

Brisbee nuggets and other shapes are often irregularly sized.  Interspersed with pink coral or lapis lazuli and sterling silver beads, the vivid or pale blue turquoise stands out even more.

Single beads can create dangles for earrings.  They look incredible paired with sterling silver.

Long-time jewelry crafters know this turquoise is excellent for unisex jewelry designs as well as pieces designed specifically for men or women.

Bisbee Turquoise Facts

  • Bisbee turquoise is considered rare. New Bisbee turquoise is unlikely to be unearthed again anytime soon, as the company that owns it dumped 50 feet of dirt over the tailings.
  • Bisbee turquoise was not actually mined. It was mostly salvaged by thieves in the dump, where it was deemed waste rock.
  • Bisbee turquoise may be dark blue (higher grade), light blue (lower grade), and green (lowest grade).
  • Much turquoise from Bisbee is called "spiderweb" turquoise because of its matrix.
  • Bisbee turquoise has a brown or reddish brown matrix, but not black.
  • Watch out for "Red Skin" turquoise from China, a Bisbee Turquoise lookalike.

Navajo, Zuni and Pueblo Squash Blossom Necklaces

Some of the old antique Southwestern Indian jewelry using Bisbee blue turquoise was made by the Navajos, Zunis and Pueblos and are the beautiful squash blossom necklaces. 

None of the peoples who made squash blossom necklaces--the Zuni, Pueblo and Navajo--actually called them "squash blossom"--the origin of the term has been lost.


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    • flash167 profile image

      Marty Andersen 

      7 years ago from Salina, Utah

      I lived in Tucson, Arizona for almost 15 years. We would visit Bisbee nearly once a month. True "Bisbee Blue" is absolutely gorgeous. As a lapidary and silversmith, I was very fortunate to acquire a very small amount of Bisbee Turquoise. It's a pleasure to work with and makes wonderful cabochons.


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