Turquoise is a blue-green mineral that has been prized for thousands of years. It has been used to make jewelry, sculptures, and ornaments since ancient times. Turquoise is found in various parts of the world, but some regions are more well-known sources than others. Understanding where turquoise deposits are located geographically can provide insight into the history and trade of this iconic mineral.
The Southwest United States
The Southwest United States is one of the most significant sources of turquoise in the world. This region includes states such as Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada. For thousands of years, Native American tribes like the Navajo and Zuni peoples mined turquoise and created jewelry and artworks from this striking mineral. Some of the most productive turquoise mines in the Southwest include:
- Sleeping Beauty Mine, Globe, Arizona
- Kingman Mine, Kingman, Arizona
- Cerrillos Mine, Cerrillos, New Mexico
- Bisbee Mine, Bisbee, Arizona
The vivid blue color of turquoise from this region, which can range from sky blue to greenish robin’s egg blue, is highly valued. The Native Americans believed that turquoise had protective powers and the Southwest United States continues to be a major producer of authentic, high quality turquoise today.
China is another historic source of turquoise. For at least 3,000 years, turquoise has been mined in regions like Hubei and Tibet. Some of the oldest known turquoise mines include:
- Zhebei Salt Wells, Central Tibet
- Mount Nanzhang, Hubei province
Chinese turquoise tends to have a greener or bluer color than turquoise from the American Southwest. Jade and turquoise were popular materials for ritual and ceremonial objects in ancient China. Turquoise mining continues today in China, and in recent decades, Hubei has emerged as a world leader in turquoise production.
The region historically known as Persia, now modern day Iran, is another key source of turquoise. Mining evidence dates back over 2,000 years. Significant deposits are located in the Iranian highlands, and some of the most important mines include:
- Nishapur mines
- Mashhad mines
- Damghan mines
Persian turquoise is sky blue in color, with a uniformity of hue that is highly prized. The Persian style of using silver backings with turquoise gems also became influential worldwide. Iran was the most globally dominant source of turquoise for centuries, until the discovery of American deposits. Despite competition, Iran still actively mines and exports turquoise today.
The Sinai Peninsula of Egypt contains some of the world’s oldest turquoise mines, dating back over 6,000 years. Locations like Serabit el-Khadim were sources of turquoise for the ruling pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. Turquoise artifacts have been found as grave goods and in other archaeological sites throughout Egypt. Important sources include:
- Serabit el-Khadim
- Wadi Maghareh
- Wadi Sidri
Egyptian turquoise varies from light to dark blue, sometimes with brown or black spiderweb matrix patterns. The ancient Egyptians valued the vibrant blue stone and produced many stunning works of jewelry and funerary objects. Although not a major producer today, Egyptian turquoise remains highly sought after.
Significant deposits of turquoise have been found in Queensland, Australia dating to the 1960s. Important mining locations include:
Australian turquoise tends to be greener in hue, with iron variations ranging from deep blue to green. The challenging remoteness of the Australian outback makes mining difficult. However, Australian turquoise is now valued worldwide for its unique green tones.
|Country||Notable Mines/Regions||Color Range|
|United States (Southwest)||Sleeping Beauty, Kingman, Cerrillos, Bisbee||Sky blue to greenish blue|
|China||Zhebei, Mount Nanzhang||Blue to light green|
|Iran||Nishapur, Mashhad, Damghan||Vivid sky blue|
|Egypt||Serabit el-Khadim, Wadi Maghareh||Light to dark blue|
|Australia||Bandee, Jarvisfield, Mackinaw||Blue-green|
In addition to the major historic sources, turquoise deposits have been found in regions scattered around the globe. While they do not produce turquoise on the commercial scale of the major sources, these locales contribute to the diversity and trade of the gemstone. Some other places where turquoise is found include:
- Cornwall, England
- Saxony, Germany
- Turkestan, Central Asia
- Virginia, United States
- Northern India
From local artisanal mining to accidental finds, these minor sources provide small batches of turquoise to the global market. The turquoise may feature unusual matrix patterns or colors, giving collectors more variety.
Even today, new turquoise deposits continue to be discovered as technology improves and new regions are explored. For example, turquoise discovered in Lejla, Bosnia in 2017 attracted attention from experts. Lab tests confirmed that the vivid blue stones were indeed natural turquoise. While still small in scale, the find indicates the possibility of identifying new viable turquoise sources in the future.
In addition to natural turquoise, synthetic versions have also been created in laboratories. The hydrothermal synthesis process artificially produces synthetic turquoise. The earliest known synthetics were created by the Gilson Company in the 1980s. Synthetic turquoise simulates the look of the real thing, but lab created stones lack the rarity and value of natural turquoise. Natural turquoise can be chemically verified by labs to distinguish it from synthetic imitations.
From its ancient beginnings many thousands of years ago to today, turquoise has endured as one of the world’s most treasured gems. While deposits are found globally, the leading sources of top quality turquoise are concentrated in a few key areas. The American Southwest, Middle East, and China are the traditional leaders, while new producers continue to emerge over time. Whether sky blue or sea green, naturally formed or synthetic, turquoise in all its shades continues to captivate people worldwide.