Morenci Magic: Spotlight on Morenci Turquoise

At the Pickle Barrel Trading Post, we’ve written extensively researched blogs for our website and we’ve posted photos with descriptive copy to social media regarding the extraordinary appeal and desirability of turquoise. We’ve offered tips on how to distinguish between the different stones found in Arizona and the Greater Southwest. We’ve also gushed -rightfully so- over spectacular Sleeping Beauty turquoise, not only because it was mined until 2012 in Globe, Arizona (where the Pickle Barrel is located) but because it has such a compelling, serene, and uniform blue color.

However, there are other types of turquoise which, to be frank, are just as, if not more, intriguing and radiant than Sleeping Beauty. The one outstanding example which comes to mind is Morenci turquoise, also from Arizona.

Sterling silver and Morenci turquoise cuff bracelets by Elgin Sam (top) and Tommy Jackson (bottom). Tom’s use of graded oval cabochons add interest; Jackson’s channel inlay work defines a bold geometric look
Oversize, graded Navajo pearls of sterling silver hold a large pendant of oxidized silver with cabochons of Morenci turquoise. Designed and created by Navajo designer and silversmith Tommy Jackson

At first glance, some may mistake Morenci turquoise for Sleeping Beauty, as it can also be a bright, sky blue. Morenci turquoise can also run in darker shades, unlike most Sleeping Beauty. Perhaps its most dominant feature is the pyrite matrix which runs through the stone. Pyrite, most commonly referred to as Fool’s Gold, is a metallic mineral which winds its way through Morenci cabochons. When the stone is polished, the pyrite looks silver, which run like clear streams in a field of blue.  A true blue stone, flecked with silver and polished to a warm glow, can be breathtaking in a handmade piece of turquoise jewelry. Morenci turquoise is powerful all on its own when set in sterling silver; it also plays well with spiny oyster, coral, and other stones in a mixed setting.

Navajo designer and silversmith Tommy Jackson creates original rings of 18KT gold and hand stamped sterling silver utilizing mesmerizing cabochons of Morenci turquoise

Morenci turquoise comes from Southeastern Arizona, close to the New Mexico border. Many years ago, when copper mining began in the area, miners found turquoise, a byproduct of copper
mining. When we say byproduct, we mean they found the blue stones we know as turquoise in the debris of rocks and dirt not containing copper. The Morenci Copper Mine is one of the  biggest copper mines in the United States and is still producing copper today. The mine does not produce turquoise, concentrating instead on copper production. That’s not to say there isn’t still
some turquoise buried there. Today’s method of mining copper, which includes crushing and acid washing rock, tends to destroy anything besides the copper. This means that Morenci turquoise is quite rare.

Heavy stamp work in sterling silver cuff bracelets highlight sensational Morenci turquoise cabochons in the work of Navajo silversmiths and designers Sunshine Reeves (top) and E.M. Teller (bottom)

Because no new Morenci turquoise is being excavated in Arizona, the gemstone is considered rare and is coveted by avid turquoise jewelry collectors. What has already been utilized in existing jewelry, or in the case of loose stones hoarded by aficionados, is all that’s out there. The best advice when considering a quality piece of jewelry at an affordable price is to buy it right then and there. In the case of unusual stones, compelling metalwork, or overall design, you may not see another like it for a long time.

-by Cameron Vines

-Photos by Jim Lindstrom

The Pickle Barrel Trading Post has many pieces of fine jewelry incorporating Morenci turquoise. We’re proud to offer exquisite pieces by notable Navajo designers and silversmiths such as Tommy Jackson, Everett & Mary Teller, Sunshine Reeves, and Elgin Tom.