Vintage Naja Pendant
A vintage piece of Bisbee turquoise, set in sterling silver naja. Pin is 2-3/4″ L by 2″ wide.
“Bisbee Blue” is a name that originates from the Bisbee Mine, near Bisbee, Arizona, in Cochise County, USA. The term refers to the turquoise that comes from copper mines in this region. Turquoise from Bisbee has a reputation as a hard, finely webbed stone with high blue color, ranging from sky blue to a dark lavender blue. The matrix patterns vary a great deal, but can be characterized by the deep chocolate brown to black webbing. The hardness is 4.5 on the mohs scale.
The name “Bisbee” conjures a mystique among all turquoise aficionados, and it is one of the most sought after of all domestic turquoise. The turquoise from Bisbee is highly collectible and it is one of the more famous of the American mines. Although the turquoise from Bisbee has a wide variety of color and hardness, the most exceptional quality originates from the Lavender Pit, especially the east side. Such stone has beautiful high blue color with a dark distinct matrix. The turquoise is found as stringers that form as much as a few inches wide, as well as minute stringers in pyrite; also, small nugget masses in granite and quartzite.
Bisbee turquoise was one of the first to appear on the modern American market, which is at least partly responsible for its fame. The turquoise mine was a secondary operation to the Bisbee copper mine, operated by the Phelps Dodge Corporation. The vast majority of Bisbee turquoise surfaced when the Phelps Dodge started their open pit mining operations at the location now known as the Lavender Pit.The mine has been closed since the early 1970’s, so anything new coming from the mine has been scavenged from the old dumps.
Much conglomerate rock had to be removed by Phelps Dodge before the deeper copper ore could be mined. This conglomerate was considered waste rock to the mining company, but was actually a hidden treasure as the host rock for Bisbee turquoise. This waste was discarded in huge piles called “dumps.” The corporation made no decided effort to recover the turquoise, so almost all of it was recovered by company employees taking it out covertly in lunch boxes. Though this activity was prohibited, it was rarely enforced. For several years, through the late 1970’s, these individuals (locally known as “dumpers”), were the only source for this fine turquoise. Also, during this time, Phelps Dodge began leasing out rights to individuals to mine the dumps for turquoise. However, the large majority of Bisbee turquoise was extracted during the 1950’s and 1960’s through the covert actions of mine employees.
There are other very rare materials from Bisbee that were mined both from stream beds in the Mule Mountains, as well as from the Campbell shaft. The various lesser-known formations, other than turquoise, among the copper oxides of Bisbee are of interest, as they rarely form in a similar way anywhere else in the world. There is a conglomerate mix of Azurite, chatoyant malachite, chrysacola and cuprite…all in a single stone, coming from the Campbell Pit, that is incredibly understated and altogether unrecognized for its uniqueness.
In 2004, Phelps Dodge Corporation decided to bury the old mine under hundreds of tons of dirt and rock. They felt that the miners, due to the increasing value of the turquoise, were paying too much attention to the turquoise and not enough to copper mining.
History of Native American Jewelry
The History of Native American Jewelry is deeply rooted in the culture of the American Southwest. Certain historical processes have given American Indian jewelry a strong presence in today’s modern style. The use of Turquoise is by far the most influential aspect of ancient Indian jewelry used in modern western fashion. Archeological evidence supports the theory that stones, which include turquoise, shells, and carved fetishes, predate the Christian epoch. Turquoise that was found in Hohokam excavations in southern Arizona has dated back to 200 B.C. Even older in central Mexico, approximately 600-700 B.C., and in South America about 900 B.C.
Native American Jewelry has a unique past. Knowing that story is the key to understanding the Indian jewelry styles of today. Native Americans started making silver jewelry in the late 1800’s when the Spaniards came, making jewelry, ornaments for their horses and trinkets for barter. But the Indian jewelry made before this time provided the foundation for their own style. Although the tribes and their styles vary, some common themes persist. There is significant evidence of beaded Turquoise jewelry. Turquoise and shell, paired with feathers would be strung and hung from every place possible. Yarn, leather, and sinew were woven into patterns and incorporated into necklaces, bracelets and clothing with the stones and shell. Other unique, beautiful items from nature would be included as much as possible. In Arizona this jewelry dates back over 2300 years, during the Hohokam era. Metal was rare but not out of the picture entirely. Some archeologists suggest gold and silver was worked by certain tribes in North America during this ancient time but its use would have been limited. Gold and Silver was worked by the Native peoples of Mexico and Central America since the time of the Aztec, so its possible Native American tribes living in the southwest region could be aware of metal working in some way much earlier than the Spanish arrival. It is even difficult to put a date on just when the Native Americans started making silver jewelry after the Spanish arrival. Some authorities will say the 1870’s some the 1890’s.