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A New Turquoise Market.

The central theme of Turquoise in America Part Two 1910-1990 is the development of a tourist market for Native American jewelry much of it featuring turquoise. During the first decade of the 20th century no one in the turquoise trade suspected that it was about to undergo a fundamental change. Demand of non-matrix sky blue turquoise to be set in Victorian style jewelry with cluster settings of small turquoise cabochons combined with other precious gems like diamonds or pearls was strong and reached the high, in 1904, for the period covered in Part One, The Great American Turquoise Rush 1890-1910


A financial crash in 1907 followed by a severe economic recession in 1908 marked the end for that period of the turquoise trade. The Victorian Age was over and the new era featured a very different artistic sense. The Arts and Crafts movement had a great impact in the US and this combined with a developing tourist market in the southwest created demand for Indian jewelry much of it first sold through the Fred Harvey Indian Department at their retail outlets located in their hotels along the route of the Santa Fe railroad. We tell this story in Turquoise in America Part Two 1910-1990.


The Navajo had learned silver work during their forced imprisonment at Bosque Redondo. Upon their return to their homelands in 1868, they began to create items in silver including jewelry. Silver work was quickly learned by the Zuni and then the Hopi. Sourcing the materials was difficult and the Indian traders on the reservation were an important resource. The first turquoise was set in silver by the Navajo during the 1880’s and by the 1990s fine pieces were being created primarily for tribal use.


These are two pieces that demonstrate the jewelry that was being made during the transition period from the period when the turquoise was sent to the east coast and the development of the southwest trade with Nevada as the principal source of turquoise which reached full development by the 1920’s.




The first is a button stamped with handmade stamps and probably placed on a belt. It shows the influence of Spanish Colonial design. It dates from the 1890’s. The second is a stamped bracelet with a turquoise cabochon that is probably Cerrillos and dates to around 1910. This is an example of a very early use of green turquoise, although the color may have changed over time. Indian jewelry would develop over the following decades from curio to craft to fine art and turquoise has remained an integral part of that evolution.


Photos courtesy of Shiprock Santa Fe.


Mike Ryan II

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