Market pricing has always been subject to controversy. At one point finance theory believed that all stock prices were efficient because all information publicly available was somehow magically considered by buyers, factored into the price and securities were therefore efficiently priced at all times. Like many theories this one was long on theory and short on reality. Prices are indeed established in free markets by the interaction of willing buyers and sellers. Prices will rise or fall depending upon many factors but primarily by the ebb and flow of supply and demand. Markets are made of people and we are remarkably controlled by our emotions primarily greed and fear. Pricing of any asset is often far from rationally priced and will usually meander within periods of undervaluation and over valuation, often to dramatic extremes. Price is determined in the market by willing buyers and sellers. Value is more closely tied to cost of production. Selling below your cost has a short life span. As the old saying goes, "I am losing money on each transaction but making up for that on volume."
The turquoise market is no different. During the period of The Great American Turquoise Rush 1890-1910 covered in Part One of Turquoise in America, turquoise was in great demand for use in Victorian jewelry yet supply was tight resulting in high prices. In 1905 the average price for one carat of high-grade turquoise, which would have been the non-matrix sky blue, was $15 which is over $300 in today’s dollars. By that comparison turquoise today is very undervalued.
Within the market different turquoise may be even more undervalued and available at bargain prices. In Turquoise in America Part Two 1910-1990 in Chapter 5, First Contact we tell the story of the introduction of very high-grade Chinese turquoise to the US market during the late 1980’s. This was followed by the market being flooded with inexpensive treated Chinese turquoise, often by less than scrupulous dealers. This created a negative image for Chinese turquoise that continues today. Certainly, regional bias and preference for Made in America play a role in the continued mistrust for US turquoise buyers for Chinese turquoise.
Yet at some point self interest will overcome emotional bias. Let’s look at two examples of gem grade turquoise. In the first we see the most expensive turquoise on the market, Lander Blue which will sell for as high as $400 a carat. In the second we see turquoise I recently cut from rough from the old Yungai Temple Mine, also known as Cloud Mountain, located in Hubei Province China. This turquoise has a wholesale cost of about $2 a carat and would retail for perhaps $8-$10 a carat.
Lander Blue turquoise. Photo Arland Ben.
Chinese turquoise from the Yungai Temple Mine in Hubei Provence.
We may see other examples of the price differential between the highest grade of Chinese turquoise and comparable grade from major US mines. Personally I find the quality of the US mines to be superior to Chinese at the highest grade and would pay a substantial premium for the gem grade US, but a ten to fifteen times differential does seem extreme.
This Godber Burnham turquoise set in a repurposed Keneth Begay watch band would probably sell in the $80-$100 range.
Bisbee turquoise set in a ring by Don Supplee would run between $100-$150.
These Kingman cabs would be priced at $80-$100. All of these carat prices are speculative because one, I have not been pricing turquoise while busy researching and writing turquoise history books, and two, turquoise of this grade is seldom available for sale so obtaining comparable prices is a challenge. Current prices for gem grade US turquoise from the famous mines may be much higher. All photos are Mike Ryan II.
The question is, at what price differential does bias become supplanted by common sense and the potential for profit? All turquoise, especially at the highest grades is significantly underpriced on a value basis but Chinese especially so. It will be interesting to see if this price inefficiency is corrected. Unless demand for turquoise suddenly stops we may assume a more or less constant demand. That has been the case for over a thousand years. Production costs continue to increase so it is reasonable to assume that prices for all turquoise will increase. If not then there will be little incentive for miners to continue to mine while operating at a loss and turquoise will become less available. In any case prices rise and one would assume that among turquoise of equal grade the stone with the highest value potential will become more in demand.
When all is said and done price and value will get down to personal preference. This butterfly pendant made by Danny Lopacki contains the highest grade of turquoise I have ever seen, a gem grade combination of Chinese turquoise in both red and black web. I have never assigned a perfect score using the Turquoise Grading Rules R2, but if I did these stones would be graded at 100. In my opinion it is priceless. The story of the butterfly is told in our Blog article "A Butterfly's Migration."
Photo Danny Lopacki.
Mike Ryan II