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Value in Turquoise Jewelry

Gem grade Bisbee in a Don Supplee gold ring.

Regular viewers of the Blog know of a recurring theme in the videos and posts: natural turquoise, especially at the higher grades, is undervalued relative to the cost of production. This occurs because the turquoise market is dominated by treated stone that will sell for as much as fifty to one hundred times less that the price of the highest grades of natural turquoise.

In spite of this discrepancy between value and price of high-grade turquoise few are willing to buy at the highest grades preferring the less expensive mid grades of natural or the much cheaper and more available treated turquoise. While there is great value in high grade turquoise there is very little available because it is so rare and those who have this grade are reluctant to sell, knowing they will be unable to replace at similar grade, at any price.

This situation has created value for high grade turquoise in existing native American jewelry. Few native jewelers have the means to purchase the high-grade turquoise for their jewelry and often must rely on dealers to provide them with the best stone. This is a continuation of the old piecework system developed during the early days of the trading posts operating on the Navajo and Zuni reservations. Following WW II and the demise of the old trading posts this role was taken up by well-known Indian American jewelry dealers who would provide the materials for the creation of the jewelry. This arrangement continues.

Much of the high-grade turquoise provided to the jewelers has been accumulated by the dealers over decades at much lower cost than the prices today. Let’s compare an example using this old cost basis to what may occur at today’s prices. Let us assume a piece of fine jewelry made by a well-known master jeweler using a very high grade 20 carat turquoise cabochon. At today’s price that turquoise may cost as much as $100 a carat or more. With a cost of at least $2000 for the stone and labor cost of perhaps 20 hours at $80/hour, we have a price to the dealer of $3600 not including silver or gold expense plus perhaps a 20% mark up. The market for jewelry approaching $5,000 is very limited except for a very select number of artists. In contrast the dealer may only have $20 a carat or less invested in the turquoise reducing their cost for the jewelry to around half the number in the previous example.

High grade turquoise is very undervalued on an historical basis and from a cost of production. The dislocation of the two-tier market, while providing exceptional value at the higher grades, means that there is insufficient market for high grade. This keeps the availability of the finest turquoise very scarce. Buyers won’t pay the price, regardless of value, but it becomes a moot point because little of the high grade, with strong provenance, is available at any price.

Buyers looking for additional value when buying high grade turquoise should look to the Indian jewelry market. I do.

Mike Ryan II

Santa Fe

October 2023


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