Turquoise Cabs, Grades & Cuts

Posted by Sunwest Silver on Aug 7, 2017 2:15:00 PM

“Hi! My name is Brenda Baca. I work here at Sunwest Silver. I’ve been here for about twelve years now. I work in the stone department so I work with the cabochons, calibrated and strands. So today we are going to do a video and I am going to help you to distinguish the grades of turquoise – from a high grade to mid-grade to low grade. Each mine has its own characteristics. Every single mine is going to produce something a little bit different which makes it very unique and special in its own way. It also helps you as a buyer to figure out where it came from, depending on the metrics and the color and what minerals are within that area. Also, it will help you to distinguish the grades.

So first what we are going to do is we’re going to go ahead and go over the cabochons. Now, cabochons are a cut and polished finished stone. A lot of silversmiths and jewelers use them in their jewelry. Some are free formed. Some are calibrated which is basically cut to a certain size and shape. Normally when they cut free formed shapes within a cabochon, what they do that for is to try to keep the majority of the turquoise without having to get use or get rid of so much waste. So you’re going to get a nice, beautiful, natural formation, rather than perfectly cut.

Carico Lake, which is our baby. It produces around 17 different shades of blues and greens. Now keep that in mind when purchasing turquoise because there are going to be certain variations of color within the stones. Carico, for instance, produces a high grade turquoise called apple green turquoise. Here is a piece of high grade Carico Lake. What makes this high grade is the color. It’s a very rare and unique green which Carico Lake is known for. Also the hardness. Carico is one of the very few turquoises on the market that ranges over a five on the Mohs Hardness Scale. Now typically turquoise will range between a four, four and a half, five, five and a half, which is extremely hard considering turquoise is very soft in general. The Carico can get up to a six. And a lot of the time it won’t even take a stabilization process because of the hardness. It doesn’t need it. When purchasing high grade turquoise an important factor is to know the grade, the quality and the hardness. And also the color is very important because you want a very rich and true tone when purchasing high grade turquoise. Now where the cost comes in is very important. A lot of people don’t understand that turquoise is very valuable. It is very rare and it is also one of the few stones or minerals that have been used for thousands and thousands of years. So just that alone that is what makes turquoise very valuable.

Now there are different grades of turquoise which I mentioned earlier. There is a high grade, mid-grade and low grade. Just like when you are purchasing any other stones like diamonds or basically anything in general on the market. Now when you are dealing with grades, there are things to look for. So as we saw before, this is a high grade Virgo. You can see that the colors are very true, very rich and very defined. And that’s very important when you are purchasing high grade. You don’t want to pay a high price for something like this. This is what you are going to see when you pay a high price. Now high-grade Virgo can go easily for $15 to $20 on the market and it will gradually increase just because of the rarity of the color and just the stone in general. It’s very precious and valuable.

Now here we have a midgrade. Now you can start to see the other tones that Carico produces. Now this is not a bad quality turquoise. It’s actually still very good. It’s more common than the high grade greens that you see because a very small percentage of high grade comes out of each mine. So this is a mid-grade and you’ll see more of this particular type. This is great to use in jewelry. Especially if you are going to be using or making jewelry that is not considered extremely high-end.

Now low grade turquoise is what you are going to see here. It is going to have a lot of trip rock or post rock which the minerals actually bond to and create the turquoise that forms. Now you’ll see a lot of post rock in low grade which is little clippers of color. Now this is okay to use. It’s not going to be a high quality or high priced stone. But if you are just beginning, I highly recommend you find something on this grade first, just so you can practice and it won’t be a total loss if you happen to damage your piece in the making.

Now when we are talking about turquoise, I know a lot of people think that Native American jewelry uses American-mined turquoise. That’s absolutely not true. Turquoise is mined all over the world. That’s very important to understand and know. That does not devalue it by any means. Every single place in the world has a high grade, mid-grade and low grade. So when we are talking about turquoise from all over the world Sunwest is known for having a huge selection of turquoise, rough and cabochons, as well as strands.

But I want you to see and understand the different types of colors and the different types of host rocks I guess you would say – that form in different regions of the world. Now you already saw Carico. Now let’s step into some Egyptian turquoise. Egyptian turquoise forms a very rich blue tone which you’ll see here. Now copper tends to turn turquoise blue, and that’s why you get that super rich color. It’s a chemical reaction that happens naturally with the mineral and it produces these beautiful rich tones. Now with this particular turquoise this is considered a high grade. So when you are purchasing high grade like I said before, it’s the color, the richness of the tones of the color and also the matrix plays a very deep role with this. When I say matrix, that basically means the pattern of the host rock within the turquoise stone. Some people prefer little to no matrix and some people prefer a very good amount of matrix with a beautiful pattern on it because it makes the stone more interesting. It could make the stone more valuable depending on what mine it comes from and it is also personal preference. Now this is Egyptian rough. Egyptian rough has a beautiful red copperish color to the outside of it. When you polish it up – for instance this one has a little window – you’ll be able to see the inside of that piece. Normally when you can see little flickers along the outside of blue that normally entails that it is blue all the way through, which is a good indication that you have a nice solid piece of turquoise.

But look at the difference in the variation of color and matrix. Egyptian has a very red copperish matrix within the stone. Royston over here will have more of a browner color, more of an earthy tone. And Royston will come out of Nevada just like Carico Lake does but Royston is known for producing very beautiful greens and blues and also those two colors merging together within one stone. Like I said before, every mine will have its own characteristics and that’s what makes it unique.

Now when purchasing calibrated stones there are certain things that you need to look for. Most calibrated stones will fit within a certain size bracket. For instance a 5 x 7 is a common size or a 5 millimeter round is a common size. So when purchasing stones like this, normally most jewelers want to look for clarity, and they want to look for a nice clean cut. So that way in case you don’t want to hand wrap the bezels and you want to buy premade bezels or cast bezels, it will fit perfectly and with no issue at all. Here we have some Campitos turquoise that comes out of Mexico near the Sonora Desert. Campitos is very consistent in color. A lot of silversmiths or jewelers that like nice clean simple designs tend to lean toward mines like this because it’s a lot easier to carat the stones. There’s not as much waste involved when it comes to getting nice, clear, clean, solid color stones. And the color is always really nice. That’s also important when making, for instance, a cluster ring where all of the stones need to match. It’s not going to be too time consuming to pair everything up. But if you look at the calibrated stones, you can see how perfectly cut they are and each one is uniform within that size. So it makes it easier for you as the buyer to purchase calibrated if they are nice clean cut stones.

Now over here we have Newlander. Newlander is not considered a turquoise; it is considered either a form of variscite or a form of calcasiderite, depending on what minerals are in that particular batch when it was mined or in that area. Newlander is another mine that we own and operate. It’s also located in Nevada near Lander County. This particular stone is actually very popular on the market right now. It has increased in price over the last couple of years which makes it a more sought-after stone. As you can see this particular stone hosts a rock called chert rock. Chert rock is going to be more of a black coloring within the stone. It is a host stone so that is what the minerals in that particular area bond to.

When purchasing Newlander in a cabochon formation or even in a calibrated formation, things to look for are the pattern within the stone, and the clarity of the color. Now Newlander is going to have a lot of matrix. That’s what makes it very unique. If you are wanting to try Newlander in your jewelry, things to look for when purchasing a cabochon are the color and also the matrix within the stone. Now Newlander does produce a lot of matrix which makes it very unique and also very desirable because of the patterns that it forms. It is almost like a webbed look if that is what you would like to call it. Now everyone has a personal preference. Some people like more of the light milkier colors, or it also dips more into a bluish color, almost like a variscite color. So if you are buying Newlander, always keep in mind that clarity is very important with color and the formation of the pattern on the rock.

Now I just want you to keep in mind when purchasing cabs on the market. That it is okay to purchase stabilized turquoise or Newlander, for instance, just because it is stabilized doesn’t devalue it at all. Turquoise, in general, is very soft. It is actually very porous. And a lot of time it’s chalky so you can actually crumble it or break it apart easily. So the stabilization process is actually very important when it comes to turquoise. What it does is it bonds the turquoise together and makes it easier for you as the silversmith or jeweler to be able to work with it, cab it, and set it into jewelry without it fracturing or breaking. Also what is very important is when you are buying natural turquoise that you make sure that the natural turquoise that you are purchasing is not soft or porous. Because when you do cabochons, it has a higher risk of breaking or fracturing. Normally, high grade turquoise will not have to be stabilized because it is hard enough on its own. Once again, it’s that small percentage that comes out of each mine that is considered a high grade turquoise, but the majority of that is going to be nice and hard on its own which won’t even take a stabilization process to begin with.

Now when we are talking about stabilization, a lot of people may not know what that term means. What it is, it is basically a dehydration process of the turquoise rock. For instance we have a natural piece of Royston right here. Now if this piece of Royston was considered a low grade, what they would do is actually dehydrate the stone, pull all of the moisture out of the pores basically, soak it in an epoxy, which basically fills into the pores, bonds it, and then they heat treat it. That way the stone becomes nice and hard on its own. From there you can cab it, you can drill it, you can do just about anything with it, without there being any issues in that process.

Thank you for tuning it. If you are interested in taking a look or purchasing some of the cabochons or turquoise rough we have available, please feel free to visit us on our Instagram page at Sunwestsilver. If you have any questions, you can also call into the store in New Mexico.

Topics: Turquoise, Nevada Turquoise, Turquoise Cabs, Rough Turquoise

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Since 1972, Sunwest Silver has been All About the Turquoise. We are industry’s leading source for turquoise, silver charms & findings, and finished handmade jewelry created by the Southwest’s finest Native artisans. 

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