A Discussion about Chinese Turquoise

I have seen a number of posts here where someone will post their turquoise cabs, beads or jewelry, only to be immediately disappointed when The Turquoise People arrive at the consensus that the posted item is Asian. But fear not! I decided to write this (very long) post because I feel that many people believe that because their turquoise is Asian, that it is automatically “junk.” This is not always true! The aim of this post is to debunk the myth behind Chinese turquoise, and to raise awareness when purchasing it. WARING: this post is very, very long

A quick introduction:

According to Durango Silver Company, "Chinese turquoise accounts for over 60% of the stones sold in the United States, due to the scarcity of American turquoise. Chinese turquoise can be just as beautiful as American turquoise, “In fact, China seemed to produce the highest amount of spiderweb turquoise thus far. Some of the high-grade Chinese turquoise resembles and is thought to be equal to many of the better known or classic American Southwestern mines” (Durango Silver Company). Chinese turquoise is sometimes mistaken for Royston, Kingman, Bisbee, and more because of the massive variations in color and matrix. But, unlike American turquoise that can usually be attributed to a specific mine, Chinese turquoise is usually just referred to as “Chinese Turquoise”. Most of China’s turquoise is mined from the Hubei Province and from the Ma’anshan Mine near Shanghai.

To begin, here are some user-posted examples of Asian turquoise. Chinese turquoise usually exemplifies an intricate matrix; here is a magnificent piece of Asian spiderwebbed turquoise that is owned by Turquoise People member @bartleby

And a charming Chinese bead with very faint water webbing posted by user @patrick

Now, why is it that if Chinese turquoise rivals the quality and beauty of some famous American turquoise mines, why is it seen as “cheap?”

Well for one, China runs things a little differently. Environmental regulations, labor laws and safety codes are not well regulated like they are in the states. That translates to low costs to mine, process, cut and export turquoise. Some Chinese turquoise can be bought for as little as $1 per carat, sometimes less. It is no secret that Americans often associate Chinese products with low prices and inferior quality.

PuebloDirect.com also gives us an alternative perspective, explaining why Chinese turquoise is often looked down upon, saying:

“In the mid-1980s when Chinese turquoise started coming to the US market in large quantities, unscrupulous dealers would often sell Chinese turquoise as Number 8, Lander Blue or many other famous mines, asking for the much higher prices commanded by these American counterparts. This practice greatly hurt the image of Chinese turquoise, and still puts off potential buyers today even when labeled correctly.”

Hence, Chinese turquoise has been less desirable due to it being fraudulently sold as American turquoise, along with the lower costs associated with the stone. There is nothing wrong with purchasing Chinese turquoise, so long as you are paying Chinese turquoise prices. It is fraudulent and disheartening to pay Lander Blue turquoise prices, only to discover you were sold Chinese turquoise.

Here is a large Hubei (Chinese) turquoise cabochon being sold online. It’s easy to see how it could be mistaken for (or sold as) American spiderweb. Durango Silver Company has this cab listed an astounding $740.

With that being said, be weary when you are purchasing Chinese turquoise!

Although I highly praise GENUINE Chinese turquoise, there are people out there who intentionally aim to deceive buyers. John Hartman created a good check list for purchasing turquoise:

1.) Make certain the person or business you are dealing with is reputable and they have been in business long enough to know their business.

Always check customer reviews when available. Scrupulously inspect pictures and items, do not be afraid to ask questions! If anything about the product raises a red flag, do not be afraid to WALK AWAY. Check out these listings from AliExpress.com; all of these beads are described as “turquoise,” when in fact, these are all dyed substitute stones. Listing #4 is especially deceiving:

2.) Make certain the Native American Jewelry you are purchasing was “Made in the USA” and is made with Sterling Silver and authentic Turquoise.

As stated earlier, China’s export rules are not as well regulated. The term “turquoise” is often purposefully used to describe dyed magnesite, dyed howlite or other substitutes. This is intentionally meant to deceive buyers. Faux turquoise can also be created entirely from composite material and dyes.

3.) Beware of “Indian Traders” or any business that offer deals that are too good to be true. Know that sterling silver currently averages $16 per ounce and authentic Turquoise values have went through the roof in the past years. If Indian Traders or businesses are offering 50% off or super bargains - it is guaranteed they are trying to get rid of their inferior products or trash - LOOK OUT!

I personally have been a victim of false advertising a few times. I have purchased rings from china that are CLEARLY marked .925 and within a week my finger turned green. If it’s too good to be true, than it probably is! Check out this “deal” from jtv.com:

The ring is advertised as Sleeping Beauty turquoise, but the ring band clearly says CHINA! Although this ring is likely to be sterling, it is meant to deceive buyers into thinking that they are buying a southwestern turquoise ring at clearance price.

Now, here’s the good news about Asian turquoise:

Vintage and antique Asian turquoise values have skyrocketed in the last few years! Check out some of these examples:

•Here’s a modern, Navajo-made cuff with Chinese spiderweb turquoise:

•These vintage bead strands from 1940’s have a very Native American- like influence to them. They almost resemble strands of Sleeping Beauty turquoise! The RubyLane.com asking price is $300.

•And lastly, these simple and chíc vintage hand-knotted nugget beads from the 1950’s.

Can Chinese turquoise really command these prices? YES!

Chinese tourism in America has boomed within the past two years. In my antique store, I noticed MANY Asian tour groups coming in and purchasing any Chinese antiques (including antique/vintage turquoise) that they could find. I finally asked one of them what the deal was.

As it turns out, it is punishable by law to export any antique or vintage items out of China! So many Chinese treasures have been destroyed over the years due to various ruling regimes, that the market is starving to purchase back any Chinese treasures they can find here in the states to bring them back to their homeland. Vintage/antique Chinese turquoise is very popular with Chinese tourists right now, it is hard to keep it in stock.

This is the end of my long rant about Chinese turquoise. There is amazing, high quality Chinese turquoise out there that can be very valuable. But on that note, please be cautious when purchasing. There are so many fakes and imitations out there… the only remedy for which is studying and physically handling turquoise to get that hands-on experience. I write this in hopes that the next time you encounter a piece of Chinese turquoise, that you give it a second chance and examine it again. You might have a hidden treasure!

If this post was useful to you, or you found some discrepancies with my statements, please let me know in the comments! I would love to hear your opinions on Chinese turquoise.

-BigBree43

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Forearmed is forwarned. Not everyone in our World can afford Unstablized, Antique, Native Cut Turquoise. Regardless, it’s still " Big in Japan! " To quote Tom Waits.
Great post, great info. Thanks for sharing.
I used to purchase from quite a bit of Turquoise & Coral from a Tibetan Friend. It is best to buy from a trusted source, outside the mainstream. Trust being key to success.

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Still waiting to hear about your store…

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Yes, I forgot to mention that trust and rapport is a vital part to the transaction process.

Also, eBay is very, very pricey, these represent the more “high-end” prices. Much of my stock comes out of flea markets and antique stores, so I am able to buy cheaper. Unfortunately, I had no Asian turquoise in stock to photograph, so eBay was my only option, lol!

Thank you for you comments my friend

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Excellent post! Everyone mentions the Chinese connection but no one seems to really get down to the details! Thanks for the insight!

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Thank you for the feedback, Battin3 it is much appreciated!

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Just read this after all of this time. Great information and I have to say, I am seeing better and better quality items for export coming from China. My auction group has a member who would not buy something that was marked China until there was that one piece that he couldn’t say “no” to. lol. On a side note, The bead of mine you posted turns out was Persian. I still have it. I use it for my ceiling fan pull. Smacks me in the head from time to time. lol.

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A great write up by @Michael-CA about some nice Chinese turquoise

Chinese turquoise

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Great post and really fair commands on Chinese turquoise. I’m from Hubei and so glad to see a objective overview on Chinese turquoise. I’ll bring in my two cents about Chinese turqoise.

One big new about the current state of Chinese turquoise (specificly Hubei turquoise) is the government enforced to close down mining operation this month. I think this time is for real. All the newly mined Hubei turquoise in these few years are come from unofficial mining (stealing) and the local government decided to close them down completely. (they are saying it is for environmental reasons.) So I’m expecting the price for high quality Chinese turqoise will go sky high within a few months. I’m starting to see domestic price went higher already. With the addition of local demand increase, I’m hardly seeing any good quality new pieces in US markets lately.

last but not least, since I only collect Chinese turquoise, let me show you a few newer pieces. these were all came from my local connection in rough and I made them into the finished cabs.

IMG_20190911_135418|375x500

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Thanks for that great information. I have been looking to purchase some, so if you know anyone please let me know!

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Great article! The only additions I can make is that the demand for Chinese turquoise was driven by the boom in turquoise jewelry (70’s-early 80’s).

The high demand and low supply of US turquoise (which is relative now that there are significantly fewer US mines than in the 80’s) drove demand for more turquoise imports.

The Chinese have always valued less matrix (as does most of the world). They would discard all of the turquoise with matrix as worthless. Someone put one and one together (America prefers matrix, China discards matrix) and Chinese turquoise was used in Native American jewelry.

Finally, very similar to the Native American jewelry “heist”, unscrupulous players entered the market with “cheapies”. Natural turquoise became stabilized turquoise (both are real turquoise). However, as the need to meet different price points, especially in the low cost area, “turquoise jewelry” started using real turquoise substitutes like block or plastic (not real turquoise). A lot of the plastic and block was Chinese in origin.

So, people remember the “fake” turquoise flood from China and align “Chinese turquoise” with “fake turquoise”.

As we can see, however, China has some of the highest grade turquoise in the world. The real turquoise, both natural and stabilized from China has been used in Native American made and southwest style (made in the style, but not necessarily made by a person of Native American descent).

Of course, this Is just my conjecture.

I forgot to add that today we have the internet. It has really helped educate the public. There are more pics of turquoise online than I am sure were ever published in books. It is also nice because some of the mines have sites and it is easy to find a “classic” piece as an example.

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I have some beautiful beads that I purchased at my local lapidary club’s annual show. A gentleman had his bead strands from Hubei, where he was from. However, they were purchased with the knowledge they were Hubei. The more education we have, the happier we are with our baubles.

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@wjuanxp
I actually don’t know a lot about the different Chinese mines and identifying the unique characteristics of each mine. Do you have examples of a few mines and the key characteristics for identifying Chinese turquoise?

I think it would really help people also delineate “fake” turquoise from some of the beautiful high grade Chinese turquoise you have been showing.

Just a thought…

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I’ll try my best to point out some of the major mines and their typical characteristics but please keep in mind that any mines can produce top class material and they also produce LOTS of so-so materials, and by saying characteristics, I mean characteristics for typical top class material from different mines.

  1. Cloud Temple mine
    This is probably THE MOST FAMOUS Chinese mine, but unfortunately it has been closed for almost 15 years (at least that’s the official status of the mine). It used to produced the best quality materials both for neat chunk and beautiful black matrix spiderweb materials. For its spiderweb materials, it looks just like the Lander Blue if not better in my point of view. The key characteristics are the high hardness and pure deep blue color.
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  2. Ya Jiao Shan Mine
    This mine is still producing very small amount of materials and the quality of the new materials from this mine is way worse than before. We will focus on the characteristics in its peak era. The raw materials usually not too big but it is hard and very few matrix. The color is more greenish blue. For the polished piece, it shows a gel-like shine which is high desirable. Chinese people love to use this kind of materials for making beads. (usually very expensive beads)
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  3. Dong Zi Gou Mine
    This mine is famous for its pure blue material. Compare to Cloud Temple, this mine produce materials slightly brighter in color but very hard and take the polish extremally well. It has been closed for a few years but you still can get them on the market. Materials from this mine is my personal favorite.
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  4. Qin Gu 808 Mine
    The big thing for this mine is its huge production capability. Usually the material from it has a bluish green color. It is more green than blue. I’ve seen all kinds of good materials from this mine and people frequently see high quality materials from this mine as the other famous mine’s materials.
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  5. Yao Jia Po Mine
    This mine is famous for its one of its kind lime green turquoise. As far as I know, the only other place which can produce similar material is in the US, but this mine’s production is very small and it has been depleted for years now.
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  6. Jin Long Shan Mine
    This mine produces very hard intense blue materials. Usually it contains very few matrix and highly crystalline (if you shine strong light to it, the light can go through some thinner area).
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@wjuanxp I’ve been told that I have several pieces of Chinese Turquoise that were sold to me as American. I’m not bothered by it as I bought the pieces for their beauty. I find myself drawn to Chinese Turquoise quite often. I appreciate your write up. Does the piece below look like it comes from Yao Jia Po Mine? It has other colors mixed in with the lime green. Thank for your help.
IMG_0710 IMG_0711

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Thanks for writing this informative article. No I know why I was having trouble finding turquoise like that in my cuff. When the mine has been shut a long time it’s hard to find comparisons.

this could be from any of those mines. the lime green needs to be fresh or even Flourecent a bit to be Yao Jia Po. (from these few pictures, this particular piece might not be very high quality material, since the reflection is more of a wax like appearance instead of glass or china like)

there are still so many “Not-so-famous” little mines out there and they still produce some really nice ones, but just not at the previous production scale.

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