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Turquoise Tuesday: The Nevada Greens

From the Vortex Belt Buckle and Belt

Today, we’re going to take a bit of a different approach. Instead of covering one mine, we’re going to cover a color: specifically, the types of Nevada turquoise that wear hues of brilliant green. it’s one of my favorite colors, and so I feel particularly drawn to certain types of turquoise, those that, like some of the Royston turquoise covered here last week, manifest in intense shades of grass, jade, and emerald green.

The majority of mine sources of such turquoise tend to be in Northern Nevada, around the Lander County area and its environs. There are a few exceptions, and of course, depending on the co-occuring minerals and types of host rock, green turquoise does appear in majority-blue veins and deposits around the state, as well.

Because we’re going to be looking at multiple mines today, this post will be subdivided into sections under the various mine names. As is customary in this series, each subsection will include a bit of regional data, a bit of history, a bit of mine information, and characteristics of the turquoise itself — in effect, a number of mini-posts rolled into one. We;ll take them in alphabetical order.

A caveat: As has happened on previous occasions, we’ll be discussing forms of turquoise that are sometimes rare, sometimes a bit difficult to identify. I’ll be including photos of various pieces that Wings has created over the years using natural turquoise cabochons labeled as coming from some of these mines. I’ll also include a couple of photos of pieces where we are fairly sure of the stones’ origins, but cannot document it. And in one case, I’ll be posting a photo of turquoise from a different source entirely, purely to illustrate color: It’s a dyed cabochon from an Arizona mine that nevertheless looks nearly identical in color to stones from two or three old Nevada mines (and serves to point up the difficulty in establishing provenance today, and why you should ask a seller if you’re at all unsure).


Carico Lake

Carico Lake Turquoise Ponytail Holder

We begin with Carico Lake, a particular favorite.

The Carico Lake Mine is situated in Lander County, home to some of the world’s finest turquoise — and, as with Royston, it’s better regarded as the name of the mining district rather than a single mine. Its name is taken from nearby Carico Lake, a dry lake that once was filled with water and teeming with life. The significance of that fact will become apparent shortly.

August (Gus) Stennich was the first known modern-day prospector to stake a claim there. He worked it under a couple of individual mine names, the best-known of which was the Aurora (the other was the Stone Cabin Mine). (The Aurora is generally regarded as the main producer of what the market considers “classic” Carico Lake turquoise, that shown above and described in detail here. One source suggests that it is the single largest dedicated turqoise mine in the country (i.e., excavated solely for the Skystone and not secondarily to precious metals). Stennich worked the mine, along with the eponymous Stennich mine (discussed below) until his death; he left both mines to the Edgar family, well-known then and since in turquoise mining circles. We’ve been introduced to the Edgar Brothers here.

But it was not until the 1970s that production took off on a large scale. From staking of the claim in 1930 to the present day, one estimate places the Aurora’s production at some 400 tons of turquoise. The mine has changed hands in recent years, and is now open once again but is being worked on a much smaller scale.

Today, there remain additional active mines in the district, which we will cover in a later post.  The most active are the Northern Lights and, to a lesser extent, the Nevada Blue, both of which are known for more blue-hued spiderwebbed turquoise. The Red Mountain Mine (once known as the X-15, which sounds like a name for modern weaponry) is, as far as I can tell, no longer in operation, but its product remains available on the market, although naturally at a more expensive cost. There was likewise a mine in the area known as the Blue Elephant, and an apparently undefined number of smaller claims over the last 100 years or so, most of which are now entirely defunct and their histories probably lost to the winds of time. None of these, however, is known for stone in the brilliant lime-green color of archetypal Carico Lake. A new area mine that has appeared on my radar recently is the Morning Star; it seems to be producing good-quality lime-green stone with a fairly classic gold-and-white limonite matrix.

Carico Lake turquoise appears in a range of shades from a clear robin’s-egg blue to a seafoam shade to lime green to what sometimes looks like a nearly emerald green. It occasionally includes a relatively loosely-aggregated matrix, usually in a narrow yet bold spiderweb pattern, but more often, its matrix appears in a close-knit, nearly circular webbed pattern. It’s a characteristic common to many forms of turquoise from the greater Lander County area, including Lander itself (sometimes called Lander Blue) and Indian Mountain, both of which we’ll be covering here soon, and Damele, which appears immediately below.

Carico Lake also manifests in an unusual (and unusually valuable) manner: as what are known as “clam-shell pseudomorphs.” Once upon a time, of course, a very, very long time ago, the desert Southwest, including Nevada, was covered with water. Over millions of years, as the waters receded, the animal and plant life within them died off. Geologic time is largely glacial in its pace, but over the course of eons, the earth shifted and heaved and altered its very being in tiny but very significant ways: Rocks and minerals metamorphosed and otherwise changed their structure, joined with other elements, they changed form and shape and moved into the spaces left vacant as the waters retreated.

Among those vacant spaces were shells. The animals within were long since dead, their remains desiccated, and eventually, they simply disintegrated, escaping the shells to drift away like tiny sea-life spirits on the wind. Over time, turquoise that formed in the surrounding rock was slowly carried into the deposits left vacant by the now-departed waters . . . including the empty clam shells. The turquoise eventually filled the empty shells to overflowing and completely subsumed their structure, creating their own green and blue “clam shells” known as pseudomorphs. You can see a photo of Carico Lake pseudomorphs (sometimes simply called “fossil clams”) here. [Lone Mountain turquoise, which we covered here, is another turquoise known for manifesting in pseudomorph form, both in shells and in plant fossils.]

Most commonly, Carico Lake turquoise is found in the green hues outlined above, particularly in lime green of varying shades and intensity. The matrix is occasionally blackish-looking, but that’s rare (and deceptive; it’s not actually black). Most often, it appears in colors ranging from near-white and ivory to yellows and golden tints to bronze, coppery, and brown accents.

The photo immediately above, of a barrette by another Native artist, shows an example of the round mottling effect of the classic Carico Lake matrix. The inclusions are classified as “spiderwebbed,” or simply “webbed,” but unlike many other forms of webbed turquoise, the matrix is less likely to give the stone a “crackled” effect. That is, the matrix lines don’t criss-cross and connect up in a sprawling network of jagged-edged lines. Instead, the matrix lines are curved and loop around to meet up with each other in small circular patterns, creating the mottling effect; and often with the edges seemingly smudged, as though drawn in oil pastel with a firm line which is then feathered outward by hand on both sides of the line, rather than in the delicate single-stroke lines of a pen-and-ink drawing. It gives the stones a warmer effect, especially coupled with the greens and earth tones.

The stones in the belt buckle pictured at the very top of this post are a beautiful example. They were matched pieces from Wings’s private collection, very old, wholly natural — so much so, in fact, that the pits and irregularities in the stones, particular in the matrix lines, could be felt to the touch and seen with the naked eye. It’s how I like my turquoise best: untreated and not overly-polished. They were extremely valuable stones, particularly since they had been kept together as a matched three-piece set for so long, and thus were not going to be used in just any piece. And then a special client commissioned a belt a few years ago — for his wife, who is likewise a long-time client and a very, very dear friend. She loves green turquoise with a passion similar to my own, especially those with the visible coppery matrices, and so it was time for the stones to find their home.

Carico Lake turquoise today runs the gamut on pricing. I have, on rare occasions, seen it for as little as $3-$4 per carat for gem-grade cabochons of lesser aesthetic quality — for example, stones that do not display the electric green color or that have sparse to no limonite matrix. Today, one reliable dealer is currently carrying gem-quality Carico Lake cabochons for $7 per carat, which seems to me to be about the average fair market value, although you will sometimes see similar cabs as high as $10-$12 per carat or so. And, of course, occasionally some cabs of truly exceptional quality would appear on the market, and they can sell for anywhere from $15 to $30 per carat and more, depending on the stone’s overall quality and appearance. The same dealer is also currently offering a few of the Morning Star Mine turquoise for anywhere from $12 to $24 per carat. Such prices make it a bit more difficult for many Native artists to use it regularly, but for those who, like Wings, have had some old pieces in reserve, it produces truly spectacular finished pieces.


Navajo Style Brooch

You will sometimes see this mine’s name spelled Damale, Damali, Dameli, Damaile, or Damaili, but as far as I’ve been able to determine, Damele is the correct spelling.  The Damele Mine sits outside Austin, Nevada, a small town in the southwestern part of Lander County that was allegedly named for the capital city of Texas. It is still an active mine, but its production levels are low. Nonetheless, it turns out some incredible stone.

As turquoise goes, it’s striking, and frankly highly unusual: It almost always appears in green and brown and white, in varying shades and intensities, with some grays and metallic accents thrown in for good measure. The matrices are spiderwebbed, often in a round mottling pattern similar to that found in Carico Lake turquoise, as described above. The stone in the pin pictured immediately above is a good example: a combination of bright emerald green and near-white stone shit through with a vaguely metallic golden-brown matrix. [As an aside, this particular cabochon is mostly rough, with just enough polish on it to let the colors shine through its surface; it looks nearly identical in both shades and arrangement of colors and matrix to a similar-sized, highly polished oval cabochon recently offered by Nevada Gem. That stone has now sold and is no longer shown on the company’s Web site, but the patterning really was so close is as to make me think they had come from the same vein in the same bit of host rock. If indeed they did, it’s another indicator of how long collectors and dealers sometimes hang onto high-grade stone, because the one shown above is fairly old.]

The presence of so much white is a cautionary flag, though: Very often, turquoise-like stone that contains a great deal of somewhat translucent white color is not actually turquoise, but variscite. Damele is no exception; in addition to turquoise, variscite is also expressly mined at this location. And the stones do bear a family resemblance, so to speak, but they are not the same thing. Customers in the market for turquoise (which tends to be the more valuable of the two) should be clear about what it is they’re buying, because variscite frequently gets mislabeled as turquoise.

Like Carico Lake, Damele turquoise contains a great deal of limonite in the matrix, which, along with zinc, is part of what gives it its lime-green to yellowish cast. Some of it is classified as faustite, which, again, is part of the turquoise “family” of stones, so to speak, but is not precisely the same thing. Some gemologists insist that any appearance of lime green or apple green stone is by definition faustite rather than straight turquoise; others believe it’s more complex, and that some electric green turquoise is indeed fully turquoise rather than faustite — and that it is possible for the two minerals to coappear in the same stone. We subscribe to the “complexity” theory.

Wings has had very little Damele in inventory over the years, and the pin shown above is not his own, but a Navajo-made piece he acquired some time ago. Nonetheless, he does occasionally come into possession of some, and he’s developed a new-found interest in the complex colors and patterns found in the stone, so I think it’s safe to expect to see him begin working with it again in the relatively near future.


Turtle Peak Hat Pin

The Frogskin Mine was a small deposit owned by Marvin Symes, and old name in turquoise mining history. Symes partnered with several other such old names in numerous Nevada mining operations, including the famous Lander (also known as Lander Blue), which produced the world’s most valuable turquoise, and the Number Eight, which we’ve covered recently here. The Frogskin Mine, however, was his own.

I’ve seen it spelled various ways:  “Frogskin,” “Frog Skin,” “frogskin,” “Frog skin.” I think the first is the way he spelled it himself, but that’s not definitive. Neither is the spectrum of opinion on what it produced: When you Google any variant of “Frogskin turquoise” now, only one image comes up, the same one repeated across multiple sites, all taken from the same original source. It shows a polished nugget in a deep teal blue, and the matrix patterning makes it clear why it’s known as “Frogskin.”

But there was a time, not many years ago, when other images were more readily available, and they showed a broader range of colors, from pale greens to deep teal, and with matrices spanning the range from golden-white to near-black. I suspect that the broader range is what actually exists. The piece in the photo shown above is one that was a special commission, three years ago, for a very special client and friend. The stone was a very old natural cabochon from Wings’s personal collection, probably one of the pieces given to him by his father years ago from his own collection. It was labeled “frogskin,” and the patterning shows why. In fact, he had originally talked about turning it into a small frog pin, but when the turtle commission arose, its matrix transformed from “frogskin” into a turtle’s shell.

I’ve been able to find no reliable pricing information on Frogskin turquoise today, probably because so little is on the market. That leads me to believe that those collectors, dealers, and artisans in possession of it have been unwilling to part with it, which in turn leads me to believe that, if it were to be found on the market today, it would be quite expensive.

Orvil Jack

Nine Stone Turquoise and Coral Cactus Blossom Earrings B 2

The Orvil Jack is an eponymous mine, located on the west side of northern Nevada’s Crescent Valley and first staked in 1956 by Orvil and Bessie Jack. After Orvil’s death, his daughter, Grace Jack Wintie, took over the mine. She and her husband and sons continue to operate it, albeit on a much smaller scale, and reportedly continue to turn out small amounts of fine stone even today.

The claim began its life as the Blue Ridge Mine, because the first product dug out of the earth there was a gorgeous blue webbed turquoise that is said by some to be among the finest ever produced. The find was apparently short-lived,  and as far as I know, virtually none of it remains on the market. If it did, I suspect that it would hugely expensive, still probably falling in behind Lander but perhaps the equal of high-grade Indian Mountain turquoise.

Beneath the small blue deposit, however, was much more turquoise, and good-quality stuff, too. The difference was that it was imbued with limonite influences, and appeared in brilliant shades of green. What is today regarded as classic Orvil Jack is a bright lime-green stone so infused with yellow, it’s nearly chartreuse. Actually, some stones are chartreuse; there’s really no other word for it. The center stones in the earrings in the photo above are good examples: chartreuse on the upper 2/3 of each cabochon, jade-colored below, and bisected by a spidery matrix that looks like dark forest-green ink.

Once in a great while, however, you’ll see Orvil Jack turquoise that looks wholly different, and truly incredible: deep, dark emerald green, the kind of stone that takes a high, glass-like polish. A company in Nevada has some in both cabochon and bead form, and the photos, which you can see here, are simply astounding. They look like raw South American emeralds, which are opaque, but these are cabbed and polished to a near-translucence on the surface of each stone.

Unfortunately, the lime-green color that is the hallmark of Orvil Jack can be deceptive. Orvil Jack is now rare enough that it’s quite valuable; large cabochons are unusual, and therefore unusually costly. And there is a far less expensive turquoise that mimics the shade, one we’ve covered here before: It’s called Mohave Green turquoise, a form of Arizona’s Kingman turquoise, and it’s dyed. Now, I have to be very clear about this: The folks who mine the Kingman deposits today, and who sell the product in bulk, are the same people who create the Mohave Green (and Mohave Purple) — and they are honest about the fact that it is dyed. Their product descriptions tell you that right up front, and they even describe how it’s created. There is no deception on their part; if you like the colors and the luminous, swirly effects the dye creates in what would otherwise be light blue stones, then by all means, you should buy it. It’s no different from wearing what used to be called costume jewelry: plating or adulterated metals; “lab” stones; stabilized or otherwise synthetically treated stones. Jewelry is a fundamentally personal choice, and people should wear what speaks to them, no matter the materials or methods of creation. What they should not do is be misled into wearing something that they believe to be something else entirely.

Verdant Blossoms Concha Belt Buckle

Now, some examples are no doubt honest mistakes: Someone comes into possession of a large cabochon, or a piece of Indian (or Indian-style) jewelry containing one, much like the one shown above.  It’s clearly turquoise; the color is that telltale brilliant lime green; a little Googling for “lime-green turquoise,” and voilà! It must be Orvil Jack. And it’s valuable, too!

Except it’s not.

The belt buckle above is made with dyed Mohave Green Kingman turquoise. All these years later, I don’t even recall how Wings came into possession of it; it might have been a trade with or purchase from another artist. When artists need to raise cash fast, they will often sell some of their inventory of stones in lots; you often wind up with a lot of very ordinary stones, that are perfectly fine for use in basic pieces and as accent stones, and occasionally, you there will be a real find or two in them. At any rate, this looked at first like one of the real finds — but we had to establish, to the best of our ability, exactly what it was.

In this photo, you can see the matrix in the lower half — wispy strokes of golden brown. Now, that alone is not a dealbreaker; the levels of zinc and faustite in Orvil Jack assure that those colors will sometimes be present. But take a look at the patterning.

From what I’ve seen, Orvil Jack tends manifest in two or three different forms: one with almost no matrix at all, but for the occasional fleck here and there; the more classic spiderweb look, like what appears in the earrings above; and in the rare emerald-green type mentioned above, a beautifully mottled appearance that resembles the matrixing found in Carico Lake and Damele, but with green and gray outlines in addition to the more common shades of brown and gold.

So that was our first clue that perhaps this did not qualify as quite such a “find,” after all. It made us look more closely at the stone itself, and while it’s difficult to see in the photo, it’s more readily visible under a magnifying glass: You can see the effects of the dye in the stone itself. It is, in part, the uniformity of color; Nature is less consistent. Upon close examination, you can see that the color appears like a translucent overlay; if you know what you’re looking for, you can see the way it tints the matrix itself.

So we knew what we had: Mohave Green turquoise. It’s still a beautiful stone in a beautiful color, and its substantial size and oval shape made it the perfect focal point for a big, heavy-gauge sterling silver concha-style belt buckle. And it was sold as Mohave Green turquoise, at a price that reflected the lesser value of the stone.


PIxie turquoise is one that, to my knowledge, I’ve seen only in photos. I’ve come across an occasional old cabochon that resembles Pixie, but I have no reason to think that it actually is a product of this now-defunct mine.

The Pixie Mine was a very small claim, located in what used to be called the Cortez District, now dominated by the Fox Mine (which we covered here a couple of weeks ago). As I said then, about the Fox claim:

[It] is found in what is now known as the broader Cortez District, straddling the adjoining border in the upper half of Lander and Eureka Counties in north-central Nevada. It sits in an area called Crescent Valley (a basin between the Cortez and Shoshone Mountains, just south of the mouth of Cortez Canyon. On the Eureka County side of the district, there today sits a community that is also called Crescent Valley; it’s tiny, with a recorded population of 392 in 2010. It’s so small that the only school there is an elementary school; junior and senior high school students are bused over the Lander County line, into the Battle Mountain district — with a population of more than 3,600, it’s about ten times the size of Crescent Valley. We’ll visit the Battle Mountain area itself in the weeks to come; the region is known for some of the finest (and most expensive) deposits of turquoise (existing and tapped out) on the planet.

Despite its location substantially farther north, the story of the region that is home to the Cortez-turned-Fox mine is very much like the story of that of the Candelaria mine. And like the town that bore the Candelaria name, Cortez itself is now a ghost town.

Pixie was mined only for a very short period of time, reportedly an 18-month period spanning 1973 and 1974. The vein is regarded as being tapped out, but it forms part of the properties that are now own by the Cortez Mining Group, a multinational gold mining operation.

As of this writing, the shop at the Museum of Northern Arizona offers a cuff for sale that it says is made with Pixie turquoise cabochons. You can view it here to get an idea of the color and matrix. Another company that offers brief information about various turquoise mines includes thumbnails of rough, nuggets,  and cabochons, including a couple of pieces of Pixie rough, here.

A little remains on the market today, and as far as I can tell, most of its value comes from its scarcity. It’s not a terribly expensive turquoise, but for those who like greens, it’s a pretty little stone, ranging mostly from pale seafoam with just the barest hint of blue to bright lime shades full of hints of yellow.


Stennich is another old mine whose name is often misspelled; I’ve seen it rendered variously as Stenich, Steinich, Stenech, etc. It’s named for its first [commercial] miner, a man named Gus Stennich, who was likewise the original commercial owner of the Carico Lake claim. Upon his death in 1943, so the story goes, searchers entered his tent and found his will scrawled on a bread wrapper, leaving both the Stennich and Carico Lake mines to the Edgar family, who were (and still are) big players in the history of turquoise mining.

Like Pixie, Stennich is another type of turquoise that I have not, so far as I know, seen outside of photos. The few images I have seen suggest that it’s a particularly beautiful turquoise, one that comes in brilliant, intense shades of green, although the existing deposits reportedly contain other shades, including blues.  As with some of the stone found in the other mines listed above, some of the greens are sometimes called faustite. There are some mineralogical differences between turquoise and faustite, just as there are between turquoise and variscite, and which any given nugget is I suspect varies widely (and both are probably found in the same nugget with some regularity).

According to some sources, the Stennich greens are nearly tapped out at this point, and thus what remains on the market is increasingly valuable. Apparently the area is also home to gold mining operations, and at least once source expects that those operations will completely subsume what remains of the turquoise mine before long.

The same company mentioned in the Pixie section above also includes a couple of photos of Stennich rough, here. You can see an individual cab identified as Stennich, offered by another dealer, here.

There are, of course, many more Nevada mines that produce green turquoise in one form or another, but these are the ones that really speak to my spirit. With any luck, in the months to come pieces with some of them will be available to speak to yours, too.

Next week:  Speaking of spirit, that’s part of the topic to be covered here, along with a truly amazing stone.

~ Aji






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