by Ashley Lodato
Unless you count a brief infatuation with sea shells when Bronwen Jewelry was in its infancy on the beaches of Maui, our company's enduring love has always been turquoise. This humble mineral is, scientifically speaking, a hydrated phosphate of copper and aluminum. Aesthetically speaking, it's a blue-green stone with an astonishing range of hues, all of them vibrant, all of them appealing.
The term "turquoise" was first used in the 17th century, derived from the French word turquois for "Turkish," a nod to the Turks who brought the mineral from Persia to Europe. But turquoise was known long before its current name became common: first century Roman philospher Pliny the Elder referred to this gemstone as callais; the Aztecs knew it as chalchihuitl.
In its finer grades, turquoise is rare and valuable, prized for jewelry for its unique hue. But in recent times, the presence of synthecs, treatments, and imitations has devalued true turquoise.
But not for Bronwen Jewelry! We're just as in love with turquoise as we were the first time we used it in a pair of tiny drop earrings accented with red beads and silver spacers, and only the real stuff will do for us. That's why we choose Arizona turquoise, straight from the Sleeping Beauty Mine.
Located in Globe, Arizona, the Sleeping Beauty Mine is one of the Southwest's most beloved mines. Initially mined for copper and gold, Sleeping Beauty is now renowned for its turquoise: solid, sky blue, no matrix (particles of the granite that originally hosted the turquoise's formation). If you've seen the jewelry of the Zuni people, you've seen Sleeping Beauty turquoise.
As early as 1500 BC, Ancestral Puebloans in the Southwest found Sleeping Beauty turquoise as they mined with hand tools and collected little bits of the robin's egg blue stone to make into beads. Turquoise quickly became sought-after and was traded widely throughout the region among North American tribes. Anglos mining copper and gold in the 1900s "discovered" the turquoise by accident, and soon shifted mining operations at Sleeping Beauty to harvest this lovely mineral. Although the Sleeping Beauty Mine is now closed, in its heyday it produced about 1600 pounds of turquoise each month, and thousands of pounds of it are currently circulating throughout world markets.
Why do we love Arizona turquoise so much? Let us count the ways:
1) Its beauty is incomparable. From the tiny faceted Arizona turquoise nuggets in our Turquoise Trail and Turquoise Isis necklaces, to the larger chunks we use in some of our favorite statement pieces, Arizona turquoise is eye catching. It's flattering to all skin tones. It complements a wide range of clothing colors. One look and you're hooked.
2) We won't compromise on quality. You may not know this, but much of the "turquoise" on the market is actually another stone dyed blue. Howlite is a bona fide gemstone with its own redeeming qualities, but due to its porous nature it is often dyed blue or green to resemble--and be sold as--turquoise, a far more rare and precious stone. (Howlite can also be dyed red to resemble coral, which we applaud, since we are committed to ending the destruction of the world's dwindling coral reefs.) The soft, porous nature that makes Howlite so versatile also makes it less durable, so if you're getting Howlite "turquoise," you're getting a product that won't last. And as Bronwen Jewelry makes a lifetime promise to our customers through our signature lifetime warranty, that's a product we won't stand behind.
3) We can hand-pick our strands of Arizona turquoise--resulting in the finest, most flawless products for you to wear. If you've seen us at trade shows like the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, you've seen us with heads bent, eyes squinted, poring and pawing over literally thousands of bead strands, picking out the best-quality and most attractive turquoise and other beads. We're not at the whim of some massive Chinese Howlite turquoise factory shipping us uncensored beads; we are choosing the very best beads to bring home to be made into artisan jewelry right in our Bend, OR studio.