“It concentrates the mind to be in a place where you know you have no future.” Author/travel writer Paul Theroux said this, and I thought about it when I was recently in Albuquerque. This has not been one of my favorite cities to visit. In fact, I saw it for the first time when I was 18 and was not sorry to see it in my rear view mirror after a couple of hours. Beer, balloons, and Breaking Bad brought me back, and I really concentrated this time.
Old Town, Albuquerque’s biggest attraction, is still a 3 Compass place for me, but it now has 4 attractions, one of which is 5 Compass. Ruth and I really enjoyed the Turquoise Museum across the street from Old Town. Basically a family owned retail shop in a small shopping center, The Turquoise Museum gives 2 tours daily, Monday through Saturday, at 11 and 1 pm with absolutely no photography allowed. This tour is the only easy way to learn about turquoise from a family that has studied the subject for 5 generations. A sign outside the tour entrance, which simulates a mine shaft, is a list of what’s on exhibit. The list includes natural turquoise from over 80 mines, how to care for soft stones, and learning how to recognize imitation turquoise. That last one really appealed to Ruth.
Our tour host was the grandson of the shop and museum’s 3rd generation owner, the author of a comprehensive, authoritative book (Turquoise: The World Story of a Fascinating Gemstone) that’s on display. We met Jacob’s grandfather before entering the mine to get a thorough education in turquoise over the next 90 minutes.
My knowledge about this gemstone increased to about 80% during the tour as we moved from room to room. In the first was a display of grandpa’s collection representing 80 mines. The word turquoise derives from the French term pierre turquoise, which means Turkish stone. The world’s first turquoise mines were on the Sinai Peninsula. They were in operation by 4,500 BCE. Today, Nevada has 6 of the top 10 turquoise mines in the United States, but 80% of mined turquoise comes from China’s Hubei Province. The world’s most avid collectors, however, are the Japanese. The only continent without turquoise, so far as anyone knows, is Antarctica. And so forth.
Ruth really became engaged in the information stream when Jacob told us that 90% of turquoise sold today is imitation. He called a lot of what is sold as turquoise pure plastic. Three characteristics determine the value of real turquoise: color, matrix pattern, and mine of origin. If it is real turquoise, the gem will be described as natural and the seller will be willing to provide written certification of authenticity.