A quick primer on buying turquoise in New Mexico: the New Mexico Attorney General, Consumer Protection Division classifies turquoise in three categories: natural, stabilized, and treated. The turquoise that comes directly from the mines, most of which are in Arizona and New Mexico, is the most valuable and is classified as “natural.” “Stabilized” turquoise means that the stone has been filled in and enhanced with epoxy to create a shinier surface. And “treated” turquoise is a stone that has been infused with artificial pieces that may improve the color but lowers the overall quality of the stone. The turquoise market here can be so murky that the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, a subsidiary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, issues a pamphlet titled “Unraveling the Mystery of Turquoise.” It’s a must read if you intend to make a serious purchase. In addition to providing buying tips, like: “Request a receipt that includes all of the vital information of your purchase, including the name of artist and tribal affiliation,” it also provides tips on how to evaluate the stone’s density and color. The bottom line—especially now that turquoise mines are being depleted—is to always shop at a reputable dealer. Do this and it’s highly unlikely you’ll get duped.
Palace of the Governors Vendor Program
The artists who sit under the portal on the north end of the Plaza are authorized participants in a program that has been promoting authentic, handmade, fine art for more than a half-century. To be authorized, the artist has to come from a registered Pueblo, the crafts have to be handmade with a personal stamp, and the stones are required to be untreated.
Ortega’s on the Plaza
The Ortega family has been selling native jewelry since 1871, so they know a thing or two about how to determine the authenticity of turquoise. But beyond eyeballing a stone to determine its quality, the institution works with world-renowned artists with long-time tribal affiliations.
Silver Sun Santa Fe
A Canyon Road institution for more than 30 years, Silver Sun publishes its own “Turquoise Guide” on its website that includes the mines they feature in the gallery. Beyond that, the company makes it a point to go straight to the source, always in search of miners who are working individual claims.
Santa Fe Indian Trading Company
Frank and Agnes Dressman have been trading with Native American artists since 1952 and are a trusted name in Santa Fe. Their shop, Santa Fe Indian Trading Company, opened on the Plaza in 1982 to devote more space to their extensive collection of Navajo, Zuni, Hopi, and Pueblo jewelry, pottery, and art.
Museum of Indian Arts and Culture Gift Shop
In July 2014, the museum offered a two-hour “Turquoise Buying Seminar” by Garrick Beck from Natural Stones in Santa Fe. Wait for another class, then take what you learn directly to their gift shop and peruse their selection of contemporary and classic belts, buckles, bracelets, earrings, pendants, pins, and more with a discerning eye.