There is a lot of confusion related to white stones used in Native American jewelry. I’ve gathered some facts and resources that you might find useful as you buy and sell items with white stones. Here is what I am going to cover in this article:
** There is no such thing as “White Turquoise”.
** There is a beautiful stone called “White Buffalo Stone”.
** Various other white stones are erroneously called “White Turquoise”. These include howlite and magnesite. Besides being passed off as white turquoise, they are often dyed and sold as turquoise and other gemstones.
** There is no such thing as “White Turquoise”.
By definition turquoise contains copper (it is a copper aluminium phosphate), which is what gives the characteristic blue color. Presence of more iron (and some say aluminum) will shift the color toward green.
Good quality turquoise is hard. Gemstone quality turquoise will grade 7 on the Mohs scale. (The hardest naturally occurring stone, the diamond, rates a 10 on the Mohs scale.)
Within a mining operation and even sometimes within the same vein, both greens and blues will be found. Also pale veins will occur with the stone appearing almost white, powder blue or pale green.
Light veins in turquoise mines are sometimes too soft (below 5 on the Mohs scale) to polish and use as gemstones. The softer porous stones are referred to as “chalky”.
The Number 8 bracelet below is about as close to “white turquoise” as you are going to get………….and still be turquoise.
However, there is a beautiful hard stone called “White Buffalo”.
WHITE BUFFALO (called “albino turquoise” by some and erroneously “white turquoise” by others) is only found in one location in the world. Tonopah Nevada. The mine is owned by Dean, Lynn and Danny Otteson who have been mining high quality turquoise in Nevada and Colorado for over 60 years.
The trade name “White Buffalo” is used to identify the stone from the Tonopah, Nevada mine owned by the Otteson family.
The white stone is surrounded by black and brown flint-like chert (an opaque variety of quartz) which creates beautiful patterns, and sometimes in rare pieces, a spider-web matrix. The stone appears in veins, is as hard as turquoise (Mohs hardness scale of 5.5 to 7.5) and cuts and polishes like turquoise. In the Native American jewelry business, this stone is generally referred to as “White Buffalo”.
“White Buffalo is mined predominantly by the Ottesons! We have several claims we work that all produce a similar look. Although often called “White Turquoise”, White Buffalo is not Turquoise at all. In fact, its a long way from it. The main mineral is Calcite. But depending on the crystaline structure of the Calcite, it morphs into minerals called Dolomite or Aragonite. With a high silica content, this stuff cuts incredible cabs.”
White Buffalo is white with black and brown inclusions. See the slide show below for examples.
Although White Buffalo is as hard as turquoise and polishes to a high shine, it has no copper and no blue color, so is technically not turquoise. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful gemstone.
** Various other white stones are erroneously called “White Turquoise”. These include howlite and magnesite.
HOWLITE is a porous borate mineral that often appears in irregular nodules resembling cauliflower. It is snow white to milky stone often with brown or black veins. It is sometimes passed off as White Turquoise or White Buffalo. It is also dyed to imitate blue or green turquoise. It is quite soft with a Mohs hardness of 3.5 in contrast to turquoise which usually ranges from 5-7.
See examples of rough howlite, polished stones, dyed stones and more in the slide show below.
MAGNESITE is a calcite group mineral that contains the chemical formula “magnesium carbonate” (MgCO3). It usually forms in three-dimensional rhombohedral shaped crystals and cleavage fragments when magnesium-rich rocks come into contact with carbon dioxide-rich water.
When mined, Magnesite usually appears as chalky white, but can also be found in gray, brown, yellow, orange, pale pink and colorless varieties too. In terms of luster, it is often dull, with a matte surface in its original state. A little harder than howlite, it rates 3.5 to 4.5 on the Mohs scale, still below that of most turquoise.
Magnesite is mined from many sources across the United States, Europe, Africa, Brazil and China.
Magnesite is often dyed to a light blue color and because of its dark veining, it then very closely resembles Turquoise. In some cases, Magnesite is passed off as Turquoise by unaware or unscrupulous dealers and sellers.
See the slide show below for examples of rough magnesite, polished stones and dyed magnesite.
Closing with my White Buffalo jewelry. Paula
Here are some other articles on our website and on this blog with related information.
What Makes Turquoise Change Color?
Does iron make turquoise more green and copper make it more blue…..or Vice Versa???
Great article. Thanks for the education.
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Good to know there is knowledgeable help when needed. Thanks
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thanks a lot from makig it clear. now i am sure my friend tried to sell fake white turquoise for sure
I bought a beautiful piece of White Buffalo while visiting the Grand Canyons Western rim. I was just drawn to it and didn’t really care WHAT it was. I’m not in the least bit disappointed that it is NOT turquoise.
I know what you mean ! Thanks for the comment……Paula
I have several pieces of white buffalo, I dropped my pendent and it came out of the silver surround. I noticed some small pieces of what looks like grains on the floor and in the silver surround. I purchased this at a pow wow, I was just wondering is this some type of Indian ritual to keep you safe or ward of evil? Any other thoughts
It is sawdust backing – you can read about that here in one of my other articles https://nativeamericanjewelrytips.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/native-american-stone-setting-sawdust-backing/
If you need repair, here you go:
We don’t do repairs here but we recommend this business for Native American jewelry repairs. They do all of the repairs for our store and we are thoroughly satisfied with their work.
P. O. Box 55935
Phoenix, AZ 85078
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I would like to know where someone could purchase a white buffalo bracelet from the Otteson family?
I replied to this already……..best of luck, Paula
I am very interested in purchasing a white buffalo bracelet from the Otteson family from Nevada. I would like to know where someone could purchase a white buffalo bracelet from the Otteson family?
I’d suggest clicking the link in the article and contact them there. Paula
Paula-I purchased a few pounds of what looks like the high quality white buffalo that you were referring to.It is quite hard-it reminds me of porceline(sorry,can’t remember how to spell that).It takes a nice polish,and has a spider web like pattern,with fine,drusy crystalline structures in the pockets of black.I have been chasing down any possibility of identifying this stone.Would you be interested in looking at pictures of this stone to help me identify it?I bought these from a yard sale from a deceased rockhound-nobody knew what it was.
I suggest you contact the Otteson family – they are the experts. I link to their website in the article. Best of luck, Paula
A very interesting stone! Can it be drilled?
Thank you !
Excellent blog, happy to have found this article.