White Turquoise Demystified

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.)

Kingman Turquoise

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.

A very pale turquoise stone.

However, there is a beautiful hard stone called “White Buffalo”.

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

White Buffalo is white with black and brown inclusions. See the slide show below for examples.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Closing with my White Buffalo jewelry. Paula

Here are some other articles on our website and on this blog with related information.

Turquoise and Mines

What Makes Turquoise Change Color?

Does iron make turquoise more green and copper make it more blue…..or Vice Versa???

White Buffalo Stone

Is this white buffalo bracelet on eBay really white buffalo, howlite or what?

Hi Paula,

Would you look at this item on eBay and give me your opinion?  It seems like if this is really white buffalo turquoise, it would be priced much higher……..isn’t this howlite?

Native White Buffalo Turquoise Bracelet Cuff Huge Signed AC

Cara

Hi Cara,

I hesitate to the put the URL or photo of the item in this post lest I get backlash from the eBay seller.

So, I went to the item page on eBay. By the title and description, I would have thought that the item was White Buffalo from the seller’s words but the photos did not look like White Buffalo stone. So I wrote the seller. Here was his/her reply.

“I’m so glad you asked! We start all of our auctions at 99 cents. If you scroll to the bottom of any of our auctions, you will see a short glossary of terms. I think you will find it informative and helpful. This is not howlite. It is, as stated in the ad, “block” turquoise. Thank you for your interest in our auctions and have a wonderful day! ”

So the answer Cara is that it is not

White Buffalo Turquoise (as stated in the title of the auction listing)

nor

White Buffalo Stone

nor Howlite

but artificial block stone made to look like White Buffalo. One must be ever vigilant and read the fine print these days. And never be afraid to ask. This seller was prompt and courteous in letting me know that it was artificial material.

Here is a link to a related article I just posted today 11-15-2017

White Turquoise Demystified

You can browse examples of authentic white buffalo from our webstore – note the wonderful variation in the stones.

NP413-ABCD-whitebuffalo-nelson-B NP413-ABCD-whitebuffalo-nelson-C NP413-ABCD-whitebuffalo-nelson-DPaula

Native American Materials – White Buffalo Stone

White Buffalo Stone Pendant by Navajo artist Geneva Spencer

White Buffalo Stone Pendant by Navajo artist Geneva Spencer

White Buffalo Stone is white with black and brown inclusions.

It is sometimes called “white turquoise” but by definition turquoise contains copper (it is a copper aluminum phosphate), which is what gives the characteristic blue color. Presence of iron will shift the color toward green.

Although White Buffalo Stone is as hard as turquoise and polishes to a high shine, it has no copper and no blue color, so is technically not turquoise. As far as we know, White Buffalo Stone comes from only one mine in Nevada, which is owned by the Otteson family. (See links below for more information on the family and the mine.)

Note: Howlite is commonly passed off as White Buffalo Stone. Howlite is a white to milky stone with charcoal colored spiderweb type veins. Howlite is more porous than White Buffalo Stone. It is often dyed to look like turquoise.

Here is a link to a related article I just posted today 11-15-2017

White Turquoise Demystified

Howlite is often passed off as White Buffalo Stone

Howlite is often passed off as White Buffalo Stone

Lynn Otteson and White Buffalo Mine