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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Turquoise Mines in the US

 

Some of the turquoise mines in the US

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Bisbee (Cochise County, Arizona) Deep blue color with smoky black matrix.


Blue Diamond (central Nevada) operated from the late 1950’s to 1980. This stone typically has dark smoky swirls with brilliant blue windows.


Candelaria (Northern Nevada) A small depleted (closed) mine. Stones have luminous quality.


Carico Lake (Lander County, Nevada) Blue and green.

Cripple Creek (Teller County, Colorado) Green and blue with brown matrix; by-product of gold mining.

Sterling Silver Navajo RingsDry Creek (Battle Mountain, Nevada) Pale blue or white because no heavy metals are in the ground where it forms. Also called Sacred Buffalo Turquoise because the White Buffalo is a very sacred and rare buffalo. Read more…

EASTER BLUE An old Nevada mine owned and operated by Danny and Dean Otteson. It is located in Nye County near the Royston turquoise area. In was opened in 1907 and produces turquoise from surface and underground mines. The turquoise is hard, of fine quality and a rich blue color with beautiful matrix.

Fox Turquoise mine (Lander County, Nevada) discovered in the early 1900’s, was once Nevada’s largest producer of green or blue-green turquoise with a distinctive matrix. The different sites of Fox deposits were developed using the names of Fox, White Horse, Green Tree, and Smith to differentiate among the colors of turquoise produced. The Fox mine is now closed.

 

Kingman (Mohave County, Arizona) Blue stones with white matrix sometimes dyed black.

King’s Manassa (Conejos County, Colorado) is best known for its brilliant greens and golden and brown non-webbed matrices, but blue and blue-green stone is found there as well. This site, east of the town of Manassa, was originally mined by Ancestral Pueblo peoples. It was rediscovered in 1890 by gold prospector I.P. King, and his descendants still work the claim.

Lander Blue (Lander County, Nevada) The rarest of all Southwest US turquoise; high grade and most valuable.

 

Lone Mountain (Esmeralda County, Nevada) Deep blue stones with fine spider webs.

Morenci (Greenlee County, Arizona) Blue color with “Fool’s Gold” (iron pyrite) matrix.

Sterling Silver Navajo RingsNumber Eight (Carlin, Nevada) Exceptional spiderweb turquoise with the matrix ranging from golden brown to almost black, but a deep golden webbing is most characteristic.

Royston turquoise mine district (Nye County, Nevada) consists of several mines including Royston, Royal Blue, Oscar Wehrend and Bunker Hill. Discovered in 1902 it is the oldest patented mine in Nevada. Royston turquoise is known for its beautiful deep green to rich light blue colors in the same formation and the stones are often two-tone, displaying both dark and light green and sometimes blue. It has a heavy matrix ranging from dark brown to gold in color. Royston turquoise is considered very collectible.

Sleeping Beauty (Globe in Gila County, Arizona) Uniform blue turquoise that is easily matched and cut. Often clear but sometimes with white matrix that is dyed black.

Sterling Silver Navajo Rings

Pilot Mountain (Esmeralda County, Nevada) Blue and green stones with dark brown, reddish or black matrices.

Turquoise Mountain (Mohave County, Arizona) Blue and green.

Stormy Mountain (Elko County, Nevada) Dark blue with black matrix looking like blotches.

white buffalo turquoiseWhite Buffalo Turquoise or White Buffalo Stone is not turquoise at all, but a different stone that is white stone with black and brown inclusions. By definition turquoise contains copper (it is a copper aluminium phosphate), which is what gives the characteristic blue color. Presence of iron will shift the color toward green. “White turquoise” without blue color is technically not turquoise and is more accurately called White Buffalo Stone. As far as we know, White Buffalo Stone comes from only one mine in Nevada, which is owned by the Otteson family. Howlite is commonly passed off as White Buffalo Stone.

Turquoise is the birthstone of December and is thought to bring good fortune, strength and helps overcome illness.

The Navajo consider turquoise to bring good fortune and appease the Wind Spirit.

The Zuñi believe blue turquoise is male and of the sky and green turquoise is female and of the earth.

Hopi legend tells of the lizard who travels between the above and the below, excretes turquoise. This stone can hold back floods.