Part of the Totems to Turquoise exhibition.

Symbol of the Southwest

Parrot Motif Necklace
Lambert Homer, Sr. (Zuni)

Turquoise is found in many parts of the world—indeed, the word "turquoise" comes from the early French word turceis, meaning "Turkish." In America, turquoise is the signature stone of the Southwest, and it has been used in Southwestern jewelry since at least AD 300. The legendary Cerrillos mines of New Mexico enabled people from Chaco Canyon to produce beads and mosaic work in such quantities that 56,000 pieces were once found in a single cache.

To Southwest tribes, turquoise is more than just a gemstone. Many groups give offerings of turquoise during prayer; Zuni and Hopi Katsinas wear it; and it is linked symbolically with the sky, cardinal directions, and winter. Navajo jewelers commonly set turquoise in silver. Zunis inlay it in mosaics, or group tiny stones in "petit-point" clusters, and Santo Domingo jewelers make beads and mosaics, following ancient designs.

Look Closely

Turquoise from different mines varies widely in color and consistency, often enabling experts to determine the origin of a piece simply from its appearance.