by Jake Woolley, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®
Fire Mountain Gems and Beads has always had a passion for turquoise. You could say it's in our blood; after all, it is the favorite stone of owner Stuart Freedman. In the early '70s Stuart was a gemstone hobbyist, cutting rough turquoise into beautiful cabochons, which later resulted in sales and a small storefront. Essentially, that's how it all began in 1973, a love of turquoise resulting in a successful wholesale jewelry-making business.
Turquoise is produced from a number of locations worldwide, notably in the southwest US, Egypt, Iran and Tibet with the largest supplier of the stone being China. With over 75% of the turquoise market coming out of China, jewelry makers stop and pay attention when they hear that the Chinese government has closed quite a few major mines and will be strictly supervising the production of several others. This mining moratorium has placed a halt on production in the Chinese provinces for a minimum of 3 years and quite possibly longer.
There are several reasons why the mines are closing and questions have been raised as to how it will affect the prices and availability of turquoise. Regardless of the mining closures, it is reassuring to know that since turquoise is a primary product of Fire Mountain Gems, it will continue to be readily available for our customers at sensible prices.
Improper mining methods have caused major destruction to the nearby natural resources of the Chinese mines. Over the past several years, strip-mining has resulted in vegetation deterioration, ecological contamination, soil erosion and ultimately turning many hillsides into wastelands. The Chinese government is very displeased with the low benefit-cost ratio of their turquoise output, especially when it has had such a dominant impact on the environment. Without the proper equipment, techniques and management of the mines, the overall mining operations could only result in further damage of the surrounding ecosystem.
Taxes and Permits
Many of the Chinese turquoise deposits are on public land. Unfortunately, local developers have been mining the gemstone without permission as well as not paying taxes on their excavations. Provincial and government officials stepped in to stop the free-for-all mining on public land.
Similar to the environmental issues, when mining methods are not properly organized or managed, accidental injury or death is bound to happen. The Chinese government needed to ensure that mining operations were safer, in an effort to avoid any major worker catastrophes. Government officials are taking control to resolve any new situations that involve serious mining accidents which reflects very poorly on the country and geological operations.
Pricing and Availability
When the mining of precious gemstones is discontinued and quantities become limited, it's always likely that prices will go up. This concept isn't new; prices of turquoise have fluctuated before. Let's take a step back a few decades to when turquoise reached very high prices in the 1960s and 1970s. The higher prices caused many mines to open giving way to large amounts of turquoise pouring throughout the market. The mining industry was doing well, but as the demand for turquoise began to fall, large surpluses of rough turquoise remained unsold and stockpiled. Many of the miners preferred to hold onto their collections of turquoise rather than selling it in an undervalued market.
As time passed, the inheritors of these stockpiles began selling again once interest and suitable value returned to the market. Today, most of these former successful mines are no longer producing abundant quantities of high-quality turquoise and the hoards of turquoise have since been sold and depleted. With the dwindling of previously accumulated turquoise and the closing of current mines, turquoise pricing will most likely go up. As always, Fire Mountain Gems is determined to keep offering the best prices possible.
With the news of China closing its turquoise mines, enthusiasts may find the need to buy the quality and style that best suits their budget. Since now is a good time to buy, buyers shouldn't fear an overall scarcity of the gemstone. Luckily, Fire Mountain Gems has always realized that turquoise is a finite resource and a must-have gemstone for jewelry designers. This beautiful blue-green stone is part of the company's heritage and with a long-term supply in stock, turquoise will continue to be available. Fire Mountain Gems has a strong and standing relationship of over 20 years with its turquoise vendors and is confident they will continue to deliver quality turquoise beads and components at affordable prices.