Gem News International Gems & Gemology, Fall 2022, Vol. 58, No. 3

Inaugural Turquoise United Conference

Turquoise Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Figure 1. Left: The entrance to the Turquoise Museum. Photo by Jacob Lowry/Turquoise Museum. Right: A corner in the origin display room shows rough and polished samples from Tyrone and Cerrillos, two well-known deposits in New Mexico. Photo by Tao Hsu.

The first-ever Turquoise United conference was held August 11–13, 2022, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This multifaceted event was organized and hosted by Joe Dan Lowry and his son Jacob, part of a fifth-generation family in the turquoise industry. All activities took place in the Turquoise Museum (, owned and operated by the family and the Albuquerque Convention Center (figure 1).

A massive resin imitation of turquoise held by Russell Twiford III.
Figure 2. Russell Twiford III holds a massive resin imitation of turquoise he created, which is now displayed at the Turquoise Museum. Photo by Aaron Palke.

Turquoise has been treasured and used by many different cultures for thousands of years. As an aggregate gemstone, it also poses a challenge for traders. Possibly more so than for any other gemstone, the buying, selling, and owning of a turquoise piece can be an intensely personalized experience. A combination of factors including color, matrix pattern, specific mine origin, and the presence or absence of treatment come into play, making each piece unique. Turquoise United provides a platform for everyone involved in the trade to gather as a community and discuss important topics. About 100 delegates from different countries attended the inaugural event, including miners, cutters, treatment experts, dealers, television shopping network suppliers, collectors, jewelry designers, enthusiasts, consumers, appraisers, and scientists. GIA sent research and education representatives to connect with the turquoise community and learn from the experts. We had the opportunity to interview over 10 industry experts, including members of the domestic and international trade, miners, and artisans involved in turquoise treatment and the manufacture of imitation turquoise (figure 2). The content gathered will be highlighted in future GIA educational programs.

Attendees at the inaugural Turquoise United conference.
Figure 3. Left: Attendees enjoy a conversation about Southwestern-style jewelry design and manufacture outside the Turquoise Museum. Right: Joe Dan Lowry and son Jacob were the auctioneers at the kickoff gala. Photos by Tao Hsu.
A 9.32 ct backed turquoise from China.
Figure 4. A 9.32 ct backed turquoise from Yungaisi, China, purchased during the auction at the Turquoise United conference. Photo by Aaron Palke.

A wide variety of activities made this educational conference enjoyable. An evening gala and auction kicked off the event (figure 3). Auction items included finished turquoise pieces, specimen and finished stone sets, and a bracelet featuring more than 200 inlay pieces designed and donated by GL Miller (Studio GL, Albuquerque). All other items were provided by the museum, and the proceeds will be allocated for future Turquoise United events. Delegates had the opportunity to view representative items from domestic and international sources such as Yungaisi, China (figure 4). All items were auctioned by the end of the gala. Each attendee received a gift bag containing a piece of turquoise, including some nice cabochons.

A panel of turquoise identification experts answered questions.
Figure 5. Turquoise enthusiasts and consumers brought their jewelry pieces to the identification panel experts, who shared their opinions on the pieces and answered questions from the audience. Photo by Tao Hsu.

During the day sessions, experts including Joe Dan Lowry, GL Miller, and author AP hosted identification panels at the Turquoise Museum (figure 5). Panelists evaluated the identity and origin of various turquoise jewelry pieces submitted by participants. The panel attracted consumers and enthusiasts who shared the stories behind their treasures. In the turquoise collector community, mine origin is an extremely important aspect. Turquoise enthusiasts often spend a lifetime putting together a collection of quality pieces from the most important turquoise mines, especially from the American Southwest. Lowry and Miller impressed the audience with their knowledge of historic turquoise mine characteristics, and engaged in much discussion about the complexity involved in conclusive identification and origin determination.

Two evening discussion panels took place in the Albuquerque Convention Center, with one focused on the vision and educational function of Turquoise United and the other on turquoise grading. The authors participated in both panels along with delegates from all aspects of the industry. Author TH noted the current lack of turquoise-related educational programs and the potential industry benefit of reaching a broader audience not limited just to turquoise traders.

Master stones for Joe Dan Lowry’s proposed turquoise grading system.
Figure 6. Top: Joe Dan Lowry proposes a turquoise grading system alongside a panel of experts. Photo by Tao Hsu. Bottom: A look at the color scale and master stones for blue turquoise included in Lowry’s grading system. Photo by Joe Dan Lowry.

The second panel centered on Joe Dan Lowry’s proposal for a turquoise grading system that could be applied inside and outside of the turquoise community (figure 6). Lowry’s grading system is based on an unsurpassed collection of turquoise master stones of various qualities from global sources accumulated by the Lowrys over five generations. In the proposed grading system, origin is considered separately from other quality factors. A scoring system is based on a scale of 0 to 100, with the most important factor being color (70% of the final score) and additional consideration given to the aesthetics of the matrix (20%) as well as “zat” (10%), a combined description of the dynamic and boldness of both the color and the matrix patterns. Different levels of “zat” can be described as dynamic and bold in contrast to dull, flat, or uninteresting. After the quality evaluation and considering the importance of origin in many cases, the result would be combined with the condition of the piece (treated or untreated), cut, weight, and backing to give the buyer a complete picture of the stone. The panelists had a lengthy discussion on the applicability of the grading system, and author AP shared his views on consistency and potential market impact with the attendees.

Polished turquoise from southwestern U.S. (left) and Persian (right) deposits.
Figure 7. Left: A turquoise show attendee checks out polished pieces from multiple southwestern U.S. deposits. Photo by Tao Hsu. Right: An assortment of high-quality natural Persian turquoise cabochons; the one being held weighs about 19 ct. Photo by Aaron Palke.

In addition to the educational activities, a small-scale turquoise show took place in the courtyard of the museum. A dozen dealers participated, displaying rough and finished turquoise to attendees (figure 7). To keep the event focused, dealers could only sell turquoise stones and not finished jewelry. Turquoise from the southwestern United States, Mexico, China, and Iran were all featured at the show.

The historic Tiffany mine in the Cerrillos mining district.
Figure 8. The historic Tiffany mine in the Cerrillos mining district. This pit was mined many hundreds of years ago by Native Americans before contact with European cultures. Photos by Aaron Palke.

Surrounded by historic turquoise mines (figure 8) and Native American communities that have contributed enormously to the popularity of turquoise in the United States through their iconic turquoise jewelry designs, Albuquerque was the perfect setting for the conference. The annual Santa Fe Indian Market (SFIM), held every August, is also in close proximity. This year marks the hundredth anniversary of this famous event celebrating Native American arts and fashion, which features turquoise and turquoise jewelry. While the second Turquoise United conference is set for Albuquerque, the Lowrys are already planning future events and considering other important turquoise centers to host the conference as well.

Tao Hsu is a technical editor of Gems & Gemology, and Aaron Palke is senior manager of research, at GIA in Carlsbad, California.