Bisbee turquoise is a by-product of a large copper mine located in Bisbee, Arizona, owned by Freeport MacMoran Mining Company. With the finest turquoise coming from the mine known as the “Lavender Pit,” where for about 15 years copper miners, risking their jobs, would bring out fine turquoise in their lunch boxes. In March of 1972 the only lease ever granted for rights to mine Bisbee turquoise was granted. It was not offered to just anybody, the contract went to a person with no connection to Bisbee other than just business relationships.
He was said to have recovered around 2,000 pounds of turquoise by 1974. Bisbee is considered to be the first large open-pit copper mine in Arizona. As the pit was extended very small quantities of fine turquoise were recovered. The turquoise occurred in stringers up to a few inches wide along with small nugget-like masses in granite and even quartzite. Most of the turquoise went to the crusher and on to become copper.
Bisbee lapidary Martin Davis sculptured carved this mermaid out of a single 407 cts. seafoam nugget piece of natural Bisbee Blue circa 1998. Bisbee turquoise is as good as turquoise gets and considered by many experts to be the best in the world. It is a hard material with shades from white to rose as well the more often seen medium blue, and the famous intense blue color with the red, brown and black matrix, and sometimes a “smoky,” color with dark matrix was found and I have even found it in small quantizes of very rare and unusual yellow rock. The gem grade green wasn’t too unusual but the gem grade white and white blended to rose color shades are the most extremely rare of the gem grade Bisbee. Even more so than the red matrix spider web. The top photo of mixed Bisbee gem stones shows the gem quality white and rose colored Bisbee turquoise. The hardness, colors and unusual matrix has always made Bisbee turquoise one of the more sought after varieties of turquoise with collectors all over the world. Sadly, Bisbee turquoise has not been mined for close to 40 years now and the tailings where it was once dumped is being leached with acidic solutions to withdraw the remaining copper thus turning the rocks into mud. Freeport MacMoran, the new owners have started their finale closing of all Bisbee mining operations which required contouring the tailings to control the acidic water running down the sides and into the Whitewater watershed and San Pedro watershed areas during the rainy season. So the last chapter in history of Bisbee turquoise with its extreme blue color, hardness, unusual matrix, and now rarity has put our turquoise gems in the top 1% of the world’s most desired pieces today. You will always be able to find and buy the worlds best diamonds, rubies, pearls, and sapphires but the best Bisbee is by far less abundant. Truly an investment grade jewelry.
Bisbee’s story is one of the great mining stories of America. On December 14, 1877 three prospectors, Hugh Jones, Joseph Halcro and Harry McCoy, followed a canyon upstream looking for fresh water, after discovering a copper stain in an outcropping of rocks now called Castel Rock they quickly filed a claim on the first copper mine in the area. By 1879 one hundred claims were filed and a mining camp had begun informally known as Mule Gulch. The original, and largest, claim at that time was known as the Copper Queen mine. Investments were needed and the search for investors lead to Judge Dewitt Bisbee of San Francisco, who interestingly never set foot in Bisbee.
Thus in honor of the camp’s major mine financier, Judge Bisbee, the blossoming new town was named Bisbee, With the camp’s major mine now financed and the mining camp’s growth into a new town, Bisbee was ready to become one of the most important mining cities in America. In 1881 Phelps, Dodge, and Co. purchased the Atlanta, next to the Copper Queen, and in August 1885 after legal mêlées and then a merger agreement brought the two mines together. Soon Phelps Dodge brought the railroad to Bisbee and by the mid to late 1890’s Phelps, Dodge, and Co. now owned 90% of the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Co. and had purchased most of the other mining properties in the area. Copper was being produced in Bisbee for decades.
In the early 1950’s work began on Sacramento Hill, a large low-grade copper ore pile. Harrison Lavender, the manager of the Copper Queen, had determined an open pit mine would increase ore yield. On December 14, 1974, twenty years later, mining had stopped and the thousand feet deep Lavender Pit covering 300 acres had replaced the hill. The Lavender Pit had become a tourist destination with rim viewing platforms and guided tours.
Today in and around Bisbee and under the Mule Mountains are over 1500 miles of tunnels and shafts along with the now famous Lavender Pit.