Secret Turquoise

Arland Ben

TURQUOISE IS THE NEW BITCOIN. Well, maybe not exactly. But the greed, the speculation, the exorbitant prices being pushed by mine owners makes Arland Ben sick.

He’s been working with the blue stone for over 30 years as a self-taught, award-winning jeweler. He’s also the son of a medicine man, a successful college wrestler, an accomplished horseman, and was a stunt man in Last of the Mohicans. Sorry, one more thing: he’s a brilliant photographer, as seen in the following pages.

Turquoise is important to Arland, as it is to the tribes who harbor secret turquoise mines. Mines they don’t want robbed or desecrated. So while he couldn’t tell us the location of these mines, he told us all about what is happening to turquoise.

Tell me about the native turquoise mines.

Throughout the Four Corners area, we have maybe 15 native mines. People won’t tell you exactly where they’re at, because they don’t want them robbed or destroyed. And there’s history of that. Even back to the Anasazi, when they buried someone, people came and robbed these graves and sold the turquoise necklaces on the black market.

Turquoise is extremely valuable today. All of these commercial mines have their brands, they all want to be Louis Vuitton. There’s lots of competition for the best turquoise. I’m glad you’re writing about this because it’s getting ridiculous. Lander Blue and Bisbee turquoise are the most popular and getting really expensive.

What it comes down to is a bunch of owners just trying to float really high prices and see if they will stick. It’s like Chevy and Ford putting out trucks that cost $100,000. Nobody’s buying them and it’s going to go that way with turquoise.

But what’s forgotten in all of this is that each tribe used to have their own turquoise mines.

Before Columbus, before silver and precious metals, we traded two things: turquoise and shells. We always had jewelry, and this is what we used. Before modern tools, we used stones to shape and polish them. The early jewelry had no silver or metals in them. Just the stone. There’s always been a strong reverence for the stone.

In the native mines today, there’s no actual mining. They don’t want to exploit the stones. They are sacred. It is part of their identity.

Where I live on the rez, there are two or three mines. But we keep them secret. We don’t want someone coming in and taking everything. These mines can still produce turquoise, but no one mines it, no one wants to exploit the earth. Some things are not for sale.


Arland Ben’s jewelry and photographs can be seen at the Santa Fe Indian Market, August 20th and 21st. They can also be seen at True West Gallery.

Photo Arland Ben