Through Russell Twiford’s relationships in the field, he is one of the few westerners that have access to the iconic Egyptian mines in the Sinai Peninsula that have been quarried since at least the Fifth ancient Egyptian Dynasty (c. 3000 BC). We talked to him about his fascinating life and his love of this extraordinary gem.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I live in Scottsdale, Arizona with my incredible wife and two children. We love to travel and experience new places and cultures. I golf when I can and enjoy films, theatre, good restaurants and exciting performance venues.
Born and raised in Wyoming, we rode horses, herded cows and all the usual cowboy stuff. I studied fine art and jewelry design at Colorado University in Boulder. After college, I moved to Hollywood, California with a rock band. I found it too hectic and crazy there, so I relocated to Arizona where my father had a mining operation and a facility where I could make Turquoise jewelry.
I’ve travelled to several continents in search of the illusive Turquoise stone. A decade ago, new finds of Turquoise were discovered in China, so I became a partner in a Turquoise production company where we processed one ton of Turquoise per day. Like most Turquoise mines, the Chinese Maanshan and Hubei deposits have been mostly depleted.
A decade ago, new finds of Turquoise were discovered in China, so I became a partner in a Turquoise production company where we processed one ton of Turquoise per day. Like most Turquoise mines, the Chinese Maanshan and Hubei deposits have been mostly depleted.
I’m a guy that loves to shop, which may have been what pushed me to open the Semi-precious Gallery in Scottsdale, the Turquoise Outlet in New Mexico and Turquesa Internacional in Taxco, Mexico. My staff and I have a background in the Arts which contributes to productions of gemstone sculptures and art objects. One of our most exciting projects was for Axis Radius nightclub in Scottsdale, which is home to a 40 foot long curved and under-lit Amber Lounge with matching cocktail tables and lamps that we designed and produced for the owners. Currently our factory and showroom produces gemstone roughs and products six days a week.
Can you tell us how you got involved in the gem trade?
When studying jewelry design in Colorado, my father, who was living in Arizona, sent me a parcel of Turquoise stones that I instantly fell in love with and used to create a small collection of contemporary Turquoise jewelry. I began to accumulate and sell Turquoise rough to many of the Native American Cultures in the Southwest, which led to a love of their creative expressions in Turquoise and silver and their unique way of life. I imagine that there are only a handful of non-Native Americans that have experienced Native life at the level that I had been lucky enough to experience. At that time in the late '70s and '80s, the Southwest Turquoise jewelry explosion was a billion-dollar business. Wanting to spread my love of Turquoise with others, I travelled extensively in Asia and other areas where a vast amount of gemstone jewelry was just beginning to be produced on a modern level.
What do you think makes Turquoise so special?
I have dealt with a great many gemstones in my career, but Turquoise is my favorite. The color is so calming and reminds me of the sky and ocean. Many cultures believe that Turquoise is actually a gift from the heavens above. There is something magical about Turquoise that is unexplainable. It’s as if you can even feel the energy that this romantic stone evokes. Speaking from a fashion point of view, the color goes with any outfit, from elegant to casual, and matches every skin tone. Its rich history goes back to the beginning of recorded time. This is a stone that is dear to more cultures than any other gemstone on this planet.
How did you meet Steve?
I met Steve in a singles bar. Ha ha, just kidding! Actually I was exhibiting at the Hong Kong Jewelry Fair a couple of years ago with my Egyptian partner, when Steve, Jake and staff from the Gemporia family stopped by. They loved my pieces and asked if I would be interested in perhaps appearing on the Gemporia channel in the UK. Since my ancestors were from England, I was immediately drawn in. I had a piece of Turquoise on a leather cord around my neck which was from a brand new find in Arizona. I gave that piece to Sarah’s team and later Steve ordered a quantity for a Gemporia collection.
Can you tell us a little about the different sources of Turquoise and their characteristics?
Turquoise is usually found in arid desert and mountainous regions, mostly in or around copper mines. Sleeping Beauty Turquoise from Globe, Arizona is probably the pinnacle of worldwide Turquoise roughs due to its clarity and hardness. I had the pleasure of working directly with the Mine Owner, L.W. Hardy for over 15 years. He had originally obtained the Turquoise rights for the Kingman, Arizona, mine. 'LW' moved quickly from a mining shovel operator to millionaire. Kingman was a darker blue at first but new veins exposed beautiful blue/greens with a rich matrix.
China produced great amounts of Turquoise for about 20 years which rivalled the clarity of Sleeping Beauty and the character of Kingman. The mountains of Arizona run down into Mexico and yielded many private mines where the 'turqueceros' chased the veins deep into the interior of the mountains, sometimes using only a vacuum cleaner to pump air down into the tunnels. The oldest Turquoise mines in the world can be found in the South Sinai region of Egypt. These mines provided the 'skystone' to their Royalty over 7,000 years ago. It can be identified by its rich dark reddish matrix.
Can you explain how Turquoise is made into blocks and what the benefits of doing this are?
Most Turquoise rough is about the size of a fingernail, so the yield when cutting beads or cabochons is very low. Searching to improve the cutting yield and expand the potential of the Turquoise, I invented a process in the early '80s to increase the size of Turquoise for production.
Due to the porous nature of most Turquoise rough, the precious Turquoise nuggets can be compressed together under extreme pressure and then impregnated with polymer gem acrylic resins which add structural integrity and keep the natural Turquoise color stable forever. The process is known in the trade as 'stabilizing'. Natural Turquoise is subject to color change from body oils unless it is stabilized, which also protects the stone from natural elements. Compressed Turquoise also ensures uniformity in jewelry production. There are so many subtle color variations in Turquoise, combining them develops a unified palette of color, which enhances the beauty of Turquoise jewelry.
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