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A stunning vintage Navajo silver and

“Lavender Pit” Bisbee, Arizona turquoise ring

by Mark Chee, c.1950’s-60’s

A truly gorgeous piece by one of the all-time greatest superstars of Navajo jewelry, Mark Chee (1904-1981).

Born in the tiny, remote, one-horse hamlet of Lukachukai, Arizona out in the far reaches pdf the vast Navajo reservation Mark Chee came to Santa Fe as a young teenager to work as a jewelry apprentice polishing stones for $5.00 a week. Due to his exceptional talent and instruction by some of the finest Navajo and Pueblo silversmiths of their day, people such as Ambrose Roanhorse, Sam Roanhorse and Joe Quintana, Chee rose rapidly becoming an ace silversmith whose pieces were always in high demand.

Chee always worked in a completely traditional manner using a simple set of tools he mostly made himself and always insisting on using only the finest stones as he did here with this terrific silver and “Lavender Pit” Bisbee, Arizona turquoise ring.

“Bisbee turquoise is as good as turquoise gets.”

-Gene Waddell

“Lavender Pit” Bisbee Arizona turquoise is one of the world’s great turquoises, well-known and highly-prized for its deep purplish-black smokey matrix and Chee made wonderful use of it here, highlighting the large oval-shaped stone with its deep penetrating blue color with a lovely old style “Foldover type silver bezel and further accentuating the silver bezel with a perfectly crafted hand wrought silver wire bezel surround and two opposing sets of three applied round silver “raindrops”. The bezel platform is nicely mounted on a very finely-crafted triple split silver shank. The exceptionally fine all around detailing and the classic simplicity of the ring’s appearance belies the complexity of its construction. The great ones always make it look easy!

The ring measures a size 6 3/4-7 on a professional graduated ring sizer. The ring face measures 1 3/8” in height

and is slightly over 1/2” in width at its widest point. It weighs a very comfortable 10 grams or 3/8 ounce. The ring is in remarkably excellent original vintage condition and is properly signed on the inside with Mark Chee’s customary last name inside a bird’s head hallmark.

This stunning ring is a classic historic piece by a classic historic artist, one of the truly greatest of all time.


Bisbee Turquoise

Bisbee turquoise is a significant by-product of the huge Lavender Pit copper mine, which is now closed. With some of the finest turquoise coming from the section of the copper mine known as the “Lavender Pit,” where for years copper miners would bring out fine turquoise in their lunch boxes. In March of 1972 a miner named Bob Matthews was given the only lease ever granted for rights to mine Bisbee turquoise. He was said to have recovered more than 2,000 pounds of good to excellent turquoise by 1974 . Bisbee turquoise is famous for its deep blue color and its smoky black matrix, which has been described as “smoky Bisbee” and as “lavender.” Bisbee turquoise is as good as turquoise gets. In 2004 the Phelps Dodge Mining Company no longer allowed anyone near the hazardous old mine and buried the turquoise pit under 100 feet of dirt. There will be no more Bisbee mined. Any Bisbee on the market today was officially mined prior to 1974.

-Photo and text source and © Waddell Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ

At left, the "Lavender Pit" section of The Phelps-Dodge Company’s “Copper Queen” copper mine outside Bisbee, AZ. At right, a specimen rough stone of Bisbee “Lavender Pit” turquoise.

Lavender Pit Mine photo source and © Wikipedia