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A magnificent vintage Mark Chee Navajo silver
cuff bracelet with an outstanding large “Lavender Pit” Bisbee, Arizona turquoise stone, c. 1950’s-60’s
Let’s just say it right from the get-go here, this one is an all-time great worthy of any museum or private collection anywhere. This is undoubtedly one of the very best pieces we have ever seen by one of the very best makers of Navajo silver there ever was, the formidable Mark Chee (1904-1981). This absolutely spectacular bracelet is hands down the best and most visually dramatic bracelet we have ever seen by this great artist and we have had more than a few of them over the past 35 years. The silverwork is outstanding and the sensational stone is literally out of this world. We have seen a fair amount of great Bisbee turquoise, but to our eyes, in our long experience, this stone is the most impressive piece we have ever laid eyes on.
Where to begin? At the beginning, of course, which is the phenomenal Bisbee stone from which all else flows here. “Lavender Pit” Bisbee which is characterized by its deep purplish-brown “Lavender” or "Smokey" matrix and unearthly penetrating blue color is universally considered to be one of the world’s greatest and most desirable turquoise varieties. This asymmetrically-shaped piece of deep blue Bisbee deliciousness is set in a beautifully hand-wrought old style “foldover” type silver bezel and commands center stage. On either side of the stone on the bracelet’s heavy silver shank are matching sections of beautifully conceived and perfectly applied stamp worked designs extending along the entire length down both sides of the shank. Notice how perfectly these designs “cradle” and beautifully frame and accentuate the stone. Bow down to the greatness here, this presentation is just incredible. Not much more to say but the various particulars, and if we sound breathless it’s because we are, this one just takes your breath away.
At left, the bracelet with a specimen rough of Bisbee “Lavender Pit” turquoise. At right, the Bisbee "Lavender Pit" turquoise mine.
Lavender Pit Mine photo source and © Wikipedia
“Bisbee turquoise is as good as turquoise gets”.
-Gene Waddell, owner, Lone Mountain Turquoise Mine
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 © WaddellGallery.com
Mark Chee at his bench, Santa Fe, c. 1940’s.
Photo copyright Frasher’s Foto Postcards, Pasadena, CA
The bracelet is made on a large, almost massive scale. It’s like a majestic silver sculpture you can wear. It measures
2” in width at its widest center point and tapers down to 1 1/2” in width at the terminal ends. The inner circumference
is 5 3/4” and the gap between the terminals is 1 1/4” for a total interior circumference of 7”. The weight (wait for it) is a colossal 170 grams or 6 ounces, one-third of a pound of pure jewelry goodness. The Bisbee stone itself measures
1 3/4” by 1 3/8” and we guesstimate that it weighs in the neighborhood of 90-100 carats. High-grade Lavender Pit Bisbee turquoise on the rare occasions you can ever find it retails in the neighborhood of $50-60 per carat so the math here is fairly compelling to say the least.
The bracelet is in completely excellent original condition with some age-appropriate wear and an absolutely perfect just-right patina and it is properly and beautifully signed on the interior with Mark Chee’s customary bird’s head and last name hallmark.
That’s all there is, folks. Get it or regret it. If you’ve got the money, this is the honey.