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A unique vintage Navajo “cluster” style silver ring
set with six matched high-grade, hand-cut Bisbee, Arizona turquoise stones by Mark Chee, c. 1950’s-60’s
A truly gorgeous and impressive 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 of 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 Bisbee, Arizona turquoise ring.
“Bisbee turquoise is as good as turquoise gets.”
-Turquoise authority and mine owner, Gene Waddell
Bisbee Arizona turquoise is one of the world’s great turquoises; well-known and highly-prized for its deep blue color and smokey dark matrix and Chee made wonderful and abundant use of it here; the six beautiful hand-cut stones, one larger central stone and five smaller surrounding stones all with their deep penetrating blue color are set in a crescent-shaped “cluster” type arrangement. Chee set all the stones in lovely old-style “foldover" type silver bezels and further accentuated the large central stone with a hand wrought silver twisted wire bezel surround and decorated the perimeter of the ring’s face all the way around with six 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 large size 11 3/4 to 12 on a professional graduated ring sizer. The ring face measures 1 1/2” in height and it is 15/16” in width at its widest point. It weighs a very comfortable 12 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 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