I’m still fuming a bit from something I encountered while in Albuquerque about a week ago.
Having been raised in New Mexico, I’ve always been a fan of beautifully crafted silver and turquoise jewelry.
I had the privilege of living near some of the finest Native American craftsmen who create works of art, and I’ve never taken that for granted.
Over the years, I’ve always been on my guard and tried to buy from reputable people where I know the jewelry was not only handmade by Native American people, but the gems were real and unique.
So while in Albuquerque near Old Town, I had occasion to visit one of my favorite stores where I know the pieces are always legitimate and beautiful. That place is called Casa de Avila and it’s been a place where a lot of my paychecks have gone over the years.
The real stuff, the good stuff, isn’t always the least expensive stuff.
So after buying a couple items there, we wandered out onto the plaza. I saw the row of people selling their wares on blankets laid out on the sidewalk and yes, it took me back a lot of years. Even as a kid I knew how to get in there, find something nice, and work with the artisan on a fair price.
Seeing this again, I was fired up to take a look.
For quite a while I’ve been looking for a particular necklace. A real turquoise graduated bead necklace, like this only longer and in blue turquoise.
That necklace, made by hand (meaning hand shaped round stones) with hand matched beads is VERY expensive, but really a masterpiece.
You can find some like it that are machine matched, shaped and strung, sure.
I’d like a handcrafted piece. Let me just say this….VERY expensive.
So as I strolled along the row of merchants there on the sidewalk, I spotted a really nice looking necklace. I looked at the gentleman who was selling the works, a Native American man, and thought “maybe this is the one”.
I walked past his stand to look at what else was out there, told The Good Man “I may be about to spend a very lot of money” and went back to place where’d I’d spotted that necklace.
I kneeled down and picked up the piece that had caught my eye.
Immediately, I knew something wasn’t right. For a long necklace made out of turquoise, it was really light. And it didn’t have that sleek cool-to-the-touch feel in my hands.
I remember over the years a lot of articles and conversations about how to tell if turquoise is fake.
Something I read once said hold a lighter up to the piece. If it’s plastic turquoise, obviously, it will melt.
Not having a lighter on me, I tried another trick. I took one of the beads in my fingers and pushed my thumbnail into it. On that warm Albuquerque day after sitting in the sun, it felt sort of…soft. My nail sunk in a bit, just the tiniest amount, but enough to tell me this was a genuine Native American-made piece crafted of incredibly fake stones.
I put the necklace down and walked away reeling. I told TGM what had happened and he gave the guy the benefit of the doubt, “Maybe he needs to sell a piece like that so he can buy real turquoise”. Maybe. Yeah.
But the tag on it said “genuine turquoise”. It’s a lie.
I didn’t actually price the item (it wasn’t on the tag) and maybe should have. If he’s selling it for $20, then fine. I have a feeling that’s not the case.
I’m not naïve, yes, I know this kind of thing still goes on, and the caveat “buyer beware” is still very much in effect.
I was just mad at first…then later sad. I’d hate to think that someone visiting my fair New Mexico would get swindled. But yes, I know it happens and I can’t save the world…
By the way…I support Southwest Indian Foundation. They work to help folks in trouble through sales and also via donations.
And they have a beautiful selection of genuine pieces at reasonable rates.