You don’t have to be from the Southwest to love turquoise. In fact, turquoise’s popularity didn’t even originate in the Southwest, as the world’s only turquoise museum painstakingly points out.
There is nothing the museum doesn’t explain related to turquoise. It’s an encyclopedic exposition of everything there is to know about the blue-green stone, including the explanation that most turquoise is white, not blue green.
Even though many associate turquoise with indigenous jewelry of the Southwest, the stone was used all around the world with particular emphasis on the Middle East where it was originally called turquois before the French added the e when the gem’s popularity moved Westward. Persian and Chinese royalty used it to adorn themselves in life and in death incorporating the stone into jewelry, clothing and other fantastic sculptures and presentations, many of which are on display.
There is absolutely no good reason the world’s only turquoise museum is located in Albuquerque. The largest producer of turquoise is China. And the largest buyers’ market is in Japan. Both would be great locations for an international museum like this.
But the turquoise museum is a family-run affair, now in its fifth family generation, and the family is from Albuquerque. A member of the fifth generation is now the museum’s executive director. The head of the fourth generation served as museum docent on the day I visited. He seemed to be behind me no matter where I turned. He is a genuine expert in turquoise, sometimes testifying as such in turquoise disputes or to help the FBI solve heists of the high-end stones and jewelry.
You must buy your ticket online, including providing your name and address. Plan to spend at least 90 minutes inside. Before you enter the museum, there is a mandatory movie about proper museum etiquette, including not to touch any of the exhibits, etc. This movie is followed by another which explains what you are about to experience inside. It would be impossible to absorb everything that is at the museum due to its wealth of information. Each night after the last visitor is gone an inspection makes sure nothing is missing. If it is, the museum has the list of who was there.
The museum is housed in a rather unique baroque-style two-story mansion complete with turrets, built in an industrial zone of Albuquerque next to the Amtrak rails. The museum intersperses wonderful antiques and chandeliers throughout the Addams Family style mansion to add variety to all the turquoise. While no emphasis is given to the house and grounds, which includes a lap pool on one side of a wall that separates the house from the railroad tracks, these unique touches add ambiance to the museum experience.
The museum makes a point of emphasizing that “genuine” turquoise is not a thing. The legal term is “natural,” and there are many “fake” imitations and knockoffs of the gem that are almost indistinguishable from the natural stones. A high-end imitation which might sell for $7 a carat while the best natural stone might be worth a thousand times more. But the museum goes to great lengths to explain that imitations have a place just like costume jewelry. And some people buy to remember the experience of shopping for their item. It’s a matter of what pleases the buyer more than whether the stone is natural or not unless it was sold to you as natural and isn’t.
If you are in the area and love turquoise, visit this palace of turquoise for a unique if somewhat overwhelming experience.