Kingman Turquoise

There is something special about a family business being passed down through the generations. The Colbaugh family has a rare gift that they have continued to hand down through four generations now — Kingman turquoise.

Chuck Colbaugh was a copper miner in Globe, Arizona, who came to Kingman in 1962 and mined for turquoise in Mineral Park. He was the first person to commercially mine for turquoise there since Tiffany’s had owned the property around 1910. Chuck’s son Martin and grandson Marty eventually took over the business.

“I’m third generation, so that’s all I’ve ever done,” Marty Colbaugh said. “There’s no school in the world that teaches exactly what we do, so that’s just what’s been handed down through the generations.”

Now, Marty’s son Josh and his wife Devan are inheriting the business.

“My grandfather had certain things he did, then my dad had his way of doing it and then I took it and I completely turned it in a whole other direction,” Colbaugh said. “Now Josh and Devan are taking it and they’re going more into the finished product and the jewelry.

“It’s just one of those generational things, and everybody just keeps passing it on and you learn new things and you just kind of grow that way and stay relevant with what’s going on. We’re always constantly changing and adapting.”
The Colbaugh business is the last active turquoise mining production left in the United States, as the trade has nearly died out without anyone left to teach it.

“You can go to school for metal, you can learn gold, silversmithing, but there’s no school in the world that teaches the stone,” Colbaugh said. “There’s a lot of turquoise in this country, in Nevada and Arizona, and a little in New Mexico, but we’re the last ones left because nobody knows what to do with the product.”

Another unique attribute of Colbaugh Processing is their stabilization process that Chuck Colbaugh invented before he ever came to Kingman. This process involves coating the stone in a thin plastic to bring out the natural color, then hardening it so that it remains the same color forever.

“Way back in 1948 epoxy plastics had just come out,” Colbaugh explained. “So down in Globe, Arizona, this guy was making paperweights with a little scorpion or snake head in it. My grandfather Chuck had a piece of turquoise and he said, ‘let’s put that in there.’ All of a sudden there were these bright colors to the turquoise. So they cut it after it was hardened up and where it had penetrated in it was the most beautiful bright colored material because it was the natural color. So that’s kind of where the whole stabilizing concept started.

“Because turquoise is a very porous stone, even your highest grade natural turquoise will turn green because it absorbs oils and pollutants over time. So what we do is we bring out the natural color of the stone and harden it so 100 years later it is going to look just like that.”

Colbaugh said that his grandfather invented this modern stabilization, but the process has actually been around for thousands of years.

“About 100 years ago they found an Egyptian mummy queen named Zher and they opened up her tomb from 5500 B.C. and they found her bracelet with these three big beautiful blue stones in it,” Colbaugh said. “When they had it analyzed they found out it had been completely impregnated with beeswax. When beeswax is heated to a high degree then cools down, it crystallizes very hard. So they were stabilizing turquoise 7,500 years ago by scientific proof. What we’re doing is nothing different than what man has always done, but we just have more modern ways of doing things that are more permanent.

“So my grandfather figured it out and he just had a natural talent and gift for the stone. That’s what everybody in the world knows us for is our ability to bring the stone into a way that you can cut it.”

Colbaugh Processing does everything from mining to stabilizing, cutting, polishing and selling finished jewelry. Their processing plant is quite impressive, as through the decades the family has refined their process down to a science and even built some of their own equipment from scratch.

“The time it takes for it to hit the ground here from the mine until it’s actually ready for sale is between six and 12 months,” Colbaugh said. “It’s a long, long, long process for everything it takes to do all of this.”

Colbaugh employs just about 50 people from miners to sorters, cutters, polishers and everything in between. Josh and Devan take care of most of the jewelry design.

“What I’m specifically doing is finished jewelry and internet marketing,” Josh said. “We try to open up markets in different countries. So daily I’ll talk to Italians, people from India, Pakistan — I talk to more foreigners than I do here. World markets change so much that every six to eight months what we sell and how we sell completely changes, so it’s always something different.”

Having the contract to continue mining their direct source of turquoise has given the Colbaugh’s an edge in the industry. They also find a great variety of colors ranging from greens to blues in the mine, so they are able to appease any preference.

“Everywhere around the world everybody likes their different looks,” Marty said. “Asians love dark blue, Europeans like light blue, and Americans like it all — it’s just personal preference. I learned a long time ago not to tell somebody what’s best, I let them decide and they feel better about it. Just like the type of cell phone you have, your clothes, your car, everything — why do you buy it? Because it makes you feel good. It’s all a matter of perception.”

He said the deep blue turquoise with pyrite is a rare shade that Kingman is known for. Aside from every variation of green and blue, they also have a mix of blue turquoise with orange spiny oyster shell, as well as dyed purple and lime green stones.

Their Kingman Turquoise showroom is on property at the processing center in Golden Valley, Arizona. Inside, guests will find showcases packed with stunning rings, necklaces, bracelets and earrings in a plethora of designs. They also sell turquoise cell phone holders, key ring mounts, candle holders, tables inlaid with turquoise, solid eggs, cow skulls decorated with turquoise and much more.

One wall of the store is covered in turquoise beads of every shape and color for those who like to make their own jewelry. They also take orders to make a custom piece.

“We work with the public and we can do little tiny orders, up to as big as they want,” Josh said. “So we try to do everything for every type of person, and at different price ranges so you don’t have to be a millionaire to buy something, but if you want something real high end we can do that too.”

The showroom in Golden Valley is the only retail storefront that sells the Colbaugh products, aside from a small showcase at The Farmhouse in Kingman. Visit the showroom at 3471 Chea Drive, Golden Valley, from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.