If you have known us long, you know how we feel about Ray Lovato. This Santo Domingo jeweler is one of the last in that village who still hand grinds turquoise beads to make heishi jewelry.
Every piece of jewelry from this man’s hands is a work of love, and his dedication to creating traditional jewelry that is timeless in design never wavers. When you mix his craftsmanship with high-grade Bisbee Turquoise, there is nothing better. But where do you find turquoise of that quality?
It’s mostly luck!
Last April in Denver, I ran into a woman who used to live and work with her husband in Durango. They manufactured turquoise and silver jewelry. The jewelry was not handmade, but they used the turquoise from the Lavender Pit Copper Mine in Bisbee, Arizona. High-grade stones from this mine have a deep blue color mixed with a chocolate matrix. There is nothing prettier.
The Bisbee turquoise supply was controlled by Bob and Marr Matthews. Before Bob met Marr, she had been married to John King, who owned the Manassa Turquoise mine in Colorado's San Luis Valley. She had worked the mine with John and learned to cut and polish turquoise as well as anyone I’ve ever known. When they divorced, she came to Durango and met Bob, who was a contractor here.
Bob was a gregarious guy and always had a story to tell. He and Marr took off one winter to play golf in Arizona and while there, Marr heard the rights to the turquoise mine were for sale.
The way Bob told it to me was that the head of the mining operations had ignored miners picking up rock with turquoise in it and taking it home in their lunchboxes. As far as he was concerned, it kept the miners happy making a little extra money that they sold the rock for, and it didn’t affect the copper mine operation.
That is until the day that one of the foremen found a huge rock with a lot of turquoise running through it. According to Bob’s story, the foreman had a company pickup backed up to the rock and had a front-end loader put the rock in the back. The combination of the weight of the rock and the force it was dropped with broke the axle in the truck. The broken-down vehicle caused a significant delay in production that day.
Now, turquoise miners are suspect about telling tall tales, so I’m not betting on it being 100 percent true, but Bob sure told it like it was.
Anyway, what happened is that Bob played golf with the head of operations a few times and Marr got to know him and before it was over, they had the rights to the turquoise from the mine. They couldn’t interfere with the copper operations and did much of their “mining” in the dump where excavated ore was hauled.
Bob would run a D9 Cat Bulldozer through the rock while helpers sprayed water on the blade. When they saw blue, he stopped the equipment, and everyone started digging.
They sold some of the mined turquoise to a jewelry company in Durango which was owned by Marr’s brother. The woman I got the turquoise from and her husband, had split off on their own but still bought the rough Bisbee from Bob and Marr.
Most of the stones she sold me were too small to cut and turn into cabochons for silver jewelry, but when I showed them to Ray Lovato, he thought they were perfect for grinding into round disk beads for traditional Santo Domingo heishi.
It is always interesting to me how much turquoise it takes to make a nice heishi necklace. Much of it will shatter when it is being worked, and there is a lot of waste. In the hands of an artist like Ray, the final product is always worth it!
We are incredibly proud to offer this selection of Roy Lovato’s Bisbee jewelry. Both the stone and the artist are American Treasures!