January 27, 2009

William Murdoch ~ the process of making natural turquoise rondelles

William Murdoch is a rock hound and a professional bead and cabochon maker. He put together a pictorial documentary on his process and was kind enough to allow me to post it here for you. He walks through the process of making a natural Ithaca Peak rondelle necklace. Gorgeous.

I first got interested in turquoise when I was about 4 years old. I was born in Phoenix and then when I was two we moved to Michigan. My parents had turquoise jewelry and I was always fascinated by it. I was nine when we moved back to Phoenix, and on the way we stopped at a trading post in Tucumcari New Mexico. My sister got lightweight, linked concho belt and my dad wouldn't spring for the kind of concho belt I wanted to get, so I got a beaded belt with lots of turquoise color in it. My brother got one too but his had a lot of red.

In 1974, a friend of my fathers found turquoise south of Ajo, Az. Tom invited my dad and I and a couple other of my dad's friends to come down. We all went down there and Tom took us up the mountain and we all laid out individual claims ( but we all worked as one). We sent the rock in to a testing lab and it came back turquoise, however after many years experience I'm not sure what we were mining was turquoise, nor do I think it was variscite (way to hard), the only thing I can say to call it is Varicoise! But that was basically the start.

I've been working with turquoise on and off since 1974, whenever I could. I spent 16 years in the Marine Corps so I wasn't always able to work with turquoise. After we started mining it then we tried to sell it but in the 70's if it wasn't blue it wasn't turquoise and ours was green. Just after that I got into silversmithing and started putting my rock in jewelry (I'm doing that again too).

(More of my interview with Bill can be found at the bottom of this pictorial documentary.)

Here is the process for a hand rolled bead. This is natural Ithaca Peak. Start with turquoise flattened on both sides with a 2mm hole and dremel arbor.

Put the pin through the 2mm hole.

Screw the pin into dremel arbor.

Grinding will tear your skin off so you need a lot of finger protection.

First I apply cheap bandaids to my fingers.

Then I tape four layers thick on grinding hand.

I start by grinding off the edges on 60 or 80 grit wheel.

Then I continue to grind edges into a round form.

I work until I have a rough circle.

I keep working the rough circle into a finished circle.

I lightly grind until the thickness is the same around the pin.

The desired circle is completed when both sides of the bead are even.

The round bead is now in heishi form.

Here I am grinding the edges for a rondelle form.

Lightly grind both edges on the bead.

This is a side view after the rough grinding is over.

Finished rough grinding - top view. All of the steps then are repeated with sanding with 220, 400, 600, 1200, 3000 grits or more before polishing.

Here is the completed Ithaca Peak graduated rondelle necklace.

..... continued interview .......

There is a lot of loss in beadmaking. I figure a 30% to 40% loss just in cabbing. With bead making, depending on the material (stabilized vs. natural) the loss can be as much as 70%.

Depending on the material it can take anywhere from a week to 6 weeks from start to a finished necklace. Some people could do it faster but I just cant sit that long so I do it in spurts. Stabilized turquoise is a lot easier then natural (in most cases).

The creation and trade of high grade turquoise is a passion of mine. I hope that by showing the process a few more people can understand why it is important not to support unscrupulous turquoise sellers that sell turquoise without telling people exactly what it is. As long as the seller is honest about what is being sold then the fake stuff has it's place in the market just like stabilized turquoise does.

North American Turquoise is all beautiful but I think my top choices would be all top grade; Lone Mountain, Paiute, Bisbee, Morenci, Godber/Burnham and Gold Acres. Although I'm very stirred by multi-colored Carico and lime green Orvil Jack and anything that I find in the ground.

I've recently been doing some digging at my Taubert Hills claim and eventually will have some really nice turquoise from that mine.

William Murdoch

Keep an eye out in the store for some of Bill's hand rolled beads. They will be going in soon if I can part with them. http://www.magpiegemstones.com/


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. I would never be able to explore like this and I am so grateful that Mr. Murdoch allowed you to share this with us.


  2. I love his work! Thank you and please thank him for sharing his passion with us.

  3. Stacey P.30.1.09

    Wow, beautiful beads!

  4. Anonymous10.2.09

    I am so glad I found your blog! It is so rich and I can't wait to dig into it as a newbie, totally addicted jewelry maker :)

  5. That's a great digital pictoral of how you make round turquoise beads. It's quite labor intensive. As a glass beadmaker, I'm wondering what you do with everything that's been removed and if it's pure enough to be used in another art form?

  6. That's a great process and thanks for making a digital diary to share. As a glass beadmaker, I'm wondering what you do with the ground off residue and if it could be used in another art form?

  7. Just FYI, I couldn't get the images in this post to load. It might be my computer but I wanted to let you know! I really wish I could see them. I've got some raw turquoise from a friend that I would like to be able to use in my jewelry.