Rocks to Riches: From Rough Rocks to Polished Perfection

Unearthing high-grade turquoise from the ground is not an easy task. After the precise locating of the turquoise veins and the dangerous blasting to get to the precious stone, the process is far from over. Below is a comprehensive list of exactly how the Otteson clan from INSP’s original series, Turquoise Fever creates their final cabochons.

Step 1: Collecting the Rough Stone







Once the turquoise is excavated, it’s collected and brought back to the shop. That’s where the process begins to turn the rough turquoise into the shiny, polished stones that we all know and love.

Step 2: Grinding the Rough Turquoise







A diamond saw blade is used to saw waste rock from the rough stone, shaping the turquoise into a flat quarter inch slab.

Step 3: Prepping the Epoxy Backing

An epoxy mixture is poured onto wax paper until it is as thick as a dime. The Ottesons keep the backing as thin as possible to ensure the value of the stone stays intact.

Step 4: Adding Prepped Stone Slabs to Backing

The prepped turquoise slabs are then set against the backing before it hardens. It takes at least 24 hours for the backing to harden and the stones are ready for the next step.

Step 5: Trimming Out the Stones

The sheet of epoxy with the stone slabs glued onto it is peeled off from the wax paper, and taken back to the diamond saw blade to separate the stones from one another.

Step 6: Trimming Off Extra Backing

Once the stones are separated, The Ottesons use a thinner blade to trim off any excess backing.

Step 7: Pre-Forming the Stone







Stones are pre-formed with the use of a thicker, more rigid saw blade. Pre-forming saves time by giving the stone its basic rough shape with a flat back.

Step 8: Cleaning the Backing

To clean the backing, the stones are placed upside down and washed by hand. Afterward, they are laid out in the sun to dry.

Step 9: Applying the Dopping Sticks

For easier handling during the rest of the process, dopping sticks are attached to hold the turquoise cabochons while they take shape. The Ottesons apply hot glue to the epoxy backing, dipping the dopping stick into the glue before it hardens. Once it sets, it is ready for the cutting process.

Step 10: Bezeling and Doming the Stone

At the first step of the cutting process, the Ottesons use a 100 grit cutting wheel to create a bezel and dome-shaped top. The cutting wheel doesn’t cut the stone but instead grinds it. Water is used to prevent the stone from cracking.

Step 11: Removing Scratches from the Stone

Now that the stone is in its desired shape, a 200 grit wheel is used to begin grinding out any scratches.

Step 12: Sanding the Stone

The Ottesons move onto a 400 grit cutting wheel. At this point, the cabochons are being sanded, rather than ground.

Step 13: Using a Finer Cutting Wheel

An 800 grit wheel is used to remove any scratches. The higher the grit of the cutting wheel, the smoother the stone gets.

Step 14: Stone Beginning to Look Polished







The Ottesons then use a 1,200 grit cutting wheel. Now, the stone is beginning to look polished.

Step 15: The Final Cutting Wheel

A 3,000 grit cutting wheel, the last wheel used in the cutting process, smooths out any imperfections that are left.

Step 16: Hand Scrubbing the Stones

The stones are washed, scrubbed, and then left out in the sun to dry. Leaving them in the sun removes any water from the surface to reveal any hidden scratches.

Step 17: Inspecting the Stones

Each stone goes through an inspection to check for flaws. The ones with flaws go back to the cutting wheel for another round. The stones that pass inspection move on to the next step.

Step 18: The Polishing Wheel

The stones are polished with a damp leather pad that attaches to the cutting wheel. Aluminum oxide powder is then mixed with water to create a paste. The stones are dipped in the paste and pressed against the high-speed leather wheel up to eight times.

Step 19: Cleaning Off the Paste

The turquoise cabochons get another wash to remove the aluminum oxide paste.

Step 20: The Buffing Wheel

The stones head to the buffing wheel. The buffing wheel has a spinning motor with a cloth wheel. A waxy bar called zam, a binding agent containing up to 30,000 grit polishing powder is spun against the buffing wheel. Then the stones are run through the wheel up to four times for its final high polish look.

Step 21: Last Washing

The stones get one last wash and are scrubbed with a toothbrush to remove any debris.

Step 22: Removing the Dopping Sticks

To soften the glue that holds the dopping sticks in place, the Ottesons submerge the cabochons into a can of hot water. They then use a knife to pop the sticks off the stones and remove any excess glue.

Step 23: Ready for Inspection







The stones are ready for their last inspection. The ones that pass are then set into jewelry or sold to the Otteson’s clients.


From Rocks to Reclamation: Protecting the Land and the Environment

In their task of mining turquoise, the Otteson family is extremely sensitive to conservation issue and passionate about protecting the environment. Throughout the history of the family they have shown respect for the land. Central to every project is “reclamation,” going to the spot that has been dug, and restoring the land to its natural setting. This very extensive process involves replacing brush, trees, and anything else needing to be replaced. Their goal: When they are finished, no one would be able to tell they were there.

The Ottesons also work hand-in-hand with the national and state environmental protection agencies for every project. In fact, the hope is that a future episode of Turquoise Fever will include their conservation efforts.


Check Out these Turquoise Fever Quizzes:

Strike Out or Strike it Rich Operation Otteson