Turquoise – Prized by the Ancients

The ancient Aztecs believed that turquoise was a holy stone and that mortals were not worthy of wearing it.  As such, it was reserved for the worship of gods. 

Double headed turquoise serpentAztecbritish museum

Double headed serpent originally for Aztec Mexico, now found in the British Museum. The serpent is a mostly turquoise mosaic over a wooden carving.

Turquoise is a very soft material that is blue to green to yellow-green in colour.  It has been mined since at least 6000 BC and used in jewelry for almost as long. 

Médaillon Musée Guimet 27117

Medallion with turquoise, originally from Tibet. Now found in the Musée Guimet in Paris.

Turquoise has long been sought-after because of its beautiful blue colour.  In the past, the finest material came from Persia (Iran) and was a sky blue colour.  Persian turquoise is no longer mined.  Most turquoise today comes from the US and China.

Turquoise is the birthstone for those born in December. 

Turq mcGuin bunker (retouched)

Turquoise rough and cabochons

I have always loved turquoise.  The beautiful blue colour of this gemstone guaranteed that it would be one of my favorites.  Until I started making jewelry, I didn’t know much about it other than the fact that it could be found in the US Southwest.  I was surprised to discover that much of the turquoise sold today is not natural turquoise and some of it isn’t even turquoise at all.   

Simulated turquoise is not new.  Ancient Egyptian artisans developed faïence, a copper glazed ceramic imitation, when high quality deposits of turquoise were no longer available.  But I was still surprised at how prevalent treatments and imitations are for turquoise on today’s market.   

Although natural turquoise does exist, this high-grade material comes with a high price tag.  Natural, in the context of a stone, means that the stone is not treated, enhanced or dyed in any way.  Because turquoise is such a soft stone (5 to 6 on Moh’s scale of hardness), it is usually treated for stability.

When purchasing turquoise, it is best to be aware of the different treatments and imitations that exist for this stone.  And one should always remember the saying “if it seems too good to be true, it usually isn’t (true).”   

  • Stabilized turquoise – Real turquoise that is treated with plastic resin or waxes to make it more stable and less crumbly. 
  • Reconstituted turquoise – Small chips and powder of real turquoise are bound with resin and dyes.  This material is much less expensive than natural turquoise.    
  • Block turquoise – Mixture of resins and dyes and does not contain any actual stone.  Does not have the same value as natural turquoise.   
  • Imitation and simulated turquoise – Materials that are dyed to look like turquoise.  These include stones like howlite and magnesite as well as glass, plastic and ceramic.  These materials do not have the same value as natural turquoise.    
  • African Turquoise – This stone is not turquoise.  It is jasper and should have a lower price. 

Howlite that has been dyed to imitate turquoise

 Caring for Turquoise

Turquoise is a porous material and natural and stabilized turquoise can darken with wear as it tends to absorb body oils.  It should be wiped with a damp cloth after wear for cleaning. 

Protect your turquoise jewelry from heat, chemicals and shock.  Ultrasonic or steam cleaning should not be used and one should avoid putting on lotions or perfumes when wearing turquoise jewelry.

Rings and bracelets made from turquoise should not be for everyday wear.  Keep them for occasional wear to protect the stone from the abuse that bracelets and rings often take.

Store your turquoise jewelry in a cool, dark box in a layer of acid-free tissue paper.

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