Turquoise is the lovely blue gemstone that is used in December birthstone jewelry. It is a bluish green stone that has been used since at least 6000 B.C. when the Egyptians used it in mosaics and decorative work and in the jewelry worn by their Pharaohs. It was also used more recently by Aztec kings, in masks, shields and knives, and by Native Americans and the Persians in beautiful ornamental pieces and jewelry. Turquoise is a relatively rare gemstone. Turquoise of gemstone quality is mined in Australia, Iran (formerly Persia), Afghanistan and in the US in New Mexico, Arizona and other Southwest regions.
The name turquoise is thought to come from the French word meaning Turkey as it was mistakenly believed that the gems were mined in that country as they were traded in the bazaars to European merchants. In reality they almost certainly came from the Iran or the Sinai Peninsula. It may possibly also have arisen from the French word for dark blue stone, pierre turquin. It is usually found in copper deposits generally in arid, dessert conditions.
Before turquoise was found in the USA the finest quality gems, with an intense blue color, were found in Persia and ‘Persian Turquoise’ is still used these days to signify the finest quality gemstones. In the last years of the nineteenth century turquoise was found in the United States with deposits that were the equal of the quality of the Persian gemstones. Nowadays the USA is the major producer of this gorgeous precious stone.
One of the first gemstones to be mined, Turquoise has long been prized for its intense colour, which varies from sky-blue to green depending on the quantities of iron and copper within it. Turquoise is commonly found in microcrystalline, massive form, usually in encrustations, in veins, or as modules. It is opaque to semi-translucent light and very fragile, with conchoidal fracture. Some material is very porous, leading to fading and cracking, so it may be impregnated with wax or resin to maintain its appearance.
Occurrence. Sky-blue Turquoise from Iran is generally regarded as the most desirable, but in Tibet a greener variety is preferred. Localities in Mexico and the USA produce a greener more porous material that tends to fade more quickly. Other localities include the former USSR, Chile, Austrailia, Turkestan and Cornwall in England.
Turquoise has been thought to warn wearer of danger or illness by changing colour slightly. It has been imitated by stained howlite, fossil bone or tooth, limestone, chalcedony, glass and enamel. In 1972 an imitation Turquoise was produced in France by Gilson.
One of the rarest Turquoises is the Sleeping Beauty Turquoise found in the USA in only one place. It is mined under a mountain looking like a sleeping lady, hence the name. Unfortunately the source is getting harder to mine and therefore it has become harder to obtain. A beautiful clear turquoise and worth purchasing if you do not have any. ( See my blog on “Sleeping Beauty Turquoise”)
How the Aztecs Used Turquoise
Turquoise was used extensively by the Aztecs, often with gold and several other minerals such as quartz, jade, jet and malachite as well as corals and shells. They used it in masks, shields, knives and mosaics. Some splendid examples of mosaics that were not destroyed by the Spanish are exhibited at the British Museum.
How the Native Americans Used Turquoise
The Apache, Navajo and Pueblo tribes used turquoise as an amulet often believing it had power to perfect the aim of archers. The original turquoise jewelry made by Native Americans included carvings, beads and mosaics and it was only from in the last part of the nineteenth century was the characteristic jewelry made from silver produced. Navajo craftsmen began making this type of jewelry from silver coins for trade with white men.
Looking After Turquoise Jewelry
Turquoise is rather soft and must be looked after with care to prevent it from being scratched. It can become dull if it is heated, or if it is exposed to to sunlight or weak acids so you should be careful to take off any turquoise jewelry before using hot water or household chemicals.
December Birthstone Jewelry
Turquoise is the precious stone for December in the modern birthstone jewelry system. In traditional schemes the birthstones are ruby and zircon. Jewelry set with turquoise would make a lovely gift whether set in necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rings or charms.
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