Gemstones and Birthstones: Turquoise, Just the Facts

When it comes to jewelry, in my world, you cannot have too many earrings or too much turquoise. So you can understand why I have three pairs of turquoise earrings….

ABOVE: Turquoise comes in a variety of colors and varieties, as you can see in this collection, from pure robin’s egg blue to greenish stones, from finely textured “spider web” matrix to stones that can be partially or mostly matrix. Photo by Jim Lawson.

Gemstones and Birthstones - Turquoise - the amazing blue stone of many shades.

A perfect turquoise teardrop set in oxidized silver and framed with a bezel of gold, is accented by a cubic zirconia. Courtesy Lynette Cederquist. Photo Kristen Cederquist.

Not only is the blue of turquoise about the most perfect blue in the world—the color of the sky at almost any time of day—it can drift into greenish blues and bluish greens. Throw in matrix and you have a stone that is infinitely fascinating. Turquoise is an excellent stone for December’s children, providing a glorious lift in the middle of winter. (Apologies to those in the southern hemisphere. I’m afraid I’m showing my hemispherical bias here.)

This is a stone with a deep history like few others. One of the oldest known hard-rock mining sites in the world was a turquoise mine worked more than 5000 years ago in the Sinai Desert. The ancient Egyptians treasured turquoise and frequently produced their glass-like ceramic “faience” in a turquoise blue. For a great part of history, the finest turquoises were known to come from Persia, modern day Iran. As a result, for many years, the term “Persian turquoise” was given to stones of a clear, unmarked blue.

Gemstones and Birthstones - Turquoise - the amazing blue stone of many shades.

This 22.73 carat turquoise cab, although from the US, would have at one time been described as “Persian turquoise.” Photo Mia Dixon. Courtesy Pala International.

The word “turquoise,” French for Turkish, is thought to have been given to these stones because the first turquoises known in Europe came from mines in Iran through dealers in Turkey. Over time, the name of the stone has become identified with the color. While people may say “emerald green” or “sapphire blue” or “ruby red,” they only have to say “turquoise” to evoke that unparalleled sky blue color.

Although originally known from Iran, turquoise today is often most closely identified with the US. Much of the turquoise on the market today, if not most, comes from the American Southwest, primarily the state of Arizona. While it has always been treasured by the Native American peoples of the southwest, it wasn’t valued by the copper mining companies that scraped the bulk of it out of the ground as a by-product of metal mining. On a tour of the Lavender Mine at Bisbee, a retired miner told our group that the miners often took large chunks of turquoise out of the mine in their lunch boxes. “If you found some, they didn’t care,” he said of the mining bosses. “If you made a commercial venture out of it, they’d get upset because you were neglecting your job.”

Gemstones and Birthstones - Turquoise - the amazing blue stone of many shades.

These turquoises are perfectly at home in modern gold settings with an ancient feel. Courtesy Exclusive Fine Jewelry Designs.

Turquoise comes in a variety of qualities as well as a variety of colors. Material can be pale blue and chalky, not fit for jewelry wear unless treated. (Virtually all turquoise on the market has been treated in some way. More on that later.) Or it can be durable enough to last for centuries. Hardness ranges from 5 to 6 on the Mohs Hardness Scale.

Turquoise is generally a porous stone. That means it shouldn’t be exposed to chemicals or oils or the dirty solution in an ultrasonic. It can also pick up the oil in the wearer’s skin, which can cause it to darken unevenly or turn a bit greenish. It can be and is worn in all types of jewelry, from rings, to bracelets, to bolos, to neckpieces.

Turquoise is often set in silver, where is works beautifully with the white metal. But turquoise is also perfectly at home in yellow gold surrounded by diamonds. Everyone, born in December or not, should have a turquoise—or three—in their jewelry wardrobe.

Sharon Elaine Thompson is a GG and FGA who has been writing on gemstone and jewelry topics for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 1987. She also writes a line of Birthstone Romances under the name Liz Hartley.

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