Turquoise: Stone of the Ancients

February 21, 2019 3 min read

Turquoise: Stone of the Ancients

Turquoise is a stone that has fascinated cultures for millennia.  Turquoise jewelry was found in the tomb of an Ancient Egyptian queen, and is among the world’s oldest know jewelry.  Prehistoric indigenous tribes of the U.S. mined turquoise in the southwest.  In Persia, China, and Tibet, turquoise has been revered for thousands of years.  Perhaps it is that iconic shade of blue that is so captivating, or the dark matrix that ensures no two stones are quite the same.  Read on to learn more about this exquisite stone.

What is Turquoise?

Turquoise is the result of copper-rich groundwater reacting to minerals that contain phosphorus and aluminum.    This process occurs in dry and barren regions, such as the American Southwest, Iran, Australia, and Mexico.  The name turquoise comes from the 17th Century, when trade routes through Turkey (“Turquie” in French) brought the gem to Europe.

Turquoise can range from pale to vibrant blue, to green or even brown. Turquoise from Persian mines (present day Iran) is known for its robin’s egg blue color.  Turquoise can have a brown or black matrix, or no matrix at all.  Stones with dense, intricate matrices are know as spiderweb turquoise.  Turquoise is a soft stone (falling 5 to 6 out of 10 on the Mohs Hardness Scale) and quite porous.  This makes it more susceptible to oils and harsh chemicals.  The best way to clean your turquoise jewelry is with a polishing cloth.

Native American turquoise cuff

Is My Turquoise Real or Fake?

Due to its opaque nature, turquoise is often imitated.  Stones such as howlite (which is naturally white) and quartzite are dyed blue to look like turquoise.  Plastic is combined with minerals and pressed into molds to imitate stone.  There are a few ways to distinguish fake turquoise from the real thing, although some methods are destructive.  Dyed stones will reveal themselves if the surface is eroded, either physically or chemically with the use of acetone.  The dye does not penetrate the stone completely, thus acetone can reveal the lighter stone color beneath the dye.  Applying a hot needle to a plastic imitation will melt it, while true turquoise will only leave a burn mark.

Less destructive methods can also help you determine the authenticity of turquoise.  Dyed stones are usually very uniform in color.  Uniformity in color in true turquoise will greatly raise the price, thus the color in relation to the cost can tell you whether it is real or fake.  The matrix in the stone can also help you determine whether it is turquoise or dyed howlite.  A turquoise matrix will often have a slightly lower depth in the stone, which can be detected by running your fingernail over the surface.

Handling turquoise in person will help you learn the feel and coloring of the stone and distinguish from imitations. True turquoise may also be dyed to enhance the color, and coated with plastic or wax to increase its luster.  The best way to ensure your turquoise is authentic is to source it from a reputable dealer.

Turquoise jewelry

Turquoise Legend & Lore

Ancient Egyptians believed turquoise had regenerative properties and included it the tombs of their royalty.  In the Navajo creation myth, First Man and First Woman made the sun out of turquoise and the moon out of white shell.  Turquoise symbolizes the sky and water and is associated with protection and healing.  Likewise, Tibetans have used turquoise over the centuries to bring health and prosperity, and to protect from evil.  In crystal healing practices, turquoise is believed to help migraines, and aide in communication and leadership.

Many people consider turquoise a spiritual stone, while other simply love its unmistakable blue hue.  Whatever your reason for wearing this iconic gem, take pride in knowing it has a long and prestigious heritage.  Click here to shop some of the pieces in our turquoise collection, or visit any of our store locations.

Also in MSJ Handbook

Chrysoprase pendant history and characteristics
Chrysoprase: The Golden Green Gem

September 17, 2021 2 min read

This rare variety of chalcedony has been beloved for centuries.
Read More
Art Nouveau era moonstone necklace
The History & Style of Art Nouveau Jewelry

July 26, 2021 4 min read

Learn about the styles and artistry that defined this era.
Read More
types of chains
The Big Guide to Chain Types

June 29, 2021 9 min read

Find your perfect chain with this encyclopedia.
Read More