Turquoise

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Victorian Turquoise Earrings.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Turquoise is a blue, blue-green or grey-green opaque gemstone who's name is derived from the Turkish trade route along which these stones traveled to reach Europe in ancient times. It is almost always cut en cabochon, although sometimes it is seen in nugget form or even faceted. It has a waxy luster and is able to achieve a high polish. Limonite is the host rock for turquoise and it is shows occasional spots or veins of limonite patterning. The main historical sources were the Nishapur region of Persia (currently Iran) and the Sinai Peninsula. Popular since ancient times, turquoise deposits in the Sinai were already depleted by 4,000 BC. Turquoise was, and is, valued for jewelry and other adornment, including cosmetics.

Throughout history, turquoise has been prized for its perceived talismanic properties. Ancient Egyptians were known to carve it into animal figures that were worn as symbols of their gods. During the Middle Ages turquoise was valued for its supposed ability to prevent falls from horseback and protect the wearer from poisons. In the Seventeenth Century the gem was worn almost exclusively by men and it was considered a necessity for well dressed gentlemen to be wearing fine turquoise. Persians have appreciated turquoise as beautiful and powerful down through the ages with a saying that

.... to escape evil and attain good fortune one must see the reflection of the new moon either on the face of a friend, on a copy of the Koran, or on a turquoise...[1]
This ranks turquoise on a level with religion and friendship, a very powerful stone indeed.

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Carved Oval Turquoise with Arabic Characters Set In a Victorian Brooch.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Native Americans greatly valued the gem. Zuñis held it sacred, carving fetishes and talismans in the forms of animals, insects and other living shapes. Navajo legends speak of turquoise jewel baskets. The Apaches also held turquoise in high regard and Apache medicine men and shaman regarded turquoise as an absolutely essential material. Following a rainbow resulted not in a pot of gold but of turquoise and it was thought beneficial in aiding the accuracy of a hunter's aim, a power highly valued by the Apache.

Queen Victoria's love of turquoise was no secret. It is said that upon her marriage to Albert, Queen Victoria gave portrait rings to her ladies-in-waiting. Each miniature portrait of the Queen was surrounded by turquoise cabochons. Tiny turquoise cabochons were also commonly pave set in mid-Victorian jewelry covering snake motif bracelets and necklaces, brooches and the like. Turquoise enjoyed a resurgence in the late Victorian era and was set in rings, brooches and earrings but in larger sizes than in earlier periods. In the Twentieth Century, turquoise enjoyed great popularity with \the Native American jewelry revival that spanned the 1950's through the 1970's.

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Trade in Turquoise Crafts, such as this Freeform Pendant Dating from 1000–1040 CE, is Believed to have Brought the Ancestral Puebloans of the Chaco Canyon Great Wealth.

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This Victorian Era Ring Displays an Array of Varied Color Turquoise.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

The porous nature of turquoise invites dying and impregnating with waxes and polymers. Powdered turquoise is often reconstituted, along with other ingredients, and sold as gem turquoise. Dyed howlite, dyed chalcedony, glass, ceramics, plastic and many other materials have been used to simulate turquoise.

Gemological Information for Turquoise

Color: Various shades of blue and green
Crystal Structure Triclinic
Refractive Index: ~1.62
Durability: Average to poor
Hardness: 5-6
Similar Stones: Dyed Howlite, Amazonite, Plastic, Serpentine
Treatments: Dying, coatings
Country of Origin: Iran, Afghanistan

Turquoise Care

Ultrasonic Cleaning: Not safe
Steam Cleaning: Not safe
Warm Soapy Water: Safe
Chemical Attack: Avoid
Light Sensitivity: Stable unless dyed
Heat Sensitivity: Not stable

Notes

  1. Kunz, p.111

Sources Consulted

  • Campbell, Marian. Medieval Jewellery. London: V & A Publishing, 2009. P.28.
  • Gem Reference Guide, Los Angeles: Gemological Institute of America, 1988. Pp. 252-255.
  • Kunz, George Frederick. The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, New York: Bell Publishing Company, 1989. Pp. 108-114.
  • Newman, Harold. An Illustrated Dictionary of Jewelry, London: Thames and Hudson, Ltd., 1981. P.314.
  • Romero, Christie. Warman’s Jewelry, Radnor, Pennsylvania: Wallace-Homestead Book Company, 1995. P. 60.
  • Schumann, Walter. Gemstones of the World, New York: Sterling Publishing, Co., 1977. P.170.