Turquoise which is believed to have been one of the first semi precious stones ever to have been mined, can be traced back to the Sinai Peninsula as early as 6000 BC. where it was being mined by the Ancient Egyptians. Records from the reign of the Pharaoh Semerkhet detail extensive mining operations that involved thousands of workers. Turquoise gemstones were also found in Egyptian burial chambers dating from around 3000 BC. and the most famous Egyptian artefact in which they were found, was the burial mask of King Tutankhamun. Turquoise beads were also found in Mesopotamia (present day Iraq) dating from about 5000 BC.
Turquoise gemstones can vary in colour greatly from sky blue, to blue/green to apple green and it's one of the only semi precious stones which has attributed its name to a colour. When most people think of the colour Turquiose, they think of a specific shade of blue and very rarely would any shade of green be thought of as being Turquoise. The blue colouration is as a result of copper whilst green is iron and yellow although rare, is caused by zinc. The distinctive dark spidery veins which are often present in Turquoise gemstones are known as matrix and are part of the host rock in which it evolved. Pure blue Turquoise gemstones that lack any matrix at all are very highly sought after.
In the 17th century, the French named Turquoise after Turkey which then encompassed Persia (modern day Iran) believing it had come from there when in fact it had only passed through there on its way to Europe. The Roman author and philosopher Pliny the Elder had already written about it in his works Naturalis Historia which was published around 77AD in which he referred to Turquoise as either Callais or Callaina.
Turquoise gemstones from Iran are regarded by the Iranians as Jade semi precious stones are by the Chinese and they have been highly prized there since antiquity. Persian Turquoise tends to be harder and of a more even colour than the material from North America and it's always sky blue in colour, never green. In ancient Persia, it was traded as far afield as the Indus Valley civilization in India as far back as the second millennium BC. Prior to the first world war, it was Iran's principal export and there were almost 100 fully operational mines across the country. Today in Tibet, it is highly sought after for use in jewellery and also religious ceremonies and the greener coloured Turquoise gemstones are preferred.
Mined by the American Indians since 1000 A.D, some regard Turquoise to be either male or female depending on its colour. Blue which is male is associated with the sky whilst green is associated with the Earth as in Mother Earth.
In the Bible it is mentioned as being one of the gemstones in the breastplate of Aaron, also known as the High Priest's breastplate, a religious garment worn during biblical times. The Egyptian Pharaohs loved it as did the early Native American Indians and it remains sacred to many to this day who consider it to be a bestower of goodness and hence Turquoise gemstones are used extensively in jewellery.
Considered as being one of the master healing semi precious stones, it is popular in crystal healing and its powers are far too numerable to mention. To be given a piece of Turquoise brings good fortune and peace, it offers protection hence amulets have been made from it since the dawn of time and it is also said to defend against injury, outside influences and atmospheric pollutants. Promoting spiritual attunement and enhancing communication with the physical and spiritual worlds, it resonates with higher levels of being and also instils a feeling of profound peace and relaxation.
Turquoise was one of the very first semi precious stones to be copied by the Ancient Egyptians and this practice has continued to this day. Throughout the ages various materials have been used to try and replicate it and Howlite has in recent years been one of the most popular. Howlite is white or grey and known to be extremely porous hence it holds dye well, it also has fine spidery black or grey veins which to the untrained eye, could be confused for the matrix in Turquoise. Man's obsession with imitating semi precious gemstones comes about mainly because of their decreasing availability and high price. Other known tricks include trying to improve colour and/or hardness of low grade gemstones and using similarly coloured minerals such as Chrysocolla and occasionally Chalcedony, although the latter when dyed is generally much less convincing.
Napoleon I gave his second wife Empress Marie Louise a diadem (a particular style of tiara) on the occasion of their marriage in 1810 which was made by the French jeweller Etienne Nitot et Fils of Paris. It featured Emeralds and Diamonds set in gold and silver and was quite exquisite. In 1953 it was sold to Van Cleef and Arpels who at some time between 1956 and 1962 replaced the Emeralds with 79 Persian Turquoise cabochons totalling 540 carats. The Emeralds were subsequently sold in other pieces of jewellery and were promoted as being Emeralds from the historic Napoleonic diadem.
The most important producers of Turquoise gemstones are Iran, South West United States, Tibet, China, Afghanistan and Australia.
Although graded 5 to 6 on Mohs scale of mineral hardness, it is still considered to be quite fragile. Known to change colour with excessive heat, it is very porous so will absorb moisture including oils from the skin when being worn which can also cause it to change colour. Contact with chemicals including those such as hair spray, cosmetics and perfumes should be avoided. The page in our Glossary entitled "Caring for Silver and Gemstone Jewellery" offers good advice on how to look after all of your semi precious stones.
Our Collection of Turquoise Jewellery
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