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Turquoise Stone Properties Facts and Photos

three rough turquoise stones

1. History of Turquoise
2. Turquoise or Howlite
3. Recorded as a Colour
4. More Facts
5. Healing Properties
6. Article Photos
7. Our Collection of Turquoise

History of the Mineral Turquoise

Turquoise one of the oldest of all gemstones and one of the most popular.  Widely used in jewellery by many cultures around the world, it's one of the very few minerals to have given its name to a colour.

The history of turquoise can be traced back as far as 6000 BC.  Records from the reign of the Pharaoh Semerkhet detail extensive mining operations that involved thousands of workers.

Mined in the Sinai Peninsula, many beautiful artefacts dating back to 3000 BC have been found in Egyptian burial chambers.  Turquoise beads once found in Egypt have been dated to 4000 BC whilst a discovery in Mesopotamia (present day Iraq) has been dated to 5000 BC.

The most famous artefact featuring turquoise is the funerary mask of King Tutankhamun.  This priceless work of art also features lapis lazuli, quartz, carnelian, feldspar, other gemstones and coloured glass.

Imitation turquoise has also been found by archaeologists.  They believe it's likely to have been the first gemstone to have been copied.

Cheaper substitutes have been produced throughout history and the production of fake turquoise continues to this day. Howlite is often used because it's relatively cheap and can have similar markings.  This whitish grey stone is porous which makes it easy to dye.  The dark spidery veins can also be mistaken for the matrix in the mineral turquoise.

Turquois meaning 'Turkish stone' was the name given to turquoise by the French in the 17th century.  They believed it originated from Turkey.  It had in fact only passed through there on its way to Europe having been mined in the north east of Persia (modern day Iran).

polished turquoise mineral specimen

The ancient Roman author and philosopher Pliny the Elder wrote about turquoise in his works Naturalis Historia published around 77 AD.  He referred to it as callais or callaina.

In the bible turquoise is said to have been the first stone in the second row of the high priest breastplate.  This religious garment was worn over the top of a kind of tunic.

Personal preference for colour varies from one country to the next.  In Iran where it has been highly prized since antiquity, the bluer shades are more popular.  In Tibet and India green is the colour of choice.

Turquoise is known to have been mined as early as 1000 AD by the Anasazi natives of the south western United States. It was also widely used by the Incas, Aztecs and Maya.  It has long been revered by Native American Indians including the Navajo, Apache, Zuni and Pueblo tribes.  By far the most important gemstone used in traditional jewellery, many would argue turquoise is fundamental to American Indian culture.

Napoleon I gave his second wife a diadem on the occasion of their marriage.  It was made by French jeweller Etienne Nitot et Fils of Paris.  It originally featured emeralds and diamonds set in gold and silver.

In 1953 the diadem was sold to Van Cleef and Arpels who at some point between 1956 and 1962 replaced the emeralds with seventy nine Persian turquoise cabochons. The emeralds were subsequently sold in other pieces of jewellery.  They were promoted as being gemstones from the historic diadem.

diadem on display in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History


Genuine Turquoise or Dyed Howlite?

In recent years large quantities of fake turquoise has flooded the market.  Sadly many people will be unaware their gemstone is not genuine.  Howlite is even sometimes marketed as white turquoise even though it's a different mineral.

It's usually quite easy to tell on sight alone whether turquoise is genuine.  The most obvious clue is usually price.

The following image comes from a respected website that provides stock photographs.  The photographer whose collection was mostly of diamonds labelled the stones as 'three turquoise cabochons'.  They are positively white howlite that has been dyed.

Not all fake turquoise is quite as obvious as this.  I'm sure there are people out there who have purchased this image in the belief the stones are real turquoise.   

three howlite cabochons dyed to impersonate turquoise

There are several tests that can be carried out to determine whether turquoise is natural.  Sadly most will cause some form of damage.  The least destructive is probably a scratch test which measures the hardness of one mineral against another.

On Mohs scale of mineral hardness turquoise grades 5 to 6.  This means it can be scratched by another mineral with the same hardness or one that's higher.  Howlite grades 3 to 3.5.  Fluorite grades 4 on Mohs scale so will scratch howlite but not turquoise.  

turquoise mineral in rock matrix

First Recorded as a Colour

Turquoise was recorded as a colour in 1573.  It's described as 70% blue 30% green.

As a mineral the colour can vary significantly from subtle shades of blue to rich shades of green.  Copper is the chemical element responsible for the blue whilst green is caused by iron.  Although rare, yellow is caused by zinc.

The spidery veins often seen in turquoise are correctly known as matrix.  They're part of the host rock in which the mineral evolved.  Pure blue turquoise void of these dark veins is highly sought after.  Stones can command exceptional prices.

A Few More Facts

As well as being a soft and fragile mineral turquoise is also porous.  Moisture including oils from the skin which can be absorbed whilst stones are being worn can over time cause irreparable damage.

Turquoise may lose or change colour if exposed to excessive heat.  In extreme circumstances it can even crack.  It must be protected from perfumes, hairspray, cosmetics and other pollutants in the atmosphere.  If not removed quickly these can leave a residue which may turn into a permanent mark.

Turquoise is one of the birthstones for the month of December.  The other is citrine.

The USA, Tibet, China, Afghanistan and Australia are the world's main producers.

large turquoise mineral in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Metaphysical Healing Properties

Turquoise is a master healing stone that comforts, supports and replenishes.  Throughout history it has been used for protection and was believed to change colour if danger was approaching.

It promotes spiritual development and the ability to communicate with other realms.  It can be used to explore past lives and to release unwanted patterns of behaviour.  

Turquoise purifies the environment and dispels negative energy.  It may also be used to protect against EMF (electromagnetic fields).  It balances male and female energies, is great for problem solving and will calm nerves when speaking in public.

Turquoise instills confidence, aids creative expression, stabilizes mood swings and brings inner calm.  Healers recommend it for mental exhaustion, depression and panic attacks.  

Article Photos

The rough turquoise stones at the top are from our collection.  The second photo is turquoise from the Sleeping Beauty mine in Arizona, the fourth from Bisbee south east Arizona.  Both are courtesy of Stan Celestian.

The photo of Marie Louise's diadem comes from the website of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History where it's currently housed.  The turquoise in our final photo (taken by us) is on display in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.  All photos are clickable and redirect to the original non-compressed image.    

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