1. History of the Mineral Turquoise
2. Real Turquoise or Dyed Howlite
3. The colour Turquoise
4. More Facts About the Mineral Turquoise
5. Healing Properties of Turquoise
6. Article Photos
7. Our Collection of Turquoise
8. More Information
History of the Mineral Turquoise
The mineral turquoise is one of the oldest of all gemstones and also 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 where records from the reign of the Pharaoh Semerkhet detail extensive mining operations that involved thousands of workers. The stone was mined in the Sinai Peninsula and many beautiful artefacts were subsequently found in Egyptian burial chambers dating back to 3000 BC. Turquoise beads also 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 which also features lapis lazuli, quartz, carnelian, feldspar, other gemstones and coloured glass.
Archaeologists also found items that featured imitation turquoise and believe it was probably the first mineral to have been imitated. Cheaper substitutes have been produced throughout history and the practice continues to this day. The mineral howlite is often used to imitate turquoise because it's relatively cheap and can have similar markings. This whitish grey coloured stone is porous so is easy to dye and the dark spidery veins can to the untrained eye be mistaken for the matrix present in turquoise.
Turquois meaning 'Turkish stone' was the name given to turquoise by the French in the 17th century in the belief it had originated from Turkey. The stone had in fact only passed through there on its way to Europe after having been mined in the north east of Persia (modern day Iran).
The Ancient Roman author and philosopher Pliny the Elder wrote about turquoise in his works Naturalis Historia published around 77 AD in which he referred to it as callais or callaina. In the bible turquoise is identified as being the first stone in the second row of the high priest breastplate which is a religious garment worn over the top of a kind of tunic.
Personal preference for the colour of turquoise varies from one country to the next. In Iran where the stone 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. Stones were also widely used by the Incas, Aztecs and Maya. The mineral has long been revered by Native American Indians including the Navajo, Apache, Zuni and Pueblo tribes and is the most important gemstone used in traditional jewellery. Many would argue that turquoise is fundamental to American Indian culture.
Napoleon I gave his second wife a diadem on the occasion of their marriage which was made by French jeweller Etienne Nitot et Fils of Paris. It originally featured emeralds and diamonds set in gold and silver but in 1953 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 and were promoted as being gemstones from the historic diadem.
Real Turquoise or Dyed Howlite
In recent years large quantities of fake turquoise has flooded the market and sadly many people will be blissfully unaware that their gemstone may not actually be genuine. Howlite is even sometimes marketed as white turquoise even though it's a completely different mineral. It's usually quite easy to tell on sight alone whether turquoise is genuine or dyed howlite. The biggest clue is usually price.
The image below is from a website that provides stock photographs. The photographer whose collection was mostly of diamonds labelled this photo as 'three turquoise cabochons'. These stones are almost 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 genuine belief the stones are real turquoise.
There are several tests that can be carried out to determine whether turquoise is natural however most result in some form of damage being caused. The least destructive test 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 which means it can be scratched by any mineral with the same or a higher number on the scale. Howlite is a softer mineral which grades 3 to 3.5. The mineral fluorite grades 4 on Mohs scale so will scratch howlite but not scratch turquoise.
The Colour Turquoise
Turquoise was first recorded as a colour in 1573 and is described as being 70% blue 30% green. As a mineral the colour of the stone can vary significantly from the most subtle shades of blue to rich shades of green. Copper is the chemical element responsible for the blue colouration whilst green is caused by iron and although rare, yellow is caused by zinc.
The dark spidery veins often seen in turquoise are correctly known as matrix and are part of the host rock in which the mineral evolved. Pure blue turquoise void of these dark coloured markings is highly sought after and can command exceptional prices.
More Facts About the Mineral Turquoise
Turquoise is not only a relatively soft mineral but also one that's quite fragile and porous. Moisture and oils from the skin that may be absorbed when the stone is being worn may well over time cause irreparable damage. Turquoise may also lose or change colour if exposed to excessive heat and in extreme circumstances can even crack. It must be protected from perfumes, hairspray and cosmetics because all leave a residue that could leave a mark if not removed immediately.
Turquoise is one of the birthstones for the month of December with the other being citrine. The USA, Tibet, China, Afghanistan and Australia are the world's main producers.
Healing Properties of Turquoise
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 a great stone 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 turquoise for mental exhaustion, depression and panic attacks.
The turquoise stones at the top of our article are from our own collection. The second photo is turquoise from the Sleeping Beauty mine in Arizona, the fourth from Bisbee south east Arizona. Both photos 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 mineral featured in our final photo which was taken by us is on display in the Smithsonian. All photos are clickable and redirect to the original full size image.
Our Collection of Turquoise