Turquoise is synonymous with beautiful Southwestern jewelry. Often paired with silver or copper, it’s a favorite stone for collectors the world over. More than almost any other gem, turquoise has personality. Each stone has clear and unique markings and shapes that make turquoise stones more than just a gem. Those who are passionate about turquoise will tell you that the stone becomes a part of you as you wear it.
December’s traditional birthstone, the turquoise has been mined for centuries in the Americas and Asia. Native American mined turquoise in the Southwest with wooden mallets, and still create some of the most stunning pieces of silver and turquoise jewelry found anywhere. Today’s turquoise is as likely to come from China, where modern mining methods are making it possible to import tons of medium quality stone – which is what most turquoise is. According to experts, high quality turquoise is rarer than diamonds and other precious gems. Most of the turquoise on the market is actually medium grade, fortified with acrylic or plastic to stabilize it.
Turquoise has a long and colorful history. There’s evidence that turquoise was used for decoration in China as early as 1700 BC, and the Aztecs mined turquoise in the area we now call New Mexico thousands of years ago. The sky and earth mingling of color in natural turquoise made the stone sacred to many Native American cultures who often carved it into animal totem shapes. These gems were worn to attract the notice of the good spirits, or included in graves of warriors and others for protection from evil.
Turquoise traditionally is said to attract wealth and well-being, and support luck and love, and to protect its wearers from falls when riding a horse – a potent reason for many to wear turquoise in the Old West. Many miners in the old Southwest also carried or wore turquoise stones for protection and to attract more turquoise – like attracts like, after all! Those miners were the source of much of the folklore attached to turquoise, especially Southwestern turquoise, and many varieties of turquoise are named for the mines from which it is mined.
Turquoise varies in color from a deep sky blue to aqua, with clear hints of green. The markings in turquoise, called the matrix, are created by deposits of iron pyrite (black), iron oxide (gold) and rhyolite (yellow-brown). When the matrix forms an even pattern over the stone, it’s called a ‘spiderweb matrix’, and enhances the value of the gem.
Natural turquoise is soft and chalky, and is therefore often treated before being cut and sold. It may be hardened, dyed or ‘reconstituted’. The less alteration to the stone, the more valuable it is.
Turquoise has a hardness of 5-6 on the Mohs scale, making it one of the softer stones used in jewelry. The unique markings of the matrices make turquoise one of the most lovely and unusual stones in existence – truly fitting the December personality that ranges from enthusiastic and impulsive Sagittarius to stolid, dependable Capricorn.
Turquoise is a naturally occurring amalgam stone that exhibits bright color and patterning. It’s mined around the world, but is especially well known in Southwestern United States where it is traditionally used in Navajo and other Native American jewelry.
Turquoise, more than any other stone, is said to have its own personality. It’s often possible to tell exactly which mine a piece of turquoise was taken from just by examining its color patterning (called the matrix). Just as colorful as the stone itself are the stories that have grown up around turquoise miners and mines.
Turquoise is easily one of the loveliest stones in existence, and is a fitting birthstone for December babies.
Turquoise buying Guide
Turquoise varies in color from sea-green to robin’s egg blue. The most valuable is generally the deeper shades of aqua, though the veining also has an effect on value. In general, turquoise that displays spiderweb matrix – an even, allover pattern in a single color – is the most expensive.
Because of turquoise’s properties, it is often treated to stabilize the color. It’s important to be aware of exactly what you are purchasing. ‘Natural’ turquoise has had no treatment at all, and is seldom suited to being made into jewelry. The stone is too chalky and sort, making it subject to easy damage. ‘Stabilized’ turquoise has been stabilized by treating the stone with resin or wax, then heating it to set them in place. This results in a stone that is hard enough for cutting and polishing. Reconstituted turquoise is made from turquoise chips that have been mixed with resin and heated. The resulting stone looks like natural turquoise, but isn’t considered as valuable.
Turquoise is a soft chalky stone that can be easily damaged. Care should be taken to avoid hard knocks against the stone. Because it is porous, you should also avoid grease, oil and chemicals that may darken or discolor the stone permanently.
Turquoise shouldn’t be exposed to extremes of temperature change. Extended exposure to bright sunlight can fade the colors of turquoise.
Cleaning turquoise jewelry
Turquoise jewelry can be wiped with a soft, wet cloth and then dried. Do not use ultrasonic cleaner on jewelry pieces containing turquoise. Avoid using chemicals on the stone, and be careful when polishing silver and turquoise pieces not to get the cleaner on the turquoise stone.
Turquoise jewelry should be stored in soft cloth or bag if it is stored in a jewelry box with other gems. This will avoid damage to the turquoise from other, harder stones.