Turquoise is one of the most widely recognized stones throughout the world. It is found in many areas and has been highly-valued by all cultures that have been familiar with it. Generally speaking, the more pure and bright the blue color, the higher the quality. Turquoise’s oldest known use as jewelry was in Egypt, where four bracelets were discovered on the mummified arm of Queen Zar, a powerful ruler who reigned around 5, 500 B.C. The birthstone of December, it combines well with silver, copper and gold, and is handsomely paired with beads and feathers.
Turquoise is rare and extremely valuable in its finer grades, as it is geologically a very precious stone, and forms only through a strict “Goldilocks effect”, conditions having to be neither too hot, nor too cold. Technically speaking, it is a hydrous phosphate of copper and aluminum and is created by the fortuitous occurrence of several simultaneous happenings—a complex ballet of hydrothermal proportions involving feldspar, aluminum, phosphorus and copper dancing in a millions-of-years long, high-pressure dance deep in the Earth’s mantle. These particular geological movements not only create gems of that famous vibrant, turquoise hue, but also result in stones of dramatic olive green and burnt orange, products of the extreme effort of our big blue planet. No matter the color or quality, turquoise scores just under 6 on the Moh’s scale of hardness, making it a little bit harder than glass.
The most renown turquoise in the Western Hemisphere comes from the Sleeping Beauty mines outside of Globe, Arizona. Known for its pure blue color and lack of host rock inclusions, this turquoise can be very expensive and is highly sought after. Buyers beware: because of the fame and value of the turquoise stone, fake and treated turquoise abound. Many dealers do good business selling laser-painted howlite as turquoise, and the Chinese famously produce a compacted blue paste that passes for genuine to the uneducated eye.
A stone of many names, the term ‘turquoise’, derives from 16th century Old French for the word Turkish, because it was brought to Europe from Turkey. Pliney the Elder called it callais, meaning greenish-blue in Latin. The Iranians called it pirouzeh, meaning victory, and the ancient Aztecs knew the mineral as teoxihuitl (teh-o-shee-WEET-dil), which means “precious and divine” in their native tongue of Nahuatl. Turquoise’s “robin’s egg” blue color matches the still, mid-morning skies of high summer in the Southwestern US, which is why the Native Americans called it the “sky stone” and sometimes the “stone of heaven”. It truly is a heavenly gem.