“If cold December gave you birth, the month of snow and ice and mirth, place on your hand a Turquoise blue; success will bless whate’er you do.”
Unknown Author, Pamphlet Published by Tiffany & Co. (1870)
Turquoise: raw crystal and cut gemstone
The modern name ‘Turquoise’ is a bit of a misnomer; When Venetian merchants brought the gem to France, it was called ‘pierre turquois’ (Turkish Stone), despite its Persian origin. This was not its only name; in Persia it was called ‘ferozah,' which means ‘victorious.' Until the 13th century it was called ‘calläis’ (beautiful stone) in Europe, probably from the ancient Greek “kalláïnos” and Latin ‘callainos’ or ‘callaina.'
While some mineralogists and gemstone authors think these names represented our Turquoise during antiquity, others disagree.
Chemical composition of Turquoise
Turquoise is a hydrated phosphate of copper and aluminum. Coming in various intensities of blue and greenish-blue, Turquoise’s sky blue colors of a medium tone and saturation are historically considered the ‘best,' with greenish hues being less valued.
Nishapur in Iran remains as one of Turquoise’s finest sources. Other commercial mines are found in the U.S. (Arizona and Nevada) and China.
The history of Turquoise
An Aztec mask decorated with Turquoise
Turquoise is a gemstone rich in myth and one of the first to be extracted. Mining Turquoise dates back to 6000 B.C. in Egypt and 5000 B.C. in Persia. This is one of the reasons for its enduring popularity across many cultures, such as Native Americans, for whom it became an essential material for jewelry fabrication. The Zuni bracelets and Navajo belts, along with Aztec masks, were all decorated with marvelous Turquoise stones. The treasure of Moctezuma II (1466-1520), the ninth Aztec emperor and ruler at the beginning of the Spanish conquest, includes a serpent carving covered by a mosaic of Turquoise. From the 16th century onwards, Turquoise was used as a currency by inhabitants of the American southwest. Today it is Iran’s national gemstone.
Properties of Turquoise
Thick and struck through by veins of mother rock, usually black limestone or manganese oxide, attractive and unique markings do not negatively affect the value of Turquoise stones.
Varieties of Turquoise
Turquoise can be subjected to steam cleaning, but not ultrasound.