Turquoise is the birthstone of December (as are tanzanite and zircon) and turquoise is considered as one of the oldest gemstones on earth. But actually, it is one of the oldest ‘known’ gemstone in the world and one of the most appreciated one. Mosks in Samarkand, death masks in Egypt. We have found turquoise artifacts in China, Mexico, the United States and Iran. And even today turquoise is one of the most appreciated gemstones among young and old. Probably you have a piece of jewelry made of turquoise too, but it’s really possible that you have a piece of jewelry with a stone that has a turquoise color, but is it a real turquoise?

Turquoise nugget and bracelet made of turquoise

Turquoise nugget and bracelets made of turquoise

What does turquoise look like?

The color or turquoise is blue to greenish. The blue color is attributed to copper and the green color can be caused by impurities of iron or dehydration. The gemstone is rather soft: maximum 6 on the scale of Moh. Due to the softness turquoise can be easily carved into amulets and talismans. Because of the softness, the gemstone is often strengthened with wax or oil, but also dying and reconstruction is used. Turquoise is a sensitive gemstone: it can fade in color when it is exposed to direct sunlight too much. And it does not like solvents like perfume, makeup, and natural oils.

The turquoise is formed in an arid environment, inside the earth within host rocks, like sandstone or limestone. It is formed under high pressure and high temperature and the turquoise becomes hard as glass. The material of the host rock will determine the color and the structure of the turquoise. The host can be a calcium-rich seashell that is fossilized in an arid environment.

Turquoise, a gemstone with history

Turquoise is an opaque blue to the green gemstone, that is very rare and pricey (more than $250 per kilo). It has been used for ages as an ornamental stone. Especially kings and warriors of the Ancient Egypt, Aztecs, Persians and even China loved this turquoise stone and used it in their weapons, ceremonial masks or bridles. They thought the stone would bring them power and protection against falls.

One of the first gems to be mined was turquoise, mostly in small-scale mines because of the limited scope and the remoteness of the deposits. Until today people try to find turquoise by hand, like in Tibet.

 

For at least 2000 years Persia was a great source for turquoise. Their turquoise was blue and the Persians loved turquoise in their jewelry and in the turbans of the men. The special blue colored turquoise was the symbol of heaven and they called it ‘pirouzeh’, what meant ‘victory’ in Farsi. That is the reason that Persian warriors decorated their weapons the bridles of their horses with turquoise. The color of turquoise can fade when it’s exposed to sunlight or solvents too much and that was regarded as a warning sign of pending doom by the Persians.

In the South West of the USA, where the pre-Columbian Native Americans lived one can find a lot of turquoises. That turquoise was a great and important product for their trade to South America; tot he Aztecs for example. There is still a mine open in this region and that mine provides a lot of the today’s turquoise on the market.

The Indian shamans used it in ceremonial objects for the connection with the spirit of the sky and for amulets. Apache Indians attached pieces of turquoise to their bows (later their guns) to help them aim well.

Tibetan turquoise on traditional head pieces

Tibetan turquoise on traditional head pieces

Turquoise, fake, imitation, genuine?

Since the Egyptians produced imitations of turquoise using glazed tiles (faience) or glass or enamel and nowadays they can use plastic or porcelain to fake turquoise. But most of the time the imitations are so bad that you can recognize them. In 1972 Pierre Gilson invented a very good synthetic imitation of turquoise; it has a uniform color and a black spiderweb veining.

But you can imitate turquoise much easier by dying howlite or magnesite in the turquoise color. In the South of France, they once mined odontolite, especially for imitating turquoise. So you need tests to find out whether your turquoise is real or an imitation. You can do that with a microscope or magnifying glass: natural turquoise has flecks or spots of whitish material on a featureless pale blue background. Imitations will have black or other color veining and are uniform dark blue and have a granular texture.

When I worked in Tibet as a tour leader I saw a lot of turquoise on the market in Lhasa and Xigaze. That was hardly natural turquoise, but it was no imitation either. Since ages, the nomadic Tibetans pulver the turquoise stones they find, mix them with a kind of natural wax and make beads out of the substance. The material is genuine, but the process is an artificial way to make turquoise. This process of production is still going on and you will find a lot of Tibetan turquoise beads on the market.

According to experts, about 95% of the turquoise on the market is imitation. The turquoise on that market can be dyed, painted, stabilized, impregnated with resin or is an imitation altogether. And that is because the turquoise is so popular that there is no way that the miners can cope the demand. Especially the Japanese and the Germans are real fans of this gemstone and they don’t want to buy the Chinese turquoise because a lot of that turquoise is impregnated with plastic.

Turquoise, a valued gemstone

The color and saturation are the most important criteria for determining the value of a real turquoise. When you have a darker shade blue turquoise with less green tint in it, it has a higher value. The veining is important too. The highest value has a turquoise with black lines in a pattern that looks like crocheted lace.

The highest valued turquoise is used for carvings, inlay or cabochons. The other ones are used as polished beads or not polished nugget-style beads.

Depending on the quality the price of a real turquoise varies from $0.05-$1000 per carat (and 5 carat is 1 gram / 0.0353 ounce). And the price can be set depending on the origin of the turquoise: the turquoise of Iran and the United States is expensive.

To answer the question at the start of this blog post: ‘do you have a genuine of a fake turquoise?’ cannot be answered easily. It depends on the color, the veins, the origin. Whether it is dyed, stabilized or impregnated? But… the color stays magnificent and when you cannot afford the genuine gemstone, the dyed howlite or magnesite is a great alternative.

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