December Birthstone – Turquoise
From ancient Egyptians to Persians, Aztecs and Native Americans, kings and warriors alike admired Turquoise for thousands of years. It adorned everything from jewellery to ceremonial masks to weapons and bridles – granting power and protection.
The word turquoise dates back to the 13th century, drawing from the French expression pierre tourques, which referenced the “Turkish stone” brought to Europe from Turkey.
Turquoise is found in only a few places on Earth – dry and barren regions where acidic, copper rich groundwater seeps downward through deeply altered or broken rocks where it reacts with minerals that contain phosphorus and aluminium. The result of this process is a porous, semi-translucent to opaque hydrous phosphate of copper and aluminium.
The earliest evidence comes from ancient Egyptian tombs, which contain elaborate turquoise jewellery dating back to 3000 BCE. The mines are located in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. One sat near an ancient temple dedicated to Hathor, the Greek goddess of love and joy – worshipped as a protector in the desert and as the patron saint of mining. Egyptians called turquoise mefkat, which meant “joy” and “delight.”
Ancient Persians decorated extensively with turquoise, often engraving it with Arabic script. Turquoise covered palace domes because its sky blue colour represented heaven. (This later inspired the use of turquoise in buildings like the Taj Mahal.)
Turquoise played an important role in the lives of Native Americans. The Apache thought turquoise could be found by following a rainbow to its end. They also believed that attaching the December birthstone to a bow or firearm made one’s aim more accurate. The Pueblo maintained that turquoise got its colour from the sky, while the Hopi thought the gem was produced by lizards scurrying over the earth.
How to buy Turquoise
Turquoise is sensitive to direct sunlight and solvents like makeup, perfume and natural oils. The hardest turquoise only measures 6 on the Mohs scale, which made this soft stone popular in carved talismans throughout history.
Turquoise is one of few gems not judged by the 4Cs of diamond quality. Instead, the main factors that determine its value are colour, matrix, hardness, and size.
Colour – The colour of turquoise usually ranges from light to medium blue or greenish blue. It’s often mottled, and sometimes it has dark splotches. It might also have veins of matrix running through it.
The most-prized turquoise colour is an even, intense, medium blue, with no matrix and the ability to take a good polish. But some consumers prefer a greenish blue, and some contemporary designers seek turquoise referred to as “avocado” and “lime green.”
Clarity – Turquoise can be semi-translucent to opaque. Semi-translucent stones are preferred.
Cut – Turquoise is most often fashioned as cabochons. The smoothly rounded dome shape sets off turquoise’s colour, texture and any matrix beautifully. In addition, manufacturers and artisans fashion turquoise rough into round or oblong beads for necklaces, and into small, flat pieces that are popular as jewellery inlays. Other rough material might be tumbled into “nuggets” or polished as free-form shapes that reflect the shape of the original rough. There are also examples of top-colour blue turquoise engraved with Persian or Arabic inscriptions that are then inlaid with gold.
Carat Weight – Turquoise is available in a wide range of sizes. All sizes, even very small ones, are used in Native American jewellery, and large pieces have been popular for carvings. For any size, the quality and evenness of the colour is the overriding value factor.
Because of its fragility, turquoise is often treated to enhance durability and colour. Some treatments involving wax and oil are relatively harmless, while other methods – including dye, impregnation, and reconstitution – are more controversial. Seek out a jeweller who can help you find the best quality turquoise.
It’s safe to clean turquoise jewellery with warm, soapy water, but this stone should never be cleaned with steam or ultrasonic cleaners. Heat or solvents can damage the treated surfaces on some turquoise.