What Makes Turquoise Blue? (and other interesting facts about the mineral Turquoise)
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First, A Brief History of Turquoise
Turquoise has long been used as a beloved adornment since the times of Ancient Egypt. The mummified body of Queen Zar was discovered wearing four turquoise bracelets dating back to approximately 5500 BC--the time of the second ruler of Egypt's First Dynasty. Ancient Egyptians believed turquoise had mystical powers and used it regularly in art, sculptural figurines, and ornaments such as jewelry.
It is apparent that turquoise was an important item for trade among early Americans, as it has often been found in archaeological sites hundreds of miles away from sources. The Anasazi mined the stone in many areas throughout the Southwest.
Turquoise is currently mined in many places across the globe, such as Iran, USA, India, Tibet, China, Egypt, Chile, Russia, and Australia. The turquoise from Persia (Iran) was once considered the most beautiful, but now the stone mined in America is the most popular.
How Mineral Content Affects Turquoise Color
Turquoise is composed of copper, aluminum, phosphorus, and hydrogen and oxygen (in the form of water) and is found in desert regions, formed inigneous or sedimentary rock. It often has brown or black veins of the rock it was formed in running through it, known as 'matrix'. Generally a bluish-green color, turquoise ranges from bright blue to green, greenish-yellow, browns, and very rarely, pale powder blue. The color of the stone depends on the copper content, amount of matrix, and whether there is any iron or zinc present at the time of formation.
The more copper in a deposit of turquoise, the more blue the color will be. If a high concentration of iron is present, the stone takes on a more green hue, due to some of the aluminum being displaced by the iron in the mineral. Yellowish-green shades of turquoise are relatively rare, and are found in only a few mines where zinc is present. What is known as "White Turquoise" is extremely rare, found in only one mine in the world (Dry Creek Mine near Battle Mountain, Nevada) and isnot actually white, but a very pale powder blue color, due to a very small presence of copper.
There is much controversy surrounding the existence of this "White Turquoise. The issue is that actual turquoise that is white in color does not exist. It is mineralogically impossible that the stone's makeup could be such that it can still be classified as turquoise and be white, due to the copper. The misnomer comes from the fact that when this extremely pale blue turquoise was first discovered in its Nevada mine, the Shoshone Indians declared that it was as "rare as a white buffalo", and henceforth referred to it as "sacred white buffalo turquoise" or "white buffalo turquoise". It is easy to see how it has come to be known simply as "white turquoise" and how its nomenclature is so misleading.
Beware of Impostors!
Unfortunately, many impostor stones are being passed off as real turquoise in the marketplace today. Many of them are found in the same mines alongside turquoise, but if the chemical composition does not match that which defines turquoise, then it cannot be classified as such. A few of the common offenders include:
"Yellow Turquoise" is usually a combination of quartz and jasper, or just yellow serpentine.
"White Buffalo Turquoise", "White Turquoise", or simply "White Buffalo" is usually white howlite being sold as the extremely rare Dry Creek Sacred Buffalo Turquoise. Remember, turquoise cannot actually be perfectly white--it will always have a bluish tint.
"African Turquoise" is actually a jasper with a matrix like turquoise, and is often dyed to look more like natural turquoise.
Howlite and Magnesite are naturally pale colored stones which are often dyed to match the color of turquoise and then falsely sold as such.
"Reconstituted Turquoise" is not genuine turquoise. While it is made from real turquoise, tiny chips and dust from cutting the stone which are ground into a fine powder and then bound with an adhesive agent and other fillers, the finished product has so little actual turquoise that it cannot be called a natural stone.
Thanks for reading! You may also be interested in some of my other articles.
Turquoise on Amazon
Books about Turquoise
Turquoise has been mined on six continents and traded by cultures throughout the world's history, including the European, Chinese, Mayan, Aztec, Inca, and Southwest Native American. It has been set in silver and gold jewelry, cut and shaped into fetish animals, and even formed to represent gods in many religions. This gemstone is displayed in museums around the world, representing the arts and traditions of prehistoric, historic, and modern societies. Turquoise focuses on the latest information in science and art from the greatest turquoise collections around the globe.
In the American Southwest, turquoise is a highly prized gemstone with great cultural significance. Author Joe Dan Lowry is recognized worldwide as a leading expert on the subject, and Turquoise Unearthed: An Illustrated Guide is the definitive resource for rock hounds and serious collectors alike. Lowry describes the fascinating history of turquoise mining in the American Southwest and reveals the astonishing variety of colors and forms that make this a gemstone like no other. Among Native American peoples of the Southwest, turquoise is especially prized, with blue stones symbolizing "Father Sky" and greener ones evoking "Mother Earth." This lavishly illustrated volume also features some of the finest examples of antique and contemporary Southwest Indian turquoise jewelry. 70 color photographs and illustrations.
Published in association with America's preeminent authority, the Smithsonian Institution, this book is packed with more than 800 vivid full-color photographs of more than 130 varieties of cut and uncut stones, organic gemstones, and precious metals. With authoritative text, clear photography, and a systematic approach, this concise guide to identification enables you to recognize each gemstone instantly.
For goldsmiths, collectors, jewelry-makers, investors, retailers and consumers.
The trade of gemstones is a highly specialized and often secretive business. Using The Jeweler's Directory of Gemstones, written by an expert gemstone dealer and designer, will provide any consumer with the insider knowledge needed to make accurate judgments of gemstones, to recognize low- and high-quality stones, and to make a good buy rather than a bad one.
Explore the fascinating story of turquoise, its history from ancient times to the present, and the influence of native artists in making this gemstone part of popular culture in America. Illustrated are over 390 dazzling color images, this book shows turquoise from New Mexico to Nevada, China to Iran, and all the important localities in between in its natural state, cut, polished, and set into silver and gold jewelry. Detailed text discusses its values and many mines that have relinquished turquoise over thousands of years. This comprehensive guide introduces more information on turquoise than you have ever anticipated or seen before!
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