The gemstone turquoise, the birthstone of December, is a very popular gemstone. Not only nowadays but also in the past. But why do we think that turquoise is the oldest known gemstone in the world? We find evidence that in nearly every part of the world our ancestors used and loved the turquoise gemstone.
Let me give you some proof!
In the East, turquoise was used in very Early Times
Archeologists discovered turquoise jewelry and deathmasks in the graves of ancient Egyptian rulers and they discovered too that Chinese workmen carved turquoise stones more than 3000 years ago. Especially kings and warriors of 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.
The gemstone turquoise was popular in Egypt
Egyptian pharao’s loved turquoise. We found turquoise jewelry set in gold necklaces and rings, turquoise carved in the shape of a scarab in their graves and they are dated from 3000 BC on. The most known object of turquoise we have found from this time is the death mask of pharao Tutankhamon, which was richly decorated with turquoise. The Sinai Peninsula was called ‘the country of the turquoise’ because there are six mines in the region and two of those mines are considered the oldest known mines in the world.
mask of Pharao Tutanchamon
Also, Persia loved the gemstone turquoise
Turquoise plays a great role in the architecture of Persia (and also in Uzbekistan). They covered the domes of palaces and sometimes mosks with turquoise, and the blue turquoise turned green when it was heated due to dehydration.
In the West, the gemstone turquoise was popular too
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; to the Aztecs for example. The Aztecs used turquoise mostly for ceremonial objects, like masks, shields, and knives. Together with gold, malachite, coral, shells etc the turquoise was inlaid in the objects. Sometimes the Aztecs used a human skull as a base for a mask and decorated it with turquoise.
Every gem that old has some old-age ‘problems’
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 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 are used.
Fakes, fraud, and treatment
When a material is wanted by the crowd and there is not enough available at a good price, people try to fake it, fraud it, or use treatments to make the turquoise harder so that the softer stone can be used on more occasions.
Since the Egyptians produced imitations 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; it has a uniform color and a black spiderweb veining.
But you can imitate turquoise much easier by dying howlite or magnesite in the same color.
How to check whether it’s a fake?
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 uniformly dark blue and have a granular texture.
Buying the gemstone turquoise
The most expensive turquoise is the sky blue variety. The greenish and the turquoise with the spiderweb matrix are less expensive. The price will depend on size and color. But also on the fact whether it is a real gemstone, not treated, except for light waxing and oiling. Those treatments were already used since ancient times and will enhance the color and the luster.
The dyed imitations of this gem, like howlite and magnesite, are less valuable than the real gemstone, but when you know that these are imitations, the piece of jewelry can be very beautiful, but it is no turquoise. It has only the same color.
When you love turquoise you have a choice to buy the real gemstone, that is rather expensive or you decide to get along with a fake turquoise. When you know this is the case, because you cannot afford the real gemstone, you can accept that (or not). But you will love it all the same.
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