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!
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 these gemstones more than 5200 years ago. Especially kings and warriors of Ancient Egypt, Aztecs, Persians, and even China loved this stone and used it in their weapons, ceremonial masks, or bridles. They thought the stone would bring them power and protection against falls.
Egyptian pharaohs loved turquoise. We found jewelry made of this gemstone set in gold necklaces and rings, carved in the shape of a scarab in their graves, and they are dated from 3000 BC on. It was popular in Egypt to wear gold necklaces and rings with turquoise stones used as an inlay. Or they carved scarab pendants or beads with this material. The scarab was a holy animal at the time.
The most known object we have found from this time is the death mask of pharao Tutankhamon, which was richly decorated with it. Also, this beautiful gemstone was used as an inlay.
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. One of the mines was situated next to an ancient temple, dedicated to Hathor, the Greek goddess of love. Hathor was seen and worshiped as the protector of the desert and as the patron of mining.
In Egypt, this gem was called ‘mefkat’, which means joy and delight. Proof that this gem was appreciated a lot already in Ancient Times.
Also, Persia loved this gemstone
Not only the Egyptians loved turquoise, but also the Persians (in now Iran) appreciated this stone. They believed that this gemstone could protect soldiers against attacks and even death. So they decorated their daggers and swords, and even the horse’s bridles with this stone.
Also, the Persians had a special name for this blue to green gem. It was called ‘pirouzeh’, which means ‘victory’.
The gemstone did not only protect them against death and attacks but also against too much sunshine. The turquoise can and will fade if it gets too much sunlight, and is therefore a great way of warning you if you have too much sunlight on your skin.
To get the benefits of this gem you should wear it. And they did! We have found necklaces and pendants, made of turquoise, and even the turbans were decorated with a piece of this gem.
Turquoise plays a great role in the architecture of Persia (and also in Uzbekistan). They covered the domes of palaces since the blue color of the gemstone looked like heaven. And sometimes mosques with this gem, and the blue turquoise turned green when it was heated due to dehydration. A stunning example is this mosque in Isfahan (Iran) with a turquoise dome and inlaid tiles at the front gate.
… and in more countries they used the blue-green gemstone
In the 13th century, the Silk Road from China to Europe brought turquoise to Western countries. But the stone got (again) another name, it was called ‘pierre tourques’, which is French for ‘Turkish stone’. Understandable if you name that mainly Turks traded it.
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the pre-Columbian Native Americans mined the stone and shamans used the stone in their ceremonies. They adorned the sky and the gem resembled the sky…
And until today the gem is popular in Native American jewelry. This started in the 1880s when a trader advised a silver smith from the Navajo tribe to use silver coins and turquoise to make jewelry of.
Especially the Apache tribe attach the gem to their bows and later to their guns since they believed that the gem improved the accuracy of the man who used the weapon.
From the Native Americans in the United States, the gem was brought in trading missions to South America. We know that the Aztecs in that region loved the gemstone and they expected protective power from it. We found a lot of ceremonial masks, shields, and also knives decorated with this stone.
In Tibet, you find a lot of turquoise and the ladies wear high head adornments, made of this gemstone, combined with amber and coral, and sometimes pearls. The turquoise in Tibet is not that pure, so they invented a new system. The Tibetans pulverize the stone and sort the impurities out. Then they mix the pulverized stones and some wax into a mold in the shape of beads. Or they shape it with their hands. In this way, you get, maybe not completely natural, but rather pure turquoise beads.
In the West, this gemstone was popular too
In the South West of the USA, where the pre-Columbian Native Americans lived one can find a lot of them. It was a great and important product for their trade to South America; to the Aztecs for example. The Aztecs used it mostly for ceremonial objects, like masks, shields, and knives. Together with gold, malachite, coral, shells, etc this gemstone 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: a maximum of 6 on the scale of Moh. Due to its softness, this gem 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 it. 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 your gemstone is fake or genuine?
So you need tests to find out whether your gemstone 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.
The most expensive turquoise is the sky blue variety. The greenish and the ones 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 not turquoise. It has only the same color.
FlorenceJewelshop has some gorgeous pieces of jewelry made of turquoise, howlite, and of magnesite in the collection.
When you love this beautiful gemstone you have a choice to buy the real gemstone, which is rather expensive or you decide to get along with a fake one. 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.
Gemstones are fascinating and beautiful. There is so much to tell about these beauties, including a lot of fun facts. FlorenceJewelshop published an e-book about birthstones and some of the well-known gemstones. If you are interested or want to add it to a jewelry gift, ask for it. It is free. Just let me know to whom I can send it.
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