TURQUOISE, DECEMBER'S BIRTHSTONE
Turquoise is December’s birthstone!
This lovely gemstone hales from all over the Earth and practiced collectors can tell the origin of the different types just by looking at it! The United States, Mexico, Iran, China, and Egypt are all well known producers of Turquoise. Honorable mentions go to Australia, Afghanistan, Chile, Europe, and India.
Here in the United States you can find Turquoise in Arizona, California, Nevada, and New Mexico on the West Coast, and in Virginia on the East Coast.
Virginia is where you will find Turquoise that grows in crystal form, as seen below, albeit tiny crystals measuring no more than 1mm on the "large" end of the spectrum!
This amazing piece of Turquoise is shown here in it's rough crystalline state and is an example of some rare translucent Turquoise. This is not the type of Turquoise you'd find in jewelry created by people of our First Nations. That variety of Turquoise which is set in Sterling Silver and often paired with beautiful orangy-red Coral, is usually opaque. And traditionally you will find Turquoise looking soft, waxy, and coming in a medium to light blue-green, to green color. But the many types of Turquoise can be incredibly surprising! Turquoise can be Opaque, Translucent, and even Transparent!
This is also Turquoise. As you can see these gemstones are opaque, and come in a vast range of colors - from light blue to robin's egg blue, to light blue-green, to apple green and grey, and many gradients in between. And turquoise can also have white veins running through it that sometimes turn a rich rust color when exposed to iron. For jewelry making, Turquoise is usually cut into cabochons as seen here, and has a Moh's Hardness of between 5 and 6 so it is considered quite soft but more than that it is very brittle and can fracture if care is not taken when handling the stone.
Most Turquoise is treated in some way, if for nothing else, to make the stone more durable. Coatings of oil or wax can be infused into the surface of Turquoise to protect it from skin oils and perfumes, which can literally change the color of the stone itself. Turquoise, being so brittle, is also commonly treated to help hold the stone together by plastics or epoxies, and also "water glass" (another name for sodium silicate) that is adhered by pressurized impregnation into the stone's surface.
Another accepted form of treatment to add strength is backing it to create a "Doublet". This is where a stone or other material of stronger strength is glued on to the back of a Turquoise cabochon and adds to its durability.
Turquoise can also be bleached and dyed to give less desirable colors an enhancement to look more like the popular rich blues associated with turquoise rather than green or gray. This is a less favorable treatment in the eyes of the jewelry industry as this is not looked at as permanent as the colors may fade with time. Jewelers who work with such stones have an obligation of ethics to disclose such treatments, if they are known, to the consumer so that the jewelry can be properly cared for so as to delay the fading of such dyes for as long as possible. (Unfortunately not all stone cutters and dealers disclose these treatments to the gem buyers and so it is common practice to just assume that Turquoise has been treated in some way and to take care of it as much as possible when owning and wearing a piece.)
And finally, probably the most drastic “treatment”, if you can really call it that, is reconstitution or rebonding. It is where small fragments or powders of turquoise are pressed together with epoxies and resins to form a "Block" of turquoise that then can be re-cut into cabochons. Again, ethical jewelers should disclose this to you, the consumer.
Turquoise has been used for centuries as decoration of self and of living spaces and it has been honored for its beauty and as a holy stone or bringer of good fortune. This is the amazing Turquoise mosaic mask of Xiuhtecuhtli, the god of fire. Aztec or Mixtec (AD 1400-1521), and lives in the British Museum.
In or around 3000BC ancient Egyptians were known to use Turquoise in their décor and jewelry, and even in the decorations of the sarcophagi honoring their kings into the afterlife. This is the iconic gold burial mask of Tutankhamun, inlaid with turquoise, lapis lazuli, and carnelian, along with colored glass.
Metaphysically, Turquoise is known in many cultures for it's soothing energy and protective qualities, for dispelling negativity and encouraging communication. And it has been considered a holy stone and bringer of good fortune for centuries. For example, Turquoise and other sky blue gemstones were worn on the wrists of ancient Persians and thought to carry protection against untimely death. If the color of the gemstone changed, it was a warning of possible impending doom.
I hope you have enjoyed taking a little break to learn more about one of December's most beloved Birthstones!