Turquoise Gemstone Information
When it comes to gemstones, turquoise is one of the most popular gems in the world. Along with being incredibly significant to specific cultures, its striking color is difficult to overlook. Plus, turquoise stones often have unique patterning that makes each piece feel special.
However, while most jewelry fans and collectors have heard of turquoise, it’s common to have questions about this magnificent stone. If you’re wondering, “What is turquoise?” here’s what you need to know about turquoise properties, color, history, and more.
In a technical sense, turquoise isn’t a gemstone. Instead, it’s a phosphate mineral. Additionally, it’s generally classified as a secondary mineral, as it’s formed through the oxidation and decomposition or other minerals. For example, in the American southwest, the decomposition of copper sulfide near potassium-feldspar-containing deposits can potentially lead to turquoise.
Overall, raw turquoise is cryptocrystalline – meaning there are no visible particles – and massive in form. Additionally, it’s often botryoidal, with small domed protrusions that resemble a bunch of grapes. There’s also distinctive veining on most samples, though some may have more than others.
Turquoise stones that are used for jewelry, carvings, or collector’s pieces are usually opaque. However, it can also be translucent in some cases. As for the luster, it ranges from earthy and dull to sub-vitreous, which means there is a slight but not fully glassy shine.
If you’re wondering, “What is Chinese turquoise, and is it different from other types of turquoise?” the answer is that the stones are highly similar. Copper also plays a big role in the formation of Chinese turquoise, and it is typically found in similar shapes and structures. Additionally, it’s typically opaque with a waxy luster and features comparable patterning. However, there can be slight differences in the overall chemical composition, but not enough for it not to be considered turquoise.
Generally, turquoise is a moderately soft stone. However, with Persian turquoise, the gem is harder. In some cases, it deviates by up to three classifications, though that degree of difference isn’t always present.
While it may come as a surprise, turquoise doesn’t come in just one color. The most commonly associated hue is typically a vibrant sky blue that leans slightly green. However, some specimens may have a deep blue color or be darker or lighter. Additionally, some may exhibit more or less green than others. It’s also possible for blue-green turquoise to have a tinge of brown, making it look earthier.
When it comes to the veining – which is also called a matrix – it can vary. Some may seem black, while others look gray. Brown veining – ranging from dark to light – is fairly common, particularly out of certain mines in the American southwest. In some cases, the matrix might even come across as dark blue or deep green.
A rare matrix color is associated with the Kingman mine in Arizona. Along with black veining, some stones have a silver matrix, which is considered highly desirable and very collectible.
The shape and amount of matrix patterns can also vary. One of the most widely sought versions is spiderweb turquoise which has a matrix with a look that resembles a spider web. However, other matrixes are also popular for a variety of reasons.
With Persian turquoise, one of the defining characteristics is a lack of or very little webbing. Instead, the stone is almost solely a robin’s egg blue, though there might be some slight mottling across the surface.
The coloring is a bit different if you’re looking at Lander Blue turquoise. The primary hue is usually deep and dark and has an iridescent quality. The webbing is lighter and brighter, typically being closer to a mid-toned blue.
The History of Turquoise
While turquoise is most commonly associated with the American southwest, particularly the Nevada mines, it’s actually said that it was discovered – in a formal, scientific sense – in Iran. Turquoise stones from Iran were sent to Europe via Turkey during the 13th century. As a result, the gem’s name was derived from “turques” or “turquois,” which means “Turkish” in French.
However, turquoise gems actually have a history dating back much further than that discovery. In the Mesopotamia region (present-day Iraq), turquoise beads were discovered that date back to approximately 5000 BCE. Egyptian tombs from around 3000 BCE have revealed turquoise jewelry. There’s also a mention of turquoise in the Bible.
Persian turquoise specifically also has a long history. Many believe that it’s been mined since around 2100 BC, as it’s found in jewelry pieces that date back thousands of years. However, since other types of turquoise that don’t have all of the characteristics of Persian turquoise are also found in the area, assessing the exact timeline is challenging.
Additionally, turquoise was used by many North and South American populations. Artifacts from the Aztecs and Mayans have included turquoise. Additionally, turquoise had a prominent place in many Native American cultures more than a millennia before the stone was named by Europeans.
As for Native American jewelry featuring silver and turquoise – as we know it today – that’s believed to have originated in the 1880s. As the story goes, a European trader requested that a Navajo craftsperson take a silver coin and use the metal to create turquoise jewelry.
Lander Blue turquoise has a significantly shorter history. The Lander Blue mine opened in 1973. It was a very small operation, and a mere 110 pounds of Lander Blue turquoise was unearthed. As a result, it’s one of the rarest and most valuable versions of the stone, and many people don’t recommend buying it without a verifiable certificate of authenticity.
Where Is Turquoise Found?
The majority of turquoise mines are located in the United States. The most widely known are the turquoise mines in Arizona. But there are also Nevada turquoise mines of note, as well as some turquoise mines in New Mexico and other locations throughout the American southwest that have some notoriety.
However, a significant number of American turquoise mines aren’t currently producing. In some cases, that causes the value of turquoise from those regions to rise. For example, Bisbee turquoise is rare since the mine shut down in 1975. Plus, it’s beautiful, making it incredibly collectible.
The Sleeping Beauty mine produced another highly sought-after turquoise, a stunning robin's egg blue gem that is one of the most valuable turquoise gemstones on the market.
There are also other places that produce turquoise in varying quantities. When turquoise was initially discovered, it was actually found in Iran. Some magnificent specimens have been unearthed in Portugal, Belgium, Afghanistan, Russia, Peru, and Tibet, too. Additionally, states outside of the American southwest can also have turquoise deposits, including easterly states like Virginia.
Another source of turquoise is China. However, many people believe that the majority of Chinese turquoise is fake. In reality, the answer to the question, “Is Chinese turquoise real turquoise?” isn’t always simple.
There are legitimate stones coming from Chinese turquoise mines. One prime example is Hubei turquoise from mines in Hubei. Other Chinese turquoise mines in Ma’anshan are also authentic.
However, while there are turquoise mines in China, not all turquoise produced in China is legitimate. For example, some fake turquoise is actually dyed howlite. In some cases, the faux turquoise is actually plastic, resin, or epoxy that’s been dyed and cast to look like genuine turquoise.
It’s these reproductions that give Chinese turquoise a bad reputation. However, some of it is authentic, so buyers should do some research to determine whether a stone is genuine before making a purchase.
Persian turquoise comes from mines in modern-day Iran. For Lander Blue turquoise, the gems originate from a single mine in Lander County, Nevada.
In many cases, turquoise jewelry is incredibly easy to find. While the look of each stone can vary – which would typically make it ill-suited for mass production – its broad popularity means you can potentially find pieces through a range of retailers.
Some chain jewelers will carry turquoise jewelry, as well as many department stores. It’s also a favorite gem among many independent designers. As a result, most people interested in purchasing turquoise jewelry can find options with ease.
Due to the gem’s characteristics, cabochons are incredibly popular for turquoise jewelry. You can also find tumbled stones, as those can highlight the matrix and hold a decent polish while maintaining an organic shape. Plus, turquoise beads are widely used for strand necklaces and bracelets, and often make their way onto pendulums.
As with most other gems, the turquoise stone meaning varies depending on a person's belief system. First, it's important to mention that turquoise is a December birthstone, which can give it meaning to anyone born in that month.
Aside from the birthstone association, many feel that the turquoise gemstone meaning focuses on peace and protection. It’s considered a calming and grounding stone, which some believe is ideal for anyone that feels overwhelmed or anxious.
Others think the turquoise metaphysical properties center on a stronger connection between heaven and Earth, which could make it a solid choice for meditation and advancing one’s spiritual connections. The gem’s coloring – which can resemble a bright blue sky – is likely partially responsible for the association.
Still, others think that the turquoise benefits focus on avoiding energy stagnation. It’s said to improve flow and vitality in that case. The turquoise spiritual meaning is also connected to luck and good fortune, as well as wisdom.
When it comes to the chakras, the turquoise meaning and uses are connected to the throat and third eye, depending on the color of the stone.
As for the turquoise healing properties, some believe it helps with reducing inflammation, issues of the respiratory system, or physical heart ailments. Others think it’s a detoxifying stone or that it can assist with achieving mental and emotional balance. However, it’s important to remember that there’s no scientific evidence that any stone can prevent or treat any medical issues, so they shouldn’t be used in lieu of legitimate medical care from a healthcare professional.
Stones Similar to Turquoise
There are some stones that have some characteristics in common with natural turquoise. However, most potential substitutes distinctly fall short in specific areas, preventing them from being universally strong stand-ins.
In some cases, chrysocolla may resemble turquoise, though it can come in colors and patterns that make it appear more like other stones, such as malachite. The same can be true of shattuckite, with some pieces looking somewhat like turquoise. However, shattuckite is incredibly rare and is harder to work with, which often makes it more expensive than the genuine article.
At times, specific pieces of blue jadeite might be reminiscent of turquoise, though it’s commonly more translucent and has a different structure.
Larimar can come in blue hues that aren’t unlike what you may find in turquoise. However, the stone also has a notable amount of white in many cases and also lacks any veining. Smithsonite is also a vibrant light blue, but it features a significant amount of white, and its rarity makes it incredibly expensive.
In a raw state, hemimorphite and turquoise can have a lot in common, as hemimorphite can come in a striking blue hue and is often botryoidal. However, hemimorphite is translucent to transparent and has more of a glass-like luster.
If hemimorphite is cut and faceted, the resemblance is typically no longer there, especially since any vibrant color may not remain and the translucent to transparent clarity is more apparent. Some samples that are turned into cabochons or beads may maintain a degree of likeness. However, those are more likely to resemble larimar or smithsonite due to the presence of white areas and a lack of distinct veining in many cases.
Finally, as mentioned previously, dyed howlite can resemble genuine turquoise. While the coloring is artificial – as howlite is naturally white or light gray with dark gray or black veins – it is an option worth considering if you need to keep costs down.
How to Spot Fake Turquoise
Knowing how to spot fake turquoise is essential if you want to make sure you’re getting the real deal. Usually, you’ll want to examine a few factors to see. Primarily, this is because the natural color variations found in turquoise make identifying fakes solely by appearance challenging.
Start by examining the veins and cracks in the stone. If you see blue coloring piling up, that’s a sign of a fake. Additionally, if you see cracks but can’t feel them, that could mean they’re painted on, which is another red flag that the stone isn’t genuine.
Also, if you see any white spots, it’s not a real turquoise gemstone. Other visual signs can include conchoidal fracturing around the holes of beads, which indicates the beads are glass. Repeating patterns in the matrix or a glassy luster are also red flags that it’s potentially fake.
Next, consider the price. Real turquoise isn’t cheap. If the cost of the turquoise stone or jewelry piece seems too low, that might mean the gemstones are synthetic turquoise.
In some cases, the weight or feel will be a clue that the turquoise isn’t natural. Many plastic or resin faux turquoise stones are lighter than the genuine article. If the stone feels warm when you originally picked it up, that can also indicate a fake.
Many people recommend doing a scratch test to see if a piece of turquoise is authentic. Howlite is often dyed to look like turquoise, and some less scrupulous dealers try to pass dyed howlite off as the real deal. Since howlite is softer, an easily scratched stone is likely howlite. However, since this test causes harm to the gem if it is howlite or a similar soft stone, don’t perform it on gemstones that you don’t own. Otherwise, you’re liable for any damage.
When it comes to Lander Blue, there are some versions of turquoise coming out of China that look highly similar. Since the Chinese turquoise is potentially authentic, you won’t see signs that it isn’t genuine Lander Blue at a glance or by scratching the stone. Instead, seeing if the seller has a verifiable certificate or authenticity is usually your best approach. Since these stones are expensive, it’s not inappropriate to request documentation.
In many cases, determining if Persian turquoise is authentic is also challenging. Many pieces have little to no veining, so checking the matrix to see if it’s natural isn’t always an option. Additionally, the polished surface is very smooth, so you might not have cracks to examine. While you can look for cracks on beads or glossier lusters, those may only tell you if the stone is glass, plastic, or resin. Otherwise, without professional examinations or a scratch test, you might struggle to determine if it’s real.