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What Is Natural Turquoise and How To Identify It

Have you ever gazed at a turquoise pendant or ring and wondered how a gem so rich and vibrant in color is seemingly so accessible? The reason may surprise you.  

Turquoise, in its rarest and rawest form, is not simple to find. In fact, the December birthstone has only increased in value as demand has skyrocketed. 

This popularity has spurred modifications, many of which are intentionally deceptive and fairly convincing. Here, we will deep dive into how to spot genuine turquoise, how to separate retouched turquoise, and science-backed techniques to use during your search. 

What You Need to Know

Turquoise is best known for its deep, powdery blue and green hues. Similarly to other stones, turquoise shares its name with the color that it showcases. This can cause some confusion for purchasing, and it is important to make sure if you are purchasing a product just for its name, to ask if it is a true gem and not simply another material colored in the classic robin’s egg blue.

While turquoise is mostly credited to territories in the Americas, it is also found abroad in countries like Iran and Egypt. It is a secondary mineral, meaning that it is created from the contents of other minerals that already exist. 

Here is what a traditional process looks like for the gem which grows best in arid places:

  • Rain dissolves the copper when it is in soil. 
  • When combined with aluminum and phosphorus, the copper creates the blue aspects of turquoise.
  • Chrome is blended in to create any greenish tints. Iron completes the look with yellow hues.
  • Large deposits of turquoise are opaque and can be found in nodules. 
    • Some appear as veins in rocks or crusts on top of rocks.

Ancient Roots

Many people associate turquoise with Native American tribal culture, but did you know how deeply intertwined the gem is with indigenous history and artifacts? 

Turquoise is a staple throughout Aztec, Mixtec, Zapotec, Tarascan, and Mayan artifacts. It is believed that Moctezuma II gifted Hernan Cortes of Spain a chest ornament with thousands of blue turquoise gems in 1519. Sharing in this gem’s beauty dates back millennia!

For centuries, scientists believed that the people of Mesoamerica, where the earliest known turquoise use dates back to 650 BCE, mined for their precious pieces of gem in Southwest America. There was no way to determine this guess for sure, until advancements in technology created systems to test and prove that this was true. Some of their methods involved x-rays and isotopes. 

The influence of indigenous turquoise mining has withstood the test of time. 

The Southwest Strikes Blue

The Mesoamerican people utilized turquoise for everyday displays of wealth or beauty. It was placed in masks, mosaics, and jewelry up until 1000CE. The Aztecs enjoyed the gem in similar fashions, also adding it to the hilts of their knives. By 2000 BCE it was being mined in the American Southwest, and in large quantities by 850 CE.

Turquoise found its way into U.S. households in the 1880s, as transcontinental railroads pushed miners west. Native Americans continued to value the gem for its representation of luxury, status, and power. At Mark Henry Jewelry, we pride our use of turquoise for the very same reasons. 

Under Pressure

As natural turquoise made its way into the developing world, it was common for best practices to shift. The commodity of the gem pushed it towards replicas, and tampering was unchecked. These quick-fixes depreciate the value of your gemstone and further it from its natural beauty, one of deep meaning and historical reverence. 

Signs That Your Find Is Pure

The most valued turquoise is a preserved, natural gem. Turquoise that is even in color and has a high level of saturation is highly sought after. If the gem itself can hold its own being polished, it is of the best quality and likely worth more than other finds. 

For professional collectors and jewelers, it is preferred that the natural gem have a small amount (or no) iron and vanadium. This makes the blue hue far brighter and pronounced and eliminates hints of green or yellow. The stone itself appears far more pure. 

Gem Profile

A typical piece of turquoise abides by these factors: 

  • Luster: waxy, earthy, or dull. 
  • Surface: Smooth. 
  • Hardness: 5-6 on the Mohs scale.
  • Fracture: Uneven. 
  • Specific Gravity: 2.40-2.90. 
  • Birefringence: 0.040
  • Luminescence: Green-yellow or blue in Longwave UV, also fluorescent. Dull in Smallwave UV (X-Rays).
  • Transparency: Ranges from rare translucence to common opaqueness.
  • Pleochroism: Little to none. 

Is Your Turquoise Tampered With?

Unfortunately, it can be quite difficult to tell if a piece of turquoise has been touched throughout its processing. Just 10% of all of the turquoise mined throughout the world is currently up to gem standards. To be a good sleuth, you have to know what types of tampering turquoise modification involves. 

High Quality Unadulterated

This type of turquoise is natural, despite being cut and polished. Pieces can be polished, but if it is real it has not been treated beyond that. These gems can have the classic veins found in raw turquoise and may even contain some patches of white or black, however they must maintain a robin’s egg blue-to-green hue throughout.

Stabilized or Treated

Turquoise that has undergone these measures is not good quality. This makes it more accessible, but less valuable. You can tell that it has been treated when it is harder to the touch than a five to six on the Mohs scale. Hardness produces a more durable piece of jewelry and will likely last longer with less upkeep, but it is not as precious. 

Enhanced Color

By falsifying and brightening the hues in a piece of turquoise, the value greatly decreases. Since natural turquoise is dull, a piece that is suspiciously saturated or deeply-colored may be stabilized. 

Block Turquoise

Gem pieces are crushed together with turquoise dust and forced into block formation. They are colored with plastic, which can be easy to suspect due to its smell. These bricks of turquoise are also cut down and polished. 

At-Home Methods To Check A Gem

To test the piece in question, place it under a magnifying glass. If it has anything but a smooth surface, or you find small flecks of blue inside a lighter-toned piece, you are not looking at natural turquoise. Rather, you have something made of plastic, ceramic, or glass. 

Be wary of copy-cat gems like variscite that match the green hue of some turquoise or proposite which has a similar blue shade. 

Natural turquoise does have a tendency to be pale. This is why color treatments are all too common. When handling the gem, oil from skin can darken it, furthering the need for modified vibrance or coloring. A waxy resin can be used on natural turquoise to preserve it and seal its color in - this does depreciate its value as it is a part of the stabilization process.

Our Unique Use of This Show-Stopping Gem

With so many fraudulent and damaged turquoise offerings, we are proud to produce natural gems in our pieces. It is our mission to be as open and honest as we can be regarding our focus on sustainability, our partnership with ethical mining, and our use of the rawest materials possible. 

Sleeping Beauty Mine

Mark Henry Jewelry turquoise hails from the Sleeping Beauty Mine near Globe, Arizona. It is home to some of the most valued turquoise in the world, producing “Persian Grade”, robin’s egg blue gems that contain trace amounts of vanadium. There is no iron found in Sleeping Beauty Mine turquoise. 

Our Heart of Love necklace features a piece of turquoise that hails from this remote area. It is set inside of a prong surrounded by a gold heart-shaped frame containing diamonds and small heart etchings. 

If you are looking for a heavier dosage of the gem, our Heishi Bead Necklace is covered in richly blue turquoise. It pairs beautifully with the 20kt gold beads that run throughout that strand, mimicking the gold accents used throughout the Middle East as well as during the Victorian Era. 

How To Care for Our Turquoise Selection

Natural turquoise is stunning when worn as jewelry, but it is important to understand the vulnerability of this gem. Turquoise can be fragile and when it is untouched it is frequently porous. 

Heat protection is paramount and all chemical contact should be avoided. Be particularly wary of hitting any gems set in rings too harshly on surfaces. 

Ultrasonic or steam cleaning will break down the mineral. Detergents, soap or cleaning solutions are harmful. Wiping the piece with a damp cloth and quickly drying it is enough to keep the gem in excellent condition. This can be repeated after every wear. 

Summary

The preservation of natural turquoise is an homage to its ancient origins. Enhancements can create excellent costume jewelry, but they cheapen the value of the stone. We know this, which is why we rely on the  renowned Sleeping Beauty Mine to bring you only the finest and most authentic pieces. 

 

Sources:

Turquoise Value, Price, and Jewelry Information | Gem Society

The Dos and Dont's of Shopping for Turquoise | Santa Fe

Fingerprinting Turquoise | Rock & Gem

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