Some people say, “Ignorance is bliss.” But, when it comes to our favorite jewelry pieces, we’d have to disagree. In the case of jewelry, there is typically very little research done by a consumer regarding the gemstones that adorn their well-loved pieces. Understanding the variations of a gem opens the door to the riveting world of fine jewelry shopping.
Turquoise, the classically- robin’s-egg-blue-colored gemstone, has been popular for millennia and serves a special place in the hearts of Southwestern Americans, specifically within the Indigenous communities. However, the complexities of this stone in its most natural form (and even its synthetic imitators) are rarely discussed.
Allow us to introduce you to the universe of turquoise, from its drastic color differences to its spider-like veins. If you’re not keen on the traditional form of this gem, fear not, for there is certainly something for everyone when it comes to this December birthstone!
Before we get into details regarding the sections and subsections of turquoise, it is important to break down where it comes from and what it is made of.
The earliest known documentation of turquoise in use occurred in 3,000 BCE by the Egyptians. They liked to mine this precious gem as much as Persia (modern-day Iran) did. The Persians were logged as the driving force behind Medieval Europe’s use of turquoise.
Often used as international gifts, sometimes for diplomacy, they created a legacy of “Persian Grade” gems, which are desired for their bright blue hues. Those in the Victorian Era idolized this type of turquoise and mimicked Persian jewelry even further by placing it in gold.
Today, western society still emulates this trend.
Modern-day turquoise can be found in the United States, China, Tibet, Australia, Chile, Brazil, and Afghanistan, in addition to their original sources.
So what exactly is turquoise made out of? In essence, the gem is a combination of hydrated copper and aluminum phosphate. Present copper adds blue, chromium, and vanadium add a green tone, and iron can add yellow to the mix.
Different amounts of each mineral in the mined gem determine what shade or variation of color it will be, but they can be offset by location as well. For example, the Persian Grade turquoise most noted for its robin’s egg blue has only some vanadium and absolutely no iron content.
Most U.S. mines have a lot of iron and vanadium, offering green-blue gems. This is why the Sleeping Beauty Mine, our source for all Mark Henry Jewelry designs that incorporate turquoise, is world-renowned. It turns up Persian Grade quality color in an environment usually considered nonconducive to those results.
Some properties that remain consistent throughout turquoise include:
- Crystallography: Crystals occur rarely and are typically very small.
- Refractive Index: 1.590-1.650.
- Luster: Vitreous, massive, waxy, or earthy.
- Fracture: Uneven and conchoidal.
- Birefringence: 0.040.
- Cleavage: if the material is a substantial size, there is none.
- Luminescence: Green-yellow to blue in Long Wave, not found in Short Wave or X-rays.
- Luminescence: Present.
Turquoise can be quite porous due to its growth in dry, arid climates and its reliance on water. It falls somewhere between a 5-6 on the Mohs Scale of hardness but can sometimes rank lower if it is particularly soft.
1. Traditional Tones
While the varieties of turquoise with combined color, the existence of inclusions, and source are countless, for the purposes of this article, it works best to divide the gem up into four easy-to-find categories.
Our first is traditional colors of turquoise, and where best to find them. As we mentioned before, the most valuable turquoise has a brilliant, sky blue hue. The rest (transparency, size, etc.) seems to simply melt away.
Some of the best turquoise in a robin’s egg blue color comes from the Sleeping Beauty Mine, our supply. Located in Globe, Arizona, it is known for high quality and no matrix. Black inclusions are added for visual effects but are not natural or expected. They are also often clear gems.
Our Heart of Love necklace shows off a gorgeous Sleeping Beauty turquoise piece surrounded by a gold frame in the shape of a heart encased in diamonds.
The Easter Blue mine in Nevada has been in operation since 1907 and also boasts some brilliant blue turquoise. The quality is considered acceptable for fine jewelry.
The Fox Turquoise Mine in Lander County, Nevada struck the gem in the early 1900s and at one point was the largest producer of blue-green turquoise in the area. It is known for aqua blue hues that can range from other non-classic colors like White Horse and Green Tree. What is so interesting about this mine is its ability to separate out and name its variations of turquoise offerings for the consumer.
2. Trendy Tones
While the traditional colors of turquoise are the most monetarily valuable, there is no argument that beauty can be found in the imperfections of mining. A perfect example of this is the White Buffalo turquoise of Arizona and Nevada, known for its pale, white shades.
It can be a little too soft for jewelry purposes, so it typically requires stabilization - a technique that involves infusing resin with pressure into a gem considered below high grade. It hardens it for multipurpose uses.
The Carico Lake mine in Lander County, Nevada, is famed for its bright green turquoise. The high zinc content in the area’s land attributes to the funky hues.
The Dry Creek Mine in Battle Mountain, Nevada, offers some pale blue turquoise due to the scarce amount of copper and iron in the ground. It can sometimes be labeled as White Buffalo as well if it is truly unsaturated enough.
Some of the rarest colors in turquoise are yellows and greens. The Damele Mine in central Nevada is home to these beauties, which happen to fall into the harder range of the Mohs scale and are better for jewelry use or inlays. They’re prized for their unique color.
3. Patterns and Inclusions
Apart from color, matrix is another determining factor in differentiating types of turquoise. If you’ve ever come across a piece of the gem that features a thin, or thick, line of a different hue running through it, chances are you’ve dealt with turquoise that included matrix.
This can lower its overall value but is celebrated for its design purposes. Spiderweb matrix is the most intricate of its kind and the most highly sought after.
The Sunnyside mine in northeast Nevada produces a dense, blue-green turquoise containing spiderweb matrix that can be golden brown or black. The contrast between the colors draws in buyers internationally. The supply of turquoise in this mine was mostly depleted in the 1970s, so the value has risen tremendously as it circulates in antique realms.
Popular patterns through turquoise include birdseye (bumpy-looking nuggets with darker, spiderweb matrix that is blue), boulder (a gem that has been cut from its original rock with the intention of highlighting it rather than separating small pieces of the gem itself), and seafoam (a green-toned gem that seems to bubble up in design).
4. Synthetic Sources
For those looking to make a profit for less valuable pieces, the synthetic market for turquoise is worth the work. The Pierre Gilson Company originated the methods of imitation turquoise production in 1972 as the gem boomed in popularity, eventually birthing a widespread business.
Some synthetic turquoise can look incredibly realistic until it is examined under a microscope. Key properties to look for include how rocky the surface is - typically, falsified turquoise is composed of small, textured pieces of another substance that have been joined together with resin.
Ceramics, plastics, and glass have all been used to recreate turquoise.
Enhancements such as paraffin wax used to seal together a very porous or soft piece of natural turquoise serve as a double-aid because it is easy for oil from the skin to darken the shades of the gem over time.
Utilizing turquoise for jewelry purposes can be incredibly difficult if the piece is not of gem-grade hardness, especially in designs like rings that weather through much wear and tear. It is important to understand the difference between a gem that has been simply stabilized for effective use and a gem that was lab-created entirely.
A Bounty of Beauty
At Mark Henry Jewelry, we appreciate the standards of care and respect that turquoise production undergoes. The love for this gem comes from the cultural beliefs closely tied to it. For example, Native Americans believe that it represents good luck, status, and strength. It is so highly regarded that it is often used to cure illness as well.
Bearing this in mind, all of our pieces are ethically mined and sourced. Utilizing a production site that has since been closed allows us to have full control over the process of bringing the gem into our care and then into your hands.
If you ever find yourself skeptical over a piece of turquoise and its value, it is best to abide by our fine gem-purchasing guidelines. Always ask who, what, why, where, and be aware that you can bring any piece to a lab such as GIA for certification and inspection. Educated purchases are the best purchases.