What is Turquoise?
Turquoise is an unforgettable greenish-blue opaque stone. Chemically it is a copper aluminum hydrous phosphate compound, with the chemical formula CuAl6(PO4)4(OH)8•4H2O. The color and properties range slightly due to its formation process. It is a moderately fragile stone with hardness comparable to glass.
Turquoise is one of the earliest documented mined gems. It can be found in the artwork of many ancient cultures. Most historic mines have been completely depleted of this beautiful sky stone, but there are a few still in private operation. The earliest claim is found in Ancient Egypt. Dark blue turquoise has been mined for centuries in Persia. Native American people are known to have mined the first turquoise in America near Cerrillos, New Mexico.
A vast amount of the world’s turquoise originates in the southwestern United States. The dry climate, high elevation and other environmental factors make it an ideal location for turquoise formation. The quality of turquoise is measured by the hardness of the mineral. Gemstone hardness is measured by the Mohs scale, from 1 to 10. Turquoise ranges from 5 to 6.5; harder stones will have a more lustrous shine. Harder turquoise is also very rare, as the majority of turquoise mined in the world has the hardness consistency of chalk. The chalk and other softer forms of turquoise must undergo physical or chemical treatments (usually with plastics and resins) in order to be usable for jewelry making. A rule of thumb for Native American turquoise: the richer and darker the color of a sample of turquoise, the higher quality and more expensive it will be.
Another key factor of southwestern turquoise is the matrix. The matrix is the part of the turquoise host rock that can bee seen in a stone between the turquoise vein formations. The base host rock material, and distribution of the turquoise within that material, will affect the value turquoise in the jewelry. Turquoise is usually formed near igneous rocks, and depending on the type of rock the stone can have a variety of different colors and patterns. Each turquoise mine has its own distinct turquoise fingerprint which can be used to differentiate the source and rarity of the materials used in the jewelry.
We have photographed turquoise from different mines to illustrate the unique turquoise fingerprints. See Turquoise Mine Guide
This precious material has been admired by cultures around the world for thousands of years. It takes a role in many cultural traditions and ceremonies; it is also recognized as the birthstone for December. Turquoise was used as an ornamental material by the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and European cultures. The Aztecs made adhesives to bond turquoise to materials, and began to inlay the stone with gold, quartz, malachite, coral, and jade to make decorative weapons and jewelry. It is widely believed that these technologies traveled north and were adopted by the Anasazi, the ancestral Puebloan Native Americans, around 1000 A.D. Turquoise has found a special place in the hearts of the southwestern Native American tribes. There is evidence of turquoise use in southwestern North America as far back as the 6th century A.D. Over the centuries the gemstone has taken up many responsibilities; ranging from a form of currency, to trade, to key pieces in sacred healing rituals. It is not hard to imagine why these people put their most cherished stone in their jewelry.
When making jewelry, a good craftsmen treats the turquoise with the utmost respect. Cutting, shaping and polishing the stone is art in itself and done very vigilantly. The Navajo picked up silversmithing from European influences in the late 1800’s. This new found technology, also picked up by the Hopi, Zuni, and Apache Indians, allowed native tribes to make great strides in turquoise jewelry crafting. Modern southwestern turquoise jewelry is a highly prized area of Native American culture. It is now world renowned and foreigners from distant lands are bewildered by its beauty. Higher end pieces can be found in art galleries and museums across the globe. It is hard for anyone visiting the area to leave without purchasing a dazzling piece of turquoise jewelry as a souvenir.