History of Turquoise

Turquoise, the robin's egg blue gemstone worn by Pharaohs and Aztec Kings, is probably one of the oldest gemstones known. Yet, only its prized blue color, a color so distinctive that its name is used to describe any color that resembles it, results in its being used as a gemstone. Turquoise has been, since about 200 B.C., extensively used by both southwestern U.S. Native Americans and by many of the Indian tribes in Mexico. The Native American Jewelry or "Indian style" jewelry with turquoise mounted in or with silver is relatively new. Some believe this style of Jewelry was unknown prior to about 1880, when a white trader persuaded a Navajo craftsman to make turquoise and silver jewelry using coin silver. Prior to this time, the Native Americans had made solid turquoise beads, carvings, and inlaid mosaics. Recently, turquoise has found wide acceptance among people of all walks of life and from many different ethnic groups.
The name turquoise may have come from the word Turquie, French for Turkey, because of the early belief that the mineral came from that country (
the turquoise most likely came from Alimersai Mountain in Persia (now Iran) or the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, two of the world's oldest known turquoise mining areas.) Another possibility could be the name came from the French description of the gemstone, "pierre turquin" meaning dark blue stone.
Chemically, a hydrated phosphate of copper and aluminum, turquoise is formed by the percolation of meteoric or groundwater through aluminous rock in the presence of copper. For this reason, it is often associated with copper deposits as a secondary mineral, most often in copper deposits in arid, semiarid, or desert environments.
For thousands of years the finest intense blue turquoise in the world was found in Persia, and the term "Persian Turquoise" became synonymous with the finest quality. This changed during the late 1800's and early 1900's when modern miners discovered or rediscovered significant deposits of high-quality turquoise in the western and southwestern United States. Material from many of these deposits was just as fine as the finest "
Persian." Today, the term "Persian Turquoise" is more often a definition of quality than a statement of origin, and the majority of the world's finest-quality turquoise comes from the United States, the largest producer of turquoise.
The increased acceptance of turquoise resulted in higher prices, some of the most desirable materials going for as much as $2,200 per kg. The increased demand could not be met through production of acceptable mine run materials. Therefore, an industry emerged--the business of turquoise stabilization, reconstitution, and the manufacture of synthetic and simulated turquoise. In most instances, the stabilization and reconstitution of turquoise involve the use of earthy or highly porous types of turquoise which are pressure-impregnated with hot acrylic resins. The resins improve the color, hardness, and durability of the material to a point that inexpensive porous, poorly colored, or nearly colorless materials become suitable for use in jewelry. As long as the materials are represented as treated, stabilized, or reconstituted, the marketplace can accept or reject the materials based on decisions that are purely business or economic.

Arizona.--In Arizona turquoise ranks first in terms of value of production and is also the best known of its gem materials. As stated earlier, nearly all important deposits of turquoise are located near copper occurrences or in copper deposits in arid desert regions of the world. Thus, the world famous turquoise deposits associated with certain of the large Arizona copper deposits are to be expected. Turquoise is or has been mined from a number of these copper mines as a byproduct, usually by outside contractors.
The financial and operating terms of the collecting contracts vary from mine to mine. Some of the operations are little more than the efforts of individual commercial collectors. Some are essentially full-scale mining operations that are simultaneous with, but separate from, the regular mining operations; and still others operate on an on-call basis as turquoise is uncovered by the regular copper mining operation. Regardless of the size or the sophistication of the initial mining or recovery operation, the actual turquoise is recovered by careful extraction using hand methods.

California.--The production of turquoise from deposits in California can be traced back to pre-Colombian Native Americans. Prehistoric mining tools have been found in some of the old workings of the turquoise mines in San Bernardino County.
Over the years, the State's deposits have produced a substantial amount of turquoise. Deposits are located in San Bernardino, Imperial, and Inyo Counties. The material occurs as nodules and as vein filling. Most of the nodules are small in size, about the size of the end of your thumb, and the vein material is about 4 millimeters thick. In the better grade materials, the color varies from a pale to a dark blue, poorer grade materials are greenish-blue and green in color. Some of the material has yellow-brown limonite spiderwebbing.
In the past, a number of turquoise mines operated in the State, several or more mines in each of the counties. Today, only a single mine, the Apache Canyon Mine, is commercially producing turquoise. Material from the mine is a fine blue color, hard, and takes a good polish.

Colorado.--Turquoise is produced from several locations in Colorado. Currently the only commercial production is near Manassa, Conejos County. Other production was from Leadville, Lake County; near Colorado Springs, El Paso County; and near Villa Grove, Saguache County.
New Mexico.--Until the 1920's, New Mexico was the United States largest producer of turquoise. However, since then Arizona and Nevada has surpassed it in terms of both annual and total production.
Production of turquoise from deposits in the Cerrillos Hills, Santa Fe County; the Burro Mountains and Little Hachita Mountains, Grant County; the Jarilla Hills, Otero County; and the Guadelupe Mountains, Eddy County; can be traced to prehistoric Indians. Several different mines operate or have operated at each of the New Mexico locations mentioned, producing seam and nugget turquoise. Many of the more famous and higher-quality deposits are economically depleted. Turquoise from these deposits was as good as that from any deposit in the world and were the first to displace true Persian turquoise in the U.S. market. Color varied from light to dark green, greenish-blue, bluish-green, paler blue shades, and fine sky-blue. Much of the material was spiderwebbed with thin veinlets of limonite.
Currently, with the exception of byproduct material from copper mines, production of turquoise from deposits in New Mexico, for all practical purposes, has stopped. Turquoise still can be found in New Mexico, but production in any significant quantity is a question of economics and the determination of the individuals involved.

Nevada.--Nevada has been a major producer of turquoise since the 1930's, and until the early 1980's, the State was the largest producer in the United States. It is estimated that over the years, 75 to 100 different mines/prospects produced sizable quantities of turquoise. Production varied from a few thousand dollars worth of material at some of the properties to more than a million dollars at others. To date, total production of rough turquoise is estimated to be in the range of $40 to $50 million.
Turquoise from Nevada comes in various shades of blue, blue-green, green-blue, and green. Some of the turquoise may contain iron, if it does, its color is pale green to yellow-green to yellow. The material can be solid colored or spiderwebbed with either brown or black webbing; the spiderwebbing may occur in any of the different colors or shades. Some of the blue material is represented as the finest pure-blue turquoise produced. It can occur in thin veins or seams or as nodules, with single nodules reported as large as 150 pounds. The quality varies from hard solid material that takes a good polish, to soft porous material that can only be use as feed stock for treatment, enhancement, or stabilization processes.
Associated with some of the turquoise deposits are two other gem materials that can resemble certain colors and shades of turquoise, but are separate mineral species. The first is variscite, and the other is faustite. Both have been mistaken for and marketed as turquoise. Attractive gem stones can be cut from both variscite and faustite and therefore, would be note worthy as gem materials on their own.

 

Turquoise 

 Facts, Myths, and Legends

   Turquoise is a valuable mineral and is possibly the most valuable, non-transparent mineral in the jewelry trade. It has been mined for eons since at least 6000 BC. by early Egyptians. Its history also includes beautiful ornamental creations by Native Americans and Persians. Its popularity is still quite strong today. Although crystals of any size are rare, some small crystals have been found in Virginia and elsewhere. Most specimens are cryptocrystalline, meaning that the crystals could only be seen by a microscope. The finest turquoise comes from Iran but is challenged by some southwestern United States specimens. The name comes from a French word which means stone of Turkey, from where Persian material passed on its way to Europe

   In Indian folklore it is said that there was once a chief with turquoise colored skin. One day he was running from his enemies in the hot desert. Whenever he stopped to rest, his perspiration ran onto the ground, collected in rocks and became turquoise.

   There are many legends about Turquoise; The Pima consider it to bring good fortune and strength and that it helped overcome illness. The Zuni believe that blue turquoise was male and of the sky and green turquoise was female and of the earth. Pueblo Indians thought that its color was stolen from the sky. In Hopi legend the lizard who travels between the above and the below, excretes turquoise and that the stone can hold back floods. The Apache felt that turquoise on a gun or bow made it shoot straight. The Navajo consider it as good fortune to wear and believe it could appease the Wind Spirit.

 

Treatments: Stabilized Turquoise

Stabilized turquoise has been treated with epoxies or acrylic resins. The chemicals are infused into the turquoise by soaking the material for a long period of time, or by subjecting it to pressure.When stabilized turquoise is cut, there is often a plastic smell.

Enhanced Turquoise (Zachary Process)

Enhanced turquoise has been treated with chemicals, then heated. The heating process eliminates any residual chemicals in the turquoise. Therefore, it is difficult to tell the difference between enhanced turquoise and natural, untreated turquoise. Unlike natural turquoise, enhanced turquoise will not turn green over time.

Compliments of Sino Turquoise
 

   Turquoises are reasonably soft gemstones and thus quite sensitive. When turquoise is mined, a very low percentage of it is useable for turquoise jewelry. Since the color may also fade out in the course of wearing. In fact, most of your turquoise bracelets and necklaces are either mined from that small percentage that has adequate hardness, or are enhanced. Today even the top qualities receive a waxing and subsequent hardening treatment.
   Turquoises which have been sealed with artificial resin are also available in large amounts and at competitive prices. Their color appears fresh, and they show a high resistance. But one should be careful, because many of these stones have been additionally dipped in color before being sealed, and this coloring is a kind of treatment which according to the rules set down by ICA must be indicated.
   Generally, turquoise can exist in one of two forms. Natural or virgin turquoise has simply been shaped and polished, and has not been treated in any way. Natural turquoise is often the most desirable, it is very valuable. Treated turquoise has been changed through addition or processing. This procedure will make the sensitive gemstone sturdier. It is not considered as valuable as natural untreated product, and when cut it will not yield the natural turquoise inside.
   Among the ways of treating turquoise, treatments can include wax, staining, plastics impregnation, or colloidal silica deposition. These methods stabilize the turquoise, and when successful, they darken the color and fill in the pores in the stone. Stabilizing treatments can also increase stone hardness and therefore its shearing strength. However, the kind of treatment differs considerably. It makes sense, that naturally beautiful stones which have simply been waxed or hardened with artificial resin achieve higher prices and are more valuable than such stones, which have received color-enhancement.
   While natural turquoise is often the most desirable, keep in mind that simply because turquoise is treated, it does not mean it is of lower quality. In fact, stabilized or treated turquoise can sometimes enhance the quality of each stone. Usually the color becomes more vibrant, and the stone reaches further hardness.
 

Wax - This processing will not be used to neither lower nor raise the quality of Turquoise. In fact, It is just to add a layer of colorless wax on the surface of the Turquoise so as to prevent the Turquoise from oils and other chemicals to some extent and to increase the fineness of the Turquoise. The waxed Turquoise which have excellent original color and hardness, can reach the requirement of gem-grade. So this type of Turquoise are indeed natural ones which are very rare and rather expensive.
plastics impregnation, or hardness enhancement, Turquoises are reasonably soft and porous. Most of natural Turquoise is hard to cut and treat so that we can’t use them as gemstone. The plastics impregnation is to osmose the hot colorless plastics to Turquoises, thus filling the holes with it completely. After that, the hardness of the Turquoises can be raised so that it can be cut and polished. At present most of the Turquoise on the market have been treated in this way.


Staining-or Color Enhanced, This type of turquoise called “chalk” is rather cheap. Chalk is the lowest of the Turquoises of the low grades. This Kind of Turquoise is so soft that if you would like to use it to make murals on the side walk, you could do it easily. In order to make chalk cut-able and usable, people can subject them to various chemical and hardening processes. Because this kind of Turquoise are processed by deep dyeing, we can’t tell the original shape of the treated Turquoise. Generally speaking, the staining process and plastics impregnation are operated on the Turquoise at the same time. After going through staining, the Turquoise chalk will look like natural Turquoise very much, but the value of the Turquoise can hardly equal the natural Turquoise. We would rather call them “plastics” than call them “the Turquoise”.


How to indicate the Natural and Treated Turquoise?

   General observation, which is the first step in testing any gem, reveals an unnatural color and usual luster not typical for better-quality untreated turquoise. The lower specific gravity would also indicate the turquoise might have been treated. To conclude that the turquoise has been wax-, paraffin-, or plastic-impregnated, a “hot point” is employed. It should be noted, however, that hot-point testing rarely works on plastic-impregnated stones and should be used with considerable caution when plastic treatment is suspected. A “hot point” can be an electrically heated point, such as a wax modeling tool, a soldering iron, or a red-hot needle. The “hot point” is brought close to, but does not touch, the surface of the turquoise. Easily seen under magnification, the wax or paraffin liquefies and flows ahead of the needle. To try to detect whether the turquoise has been treated with plastic, the “hot point” must come in contact with the surface of the stone in an inconspicuous spot. This test will leave a burn mark on the stone’s surface. In a positive test, the plastic emits an odor that is acrid, similar to burning plastic. It is important to remember that lack of a reaction does not necessarily mean that the stone has not been plastic-impregnated. It merely means that advanced testing using infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) is required.
   You can also tell if you have a piece of stabilized turquoise by looking at it under a loupe. By looking at a piece of turquoise under a loupe you will be able to see the pores of the stone.
   Stabilized stone will look smooth and non-porous, and sometimes little gaps will be filled in with clear glass or quartz looking material. You must take into consideration though that some turquoise does contain quartz which takes an amazing polish with little effort. Some pieces, just being rubbed, will begin to polish. So remember that polish or deep color is not a full proof indicator of stabilization. A full proof way of ensuring that you have the product that you want be it stabilized or natural is to have a turquoise dealer that you trust. Shop around and get to know who you are dealing with. When in doubt get samples and have them tested by a lab, that is a definite full proof way to prove what you are getting.
   Also ask questions from many people who buy turquoise, read books and get educated! Be a wise consumer and perhaps that will force those dishonest dealers to straighten up!

 



Most Recent Popular Turquoise Stabilization Treatments

   Some of the most recent experimenting with turquoise includes adding dyes and metals with the softer turquoise that previously was way too soft to use naturally. Prior to stabilization, this soft turquoise would crumble into small chunks or even dust. By adding dyes with the stabilization process they have been able to offer red, orange, yellow, green, purple, and even bolder blue coloring to create a large selection of different colored stones. One of the most popular dyed stones is the purple turquoise. It's become a common stone used in mostly designer and southwest styled jewelry although some of the Native silversmiths have been known to use it too.
 

  Another attractive application to the soft turquoise is the infusion of brass and/or copper. They use the soft turquoise chips, apply a resin to stabilize the chips and then infuse the molten metal under pressure which forces the metal between the chips and causes the chips to bond together creating a unique finish product similar to natural matrix.

 

United States Turquoise Mines: A brief description

Nevada.--Nevada has been a major producer of turquoise since the 1930's, and until the early 1980's, the State was the largest producer in the United States. It is estimated that over the years, 75 to 100 different mines/prospects produced sizable quantities of turquoise. Production varied from a few thousand dollars worth of material at some of the properties to more than a million dollars at others.
Turquoise from Nevada comes in various shades of blue, blue-green, green-blue, and green. Some of the turquoise may contain iron, if it does, its color is pale green to yellow-green to yellow. The material can be solid colored or spider webbed with either brown or black webbing; the spider webbing may occur in any of the different colors or shades. Some of the blue material is represented as the finest pure-blue turquoise produced. It can occur in thin veins or seams or as nodules, with single nodules reported as large as 150 pounds. The quality varies from hard solid material that takes a good polish, to soft porous material that can only be use as feed stock for treatment, enhancement, or stabilization processes.



New Mexico.--Until the 1920's, New Mexico was the United States largest producer of turquoise. However, since then Arizona and Nevada has surpassed it in terms of both annual and total production.
Production of turquoise from deposits in the Cerrillos Hills, Santa Fe County; the Burro Mountains and Little Hachita Mountains, Grant County; the Jarilla Hills, Otero County; and the Guadalupe Mountains, Eddy County; can be traced to prehistoric Indians. Several different mines operate or have operated at each of the New Mexico locations mentioned, producing seam and nugget turquoise. Many of the more famous and higher-quality deposits are economically depleted. Turquoise from these deposits was as good as that from any deposit in the world and were the first to displace true Persian turquoise in the U.S. market. Color varied from light to dark green, greenish-blue, bluish-green, paler blue shades, and fine sky-blue. Much of the material was spiderwebbed with thin veinlets of limonite.



Arizona.--In Arizona turquoise ranks first in terms of value of production and is also the best known of its gem materials. As stated earlier, nearly all important deposits of turquoise are located near copper occurrences or in copper deposits in arid desert regions of the world. Thus, the world famous turquoise deposits associated with certain of the large Arizona copper deposits are to be expected. Turquoise is or has been mined from a number of these copper mines as a byproduct, usually by outside contractors.
The financial and operating terms of the collecting contracts vary from mine to mine. Some of the operations are little more than the efforts of individual commercial collectors. Some are essentially full-scale mining operations that are simultaneous with, but separate from, the regular mining operations; and still others operate on an on-call basis as turquoise is uncovered by the regular copper mining operation. Regardless of the size or the sophistication of the initial mining or recovery operation, the actual turquoise is recovered by careful extraction using hand methods.

 

Discovery of "White Buffalo" Turquoise

WHITE BUFFALO TURQUOISE

 

When discovered in the Dry Creek Mine north of Austin, Nevada in 1993, they were not sure what it was? Because of it’s hardness it was decided to have it analyzed and to their suspicions proved correct. It was white turquoise! Although however, it was not used in jewelry until 1996.

The chemical name for turquoise is Aluma Phosphate, which in its pure chemical state is white. Turquoise takes on color via an intrusion of either copper or iron. In the case of Dry Creek ore, the slight coloration, when present, is the result of copper. The more intrusion, the darker the color.

Blue turquoise forms where there is copper present, which is the case with most Arizona turquoise. Green turquoise forms where iron is present, the case with most Nevada turquoise.

White turquoise forms where there are no heavy metals present, which turn out to be a very rare occurrence. To date, no other vein of gem quality white turquoise has been discovered anywhere else in the world. When this current vein runs dry, that will be the last of it. Because white turquoise is as rare as white buffaloes, the Indians have named it “White Buffalo Turquoise”. The white turquoise is itself considered sacred and powerful. The jewelry making is an honoring or tribute to the “White Buffalo” with this turquoise.

The Shoshone Indians who help mine the white turquoise are not known for their jewelry work, so consequently they sell or trade the white turquoise with the Navajo Indians in Arizona and New Mexico, who then work the stone into jewelry. Whether a ring, pendant, earrings, bracelet, a necklace with contemporary styling, or the traditional squash blossom, the craftsmanship of the Navajo artist’ contribute an excellence to the finished product of the white buffalo turquoise.

 

There are some who don't believe white turquoise exists because without the copper or iron properties mixed into the chemical equation, it cannot be turquoise? The copper and/or iron is what gives the stone it's color, so obviously in our opinion, if the stone doesn't possess the properties that gives it color, but all the other minerals and properties are present it would be a colorless turquoise, or "White Turquoise" if you may. You be the judge.

 

Other Popular Precious & Semi-Precious Stones

Charoite is a fairly new gemstone that is gaining in popularity fast. Charoite was first discovered in 1978 near the Charo river in the Murun Mountains of Russia. Resembling Sugalite in appearance, this stone comes in a variety of different hues of purple or pink, with black and white swirling splotches throughout. The more intense purple specimens are the most sought after due to their dramatic color. Only found in Russia, Charoite is said to help its wearer by giving courage in times of great stress. Some say to put Charoite under ones pillow for a good nights sleep, free from nightmares. It is also said to alleviate anxiety and worrying. Ultrasonic cleaners are not to be used when cleaning this stone. Clean only with soapy water.

Magnesite also called Crazy Horse, is a white stone typically with a lot of deep reddish brown to dark chocolate brown matrix. It contains no turquoise whatsoever. It costs as much and sometimes more than turquoise because there's only one known deposit.

Howlite is also a white stone and very easily found. It has light to charcoal gray often spiderweb vein matrix. It doesn't contain any turquoise.

Aluminite is mined in northern Nevada not far from the Dry Creek mining complex. It, too, is a white stone and typically has matrix consisting of black, confetti-like  flecks. Though found in the same vicinity as Dry Creek white turquoise, it doesn't contain any turquoise, either. Its called Aluminite because of its predominant aluminum content from which it gets its rich egg shell white color. It costs as much as turquoise and sometimes more because there's only one known deposit area with stones of this color.

(Howlite and Aluminite are often sold as white buffalo turquoise)

 

Variscite is a relatively rare phosphate mineral that is sometimes confused with chrysocolla or the greener forms of turquoise. Colors are light bluish green, pale green, medium, and dark greens. It has a waxy luster and takes a fine polish.Variscite is found in the United States (Utah, Nevada), Australia (Queensland), Germany and Brazil. It is also known as Utahlite, Barrandite, Bolivarite and Lucinite. A search on the web shows a wide range in hardness for this stone spanning 3.5 to 5 on the Mohs scale of hardness.

Healing Properties - Helps with remembrance of past lives. Balances central nervous system and eases depression, fear, worry, anxiety and impatience. A good meditation stone. Also helps with virtue, self-reliance, moral courage and success. Works on astral and etheric level for healing via the nervous system (Central Nervous System) and at DNA level. Centers the Solar Plexus and heart Chakras and is slightly helpful for intuition center.

 

GOLD-PLATED VS. GOLD-FILLED

Gold-plate is created using an electro-chemical process that places a thin molecule of gold on copper, brass, silver, or some other base metal.  The gold color will eventually wear off as it comes in contact with the wearer's skin salts or the pollutants in the air.

Gold-filled is created by using heat and pressure to fuse a layer of real gold to a copper, brass, silver, or some other base metal. 

If the jewelry is stamped 1/20 14K GF or 1/20 12K GF.  This means that the piece is 1/20th by weight 14 karat gold or 1/20th by weight 12 karat gold. 

Gold-filled jewelry lasts for many, many years and is a much more durable product than gold-plate.  However, gold-plate is much less expensive.