Turquoise – peoples gem
by Nandita Ray
Aristotle spoke about it. Marco Polo wrote about it. Truly a people’s gem, it has adorned the human race for ages. Its universal appeal is intact even today.
Queen Zara of Egypt wore it in 5000BC. She probably started the trend! King Tutankhamen wore it. The Pharaohs of Aztec wore it, the Native Indians used it, the high priests wore it to invoke the God Spirit. The Tibetans and the Chinese wore it. Even the Indians of the sub- continent adopted it. Aristotle spoke about it. Marco Polo wrote about it. Truly a people’s gem, it has adorned the human race for ages. Its universal appeal is intact even today. This is none other than the turquoise, so named after Turkey. It was introduced into Europe through the Turkish Trade route. Some say it was introduced into Europe during crusades (holy war). Its exact entry into Europe is, however not very clear.
It is a semi precious stone, found in the deep recesses of the earth. ‘Pierre Torque’, the dark blue stone, as the French called it is ‘Robin Blue’ in color. This is the most natural color. However, it comes in various shades of blue, green, bluish green, brownish gray to even bright Chinese green. The best Turquoise comes from Persia, now Northern Iran.
This is a mineral called Phosphate. The color of the mineral is the result of underground water running over lumps of copper or aluminum phosphates, embedded in the parent rock. A chemical reaction takes place between the salts already dissolved in the water, with the copper or aluminum phosphates present in the rock. And this chemical reaction gives it the various shades of color. It takes more than a million years for the Turquoise to get the color. If the copper present is more, the mineral will take on blue color. If aluminum is more then the color becomes pale or white. Presence of iron in the water and its reaction with the phosphate will give it the bluish green tint. Sometimes the presence of zinc leads to yellow color.
Sediments or impurities present in the water leave dark spots or thin vein like lines in the Turquoise. Some of the veins form patterns which look like a spider’s web. These black designs are also called matrix. The American and Mexican variety sports matrix. Many people insist on buying this type of Turquoise as a mark of authenticity. Turquoise from Iran is spotless. Some natural Turquoise may contain irregular white patches. Sand stone, Jasper, Limonite or pieces of rock are the impurities found in the stone.
First discovered in 5000-4000 BC, in the semi-arid deserts of Sinai, it was mined by the Egyptians. They used it extensively for various purposes. In 1900’s, huge deposits were found in the South Western part of America. Peru, Chile, Argentina, Australia, Tibet, China, Turkistan, Iran, and Mexico produce this gem. While in the USA, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, produce this gem too. The mines of Iran used to supply a lot of Turquoise to Europe, Western Asia and America, before production ceased. Mines in America and Mexico are facing closure due to over mining. Today, Tibet and China supply three fourths of this gem in international market. The names of the various types of Turquoise are always based on the mines from where they are produced. Example-Sleeping Beauty, King man, Blue Gem etc.
The real stone is getting rarer each day. Only three percent of the Turquoise sold in the international market is natural. In its natural form, it is a very expensive gem .Inexpensive variety is quite popular today. The most common one is Stabilized Turquoise. It is a soft and chalky stone. It is mostly covered with a coating of resin or plastic. This is done to protect it from damage and also to help keep the color intact. This is the best one after natural Turquoise. Treated ones are also soft. The color of the resin is dyed. Then there is the Reconstituted Turquoise. It is made up of low grade chips or powdered Turquoise. They are compressed and shaped. They are saturated with resin. Imitation Turquoise is dyed stone or even plastic. It is made to resemble the gem. It is shiny and oily. If Turquoise is dipped in color, it should be mentioned.
Turquoise is never facetted. That is, it doesn’t have the plane surface of a cut gem like the diamond or ruby. This is because it is soft.
Turquoise is very popular because it has many sterling qualities. The Egyptians considered it a Godly stone, having Divine powers. They not only used it as jewelry but also wore it as charms and amulets to keep evil away. The high priests wore it stitched on their upper vests when calling on the Higher Spirits. From kings to the commoner wore Turquoise. A Persian philosopher put it aptly ‘the wearer shall never be poor’. Meaning health, wealth and happiness will come to the wearer. It was also used by the Native Americans, who also believed that it had spiritual powers. They thought that there existed a deep connection between the spirits residing in the blue sky and the blue stone found in the earth. They surrounded themselves with this stone. It was not only made into jewelry but also on all essential articles. To make hunting easy, they used it on arrow heads. Totem Poles, daggers, bridle of horse and burial ground, all had pieces of Turquoise. Some believed that a piece of this stone dropped in the river, would bring rain. The Aztecs decorated their mask with chips of Turquoise. Even today, people wear this stone for their personal safety. Especially people working as pilots or astronauts.
Turquoise is considered to have beneficial effects on the wearer. It is supposed to carry the female i.e. the moon’s power. Therefore people suffering from low spirits or depression, benefit from this stone. It soothes and calms the nerves and rejuvenates the spirit. It is supposed to relief the body from aches, pains and muscle soreness. It regulates metabolism and rejuvenates the pancreas. It protects against accidents and violence. People seeking spiritual growth are advised to wear this stone.
Set in silver, it looks stunning. This is because the blue of the stone contrasts with the white of the silver. It can also be set in gold. In fact, in India, where the stone is called ‘Phiroza’, the original Persian name, is set in gold when making Navratan or Kundan sets. It can be used in necklace, bangles, rings, earrings and bracelets. It can also be made into belts, hair bands, pins, watch bands, buttons and brooches.
It is a soft stone. It is also porous. It can get bruised easily. Over exposure to intense heat or light can change its color. Strong detergents and oil can also erode it. It can easily absorb oil and should be kept away from hand creams and lotions. Strong soaps and acids used at home, can damage it. It can get chipped easily. Therefore it should not be kept with other pieces of jewelry. It can be cleaned with warm water and polished with a soft cloth.
This is the Birthstone for people born in December. It is considered lucky for people born on 1,3,4,6 and 8.