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Gem Profile Dec. 21: Turquoise Types
by Layna Palmer, Wire-Sculpture.com
Turquoise, Part 2
As we learned last week, Turquoise is not only a beautiful blue color, but also a stone and a gem! Turquoise has been prized through the ages for protection, healing and of course jewelry making. One of the problems with turquoise is that it is a soft stone, and finding stones of suitable quality to cut and polish has been difficult. Turquoise also fades to a green color, or develops a white “bloom” on the exterior of the stone through exposure to sweat, chemicals, cosmetics and other environmental conditions. In ancient times, turquoise was treated with a thin coating of oil or wax to keep the color true and help the stone last a bit longer. Turquoise with matrix, the little black or brown veins running through the stone, was also not used due to the difficulty with the stone losing integrity and cracking as it aged.
As society evolved, so did the technology to combat the softness of turquoise and today we have several types of processes for turquoise. You’ve probably wondered what the differences are between natural, enhanced, stabilized, reconstituted, fracture-sealed, artificial, synthetic, block, boulder and white buffalo turquoise. I know we received a few emails asking these types of questions, so don’t be shy! I’ll explain them each in turn – some today, and some next Friday, to finish our series on turquoise.
What is Natural Turquoise?
Natural Turquoise is just that…natural stone that has not been treated in any way. Less than 1% of the turquoise mined today can be used in this natural state. Meaning that it is hard enough to cut and polish without cracking, but over time it will fade to a green color, especially when exposed to light, sweat, time, and other environmental conditions. So the beautiful piece your great-grandmother bought that looks a little green now is probably genuine, natural turquoise that has faded over the years.
Enhanced Turquoise is a natural stone that has only been treated with either chemicals and heat, or just heat to enhance the color and harden the stone. This type of treatment keeps the color from fading over time and makes more of the harder turquoise available for the market. Enhancing does nothing to the value of the stone, and those stones treated with only wax or oil, as in ancient times, are considered enhanced because they have been given a protective coating to preserve their color.
Stabilized turquoise is another term you will often hear around the table at the gem show. Stabilization, or fracture filling, occurs when a softer turquoise, perhaps with a weak matrix or cracks in the stone, is impregnated with resin or polymer to make the stone harder so that it will take a polish better and the color will last longer.
Stabilization is a very guarded secret in the lapidary community. Some will stabilize their turquoise with a polymer similar to what airplane windows are made of, others recommend letting it sit in a solution of epoxy and acetone. There are many different recipes and techniques out there. Some companies also put dye into the solution to deepen the turquoise color during the stabilization process. Stabilized turquoise is lower in value than natural or enhanced turquoise, but is still considered a gem.
Boulder Turquoise is a thin vein of turquoise running through the mother rock. When turquoise is mined, it’s found in veins and dug out of the ground. Some of the surrounding host rock, or mother rock, is discarded, but still has small seams of turquoise in it. One day someone took a look at these discarded rocks and thought, “Hmm, this would be pretty if I cut and polished it to show not only this seam of turquoise, but also the rock it comes from.” Voila! Boulder Turquoise!
Next week, we’ll talk about reconstituted turquoise, synthetics and imitations, and even more turquoise facts. Plus, there are even MORE impressive photos of wire wrapped turquoise from readers like you that we couldn’t pack into today’s post – send yours in if you haven’t already, and it could be featured! The email address is email@example.com. See you next week on Wednesday – and Merry Christmas!
Resources & Recommended Reading
Gem Profile by Layna Palmer