The Story of Turquoise
by Judy Larson
My love affair with turquoise started in the early 1950's with my grandmother's jewelry box. Shortly after WWII started, her son, my Uncle John, joined the Army Air Force and trained as a pilot in the United States southwest. I don't know how she did it with all the rationing in place, but she was able to attend his graduation. These are some of the pieces she brought back with her. After inheriting these pieces, I changed the earrings to studs. Then I started researching how a repair might be made to the cracked stone in the blue ring. At that time, no jeweler would touch it. Since then, I have found there are ways to do it, but I do not want to chance it as it is a family heirloom. Uncle John did not make it home from the war, which makes these pieces that much more precious.
The story of turquoise as I see it
A stone must contain hydrated copper and aluminum phosphate to be called turquoise. Eons ago, a chemical reaction occurred when water containing copper and aluminum leaked through rock, which later formed into veins of turquoise. It is usually found in dry, arid areas, typically as a by-product of copper mining. Copper and aluminum create the colors typical of turquoise. Other host minerals create the stone's matrix, which can vary in color.

Turquoise, which varies greatly in quality, is relatively rare around the world, with the most sought after and coveted material being a robin's egg blue color. The color of turquoise varies because of the amount of copper or iron impurities in it. The beautiful blue color we associate with the word "turquoise" means there is more copper in the stone. When the stone color leans towards green, there is more iron in it, replacing the aluminum.
Judy Larson's The Story of Turquoise - The story of turquoise as I see it, General Education, , turquoise
It is thought that the first turquoise was discovered in Egypt over 7,000 years ago on the Sinai Peninsula. By 3000 BC, Egyptians were using turquoise, considered a sacred stone, in jewelry. It was used by healers and worn by the Pharaohs. Ancient leaders throughout the world adorned themselves with turquoise. A search of the history of turquoise will show how cultures around the world held similar views and beliefs about turquoise-that it would bring good health, wealth, and happiness. Hint: Search the history of Native American Turquoise. It is fascinating.

Most turquoise forms on a host rock and not all that rock changes to turquoise. The term matrix describes the portion of rock that has not turned to turquoise. This necklace features beads from a variety of different mines and shows the some of the differences in the amount of matrix in stones and the blue colors of turquoise.
Judy Larson's The Story of Turquoise - , General Education, , turquoise
Turquoise rough, what the "rock" is called when it first comes out of the ground, it is not very pretty. Just like other gemstones, it must be cut and polished to some extent to be used in jewelry making.

The best quality turquoise, with a Mohs scale of mineral hardness rating of just under 6 or a bit stronger than glass in your home windows, forms close to the earth's surface. This turquoise, which can be cut and polished without any treatments such as stabilization or enhancement, is called Natural or Gem Quality. There is very little of this material available, about 5% of the turquoise mined today, so most of the turquoise on the market that is sold to the home jeweler has been subjected to one or more treatments to make it usable.

Because of the rarity of high-grade turquoise, it is often set in gold, like the ring my Uncle John gave to my grandmother.
Judy Larson's The Story of Turquoise - , General Education, , turquoise
Some people believe that the more treatments turquoise rough is subjected to so as to become usable material for making jewelry, the less valuable it becomes. The process/processes used depends upon the quality of the turquoise rough. These treatments do not necessarily make the stones less desirable to use in jewelry because they are used to improve/stabilize the color and durability of the rough. In actuality, stabilizing turquoise does not necessarily devalue it. Some stabilized turquoise can be just as valuable as some untreated natural turquoise.

The sand cast silver cuff, purchased in 1974 at the Grand Canyon in the U. S., features a stabilized but not dyed nugget. If it had not been stabilized, I believe that it would have cracked by now, given how often and how hard I wear the cuff. The ring purchased 30 years later is stabilized turquoise, but I am unsure if it is color enhanced because I did not save the paperwork received with the purchase. It does not matter to me as I purchased it because the stone color was a close match to the cuff.
Judy Larson's The Story of Turquoise - , General Education, , turquoise
Because of the porous nature of turquoise material without treatment, environmental factors as well as skin oils can be absorbed into turquoise causing it to turn more green in color over time. Natural oils and waxes were the first treatments used to enhance the color of turquoise and also to help slow/stop the color change over time.

More rugged, less finished, stones can be used to create beautiful pieces. Much turquoise mined, cut, and finished overseas years ago may not have been stabilized to the point that it would not change color. It may be of a lower quality and not have as high a polish as a stabilized product. This may also be true of lower grade turquoise stones mined, cut, finished, and sold today. In that case, green turquoise stones may be the way to go.
Judy Larson's The Story of Turquoise - , General Education, , turquoise
According to the Gemological Institute of America, if the base stone is turquoise, stabilized, enhanced, crushed or assembled, the product is considered genuine turquoise and can be labeled as such. However, the U. S. Federal Trade Commission says that any treatment that can substantially affect the value of a stone MUST BE DISCLOSED to the buyer.

Tiffany and Company was one of the first to stabilize turquoise by soaking rough material in resin to harden it. Turquoise is now stabilized/enhanced either by soaking or pressure treating the rough with resins or plastic/acrylic compounds. Stabilized turquoise will not change color as it is no longer porous. It is also harder so will not crack or break as easily.

The necklace and bracelet in the center of this photo were strung with dyed and waxed beads. Over time, the wax could turn white if not cared for properly (cleaned after each wearing). Compare the waxed beads to the stabilized nuggets used with amber in the outer necklace. Stabilization with resins made it easy to obtain a much higher polish than with wax.
Judy Larson's The Story of Turquoise - , General Education, , turquoise
Thin slices of higher-grade turquoise can be attached to a stronger gemstone slice with a high Mohs rating, creating a doublet. Doing this creates the look of a thicker piece of turquoise at a fraction of the cost. It also makes the face stone stronger and more able to avoid cracks and fractures.

The Zachery Process, discovered in the 1980's, uses a secret chemical solution that does not harden the rough but makes it easier to polish and less likely to change color from skin oils. Therefore, it must start with a higher quality of rough, one that does not easily break. Stones treated with the Zachary Process can still absorb skin oils, so must be treated just like the finest turquoise stones.

Relatively new to the market is Mosaic Turquoise. Small pieces of dyed turquoise and other materials are bonded together with polymers, with Purple Mojave Turquoise an example of this. Some beautiful stones are created by adding ground metals such as ground bronze or copper to the matrix, the areas between the turquoise pieces. I do not own any of this material (would love to work with it) but found this Alunite and Copper cabochon in my stash to give you an idea of what a metallic matrix would look like.
Judy Larson's The Story of Turquoise - , General Education, , turquoise
Two types of turquoise we often see at lower price points are Reconstituted/Compressed Turquoise and Chalk Turquoise.

Reconstituted/Compressed Turquoise is made by mixing crushed/ground fragments of turquoise with resin. Dye can be added if desired. It is then compressed into blocks before cutting and polishing. Since it is inexpensive, turquoise heishi necklaces are popular made from this material.
Judy Larson's The Story of Turquoise - , General Education, , turquoise
There is more Chalk Turquoise on earth than any other grade of turquoise. It is a very low grade of turquoise found deeper in the soil than other usable grades and generally contains less copper than harder turquoise. The rough is usually very pale blue to white in color and sometimes with matrix that is common with turquoise mined in the U. S. southwest. With a Mohs hardness rating of around a 2, it is much too soft to be usable in jewelry. Since the rough has the consistency of chalk-think of sidewalk chalk used by children-it must be treated with resins and dyes before being usable for jewelry. Chalk Turquoise has its advantages. It is available in many colors and is resistant to chemicals so can be worn often and will not change color over time. Because of the low cost of chalk turquoise, it can be an inexpensive way to start to work with real turquoise.

Beautiful colors can be achieved with chalk turquoise. However, the color may not extend throughout the stone.
Judy Larson's The Story of Turquoise - , General Education, , turquoise
Judy Larson's The Story of Turquoise - , General Education, , turquoise
There is a lot of imitation turquoise on the market. Usually starting as magnesite or howlite, rough can be treated and cut so as to resemble real turquoise. I do not have a clue what stone the turquoise-colored scarab in the bracelet is, but I know it is NOT turquoise. Since it was the color I wanted to use in the bracelet, I went with it. Sometimes it is just fun to combine stones that look like turquoise with other elements to make a fun piece of jewelry. What is important here is to know what you are working with. Purchasing from reputable dealers will give you that confidence.
Judy Larson's The Story of Turquoise - , General Education, , turquoise
Judy Larson's The Story of Turquoise - , General Education, , turquoise
My take on using turquoise (and other gemstones)
Mixing other gemstones with turquoise will extend them and cut the cost of use per jewelry piece made. I recently purchased a strand of higher-grade turquoise nuggets. The price per use became manageable when the nuggets were used in over 20 different pieces of jewelry. Do your research on a particular gemstone and the grades available. Think of how you would use a particular bead strand or cabochon. Think about your design esthetic and what you like. Think about how the end product will be used and by whom. Let those factors determine what to purchase. It does not really matter what stone or grade of stone you use in a piece of jewelry so long as you have done your research, you like it, and it works for you.
Judy Larson's The Story of Turquoise - My take on using turquoise (and other gemstones), General Education, , turquoise
Judy Larson's The Story of Turquoise - My take on using turquoise (and other gemstones), General Education, , turquoise
You do not always have to purchase new material. I have turquoise nuggets and beads I purchased in the early 1970's that I re-use over and over as jewelry styles change. Don't be afraid to take apart old jewelry and make it new again. Years of collecting stone fetishes at trading posts across the U. S. resulted in my take on a fetish necklace, which has been remade at least 4 times.
Judy Larson's The Story of Turquoise - , General Education, , turquoise
Judy Larson's The Story of Turquoise - , General Education, , turquoise
Care
Stabilized turquoise will not usually be affected by sunlight, but since stones stabilized with resins and plastics, heat can cause damage. Turquoise can also be harmed by caustic chemicals and some cosmetics. It is therefore a good idea to remove jewelry when cleaning your home, washing dishes, swimming, bathing, etc.

A jeweler would never use a steam cleaner or an ultra-sonic cleaner on turquoise, and neither should you. NEVER use chemical cleaners on turquoise. After wearing, turquoise jewelry can be cleaned using warm, soapy water, rinsed in clean water, dried, and then stored in a low humidity area. Tarnish-free jewelry boxes and bags are great storage solutions for all jewelry.

Materials

13 Piece Turquoise (Reconstituted) Collar Set - Pack of 1 Set
A2-127
  • Lesson Quantity: 1.00 pieces
  • Purchase Quantity: 1.00 each
  • Price: $3.57
  • Gold Club Price: $2.68
Out of Stock
African Turquoise 12mm Coin Beads - 8 Inch Strand
A1-740
  • Lesson Quantity: 1.00 pieces
  • Purchase Quantity: 1.00 each
  • Price: $13.65
  • Gold Club Price: $10.24
Add to Bag
African Turquoise 6mm Round Beads - 8 Inch Strand
A1-734
  • Lesson Quantity: 1.00 pieces
  • Purchase Quantity: 1.00 each
  • Price: $6.30
  • Gold Club Price: $4.73
Out of Stock
African Turquoise 5x15mm Flat Chip Beads - 8 Inch Strand
A1-743
  • Lesson Quantity: 1.00 pieces
  • Purchase Quantity: 1.00 each
  • Price: $13.65
  • Gold Club Price: $10.24
Add to Bag
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  • Category: General Education
  • Technique(s): General Education