Guide to Turquoise
For over six thousand years, the Native American, Persian, Asian, and Egyptian cultures have been captivated by the alluring beauty and mystical power of turquoise. With a noticeable rise in demand for turquoise jewelry and a greater awareness of the diversity of the various types and mines throughout the world, there is a greater range of unique styles and designs of turquoise jewelry available to consumers than ever before. This Beginner's Guide to Turquoise Jewelry will provide an overview of the properties and nature of turquoise, an introduction to the variations in stones, mines and basic turquoise jewelry types, as well as our recommendations for how to select and care for turquoise jewelry.
Turquoise Jewelry Guide: How It Is Formed
Technically considered a semi-precious mineral, turquoise is formed when primary copper deposits in igneous and, to a lesser degree, metamorphic and sedimentary rock are exposed to leaching minerals in host rocks and surface runoff. Depending on the composition of the primary deposit and minerals such as aluminum, phosphate and iron, turquoise stones of varying densities and colors are created within a host rock. This delicate geological process takes place most successfully in arid and semi-arid climates where surface soil and rocks are subject to erosion, and minerals can most readily be carried into underlying deposits over long periods of time. Because of the specific combination of conditions needed for the formation of turquoise, there are relatively few deposits throughout the world.
Many of the active turquoise mines today are in China, Iran, and the Southwestern United States including Arizona, New Mexico, California and Nevada where environmental conditions are perfect for the creation of turquoise. (Lowry, Joe Dan and Joe P., Turquoise Unearthed, Rio Nuevo Publishers (Arizona), 2002)
The Mohr's Hardness Scale is used to qualify minerals, gems and metals in terms of their hardness or density. Talc is considered a 1 on this scale, while diamonds are considered a 10. When ranked on this scale, turquoise jewelry stones measures between a five and a six, where low-grade "chalk" turquoise ranks as a five, and high quality stones rank as a six. Softer turquoise is often treated or "stabilized" to keep its luster, making it a better alternative to higher grade turquoise, which will not last as long.
Turquoise Jewelry Guide: Styles
Because it is a relatively soft stone, turquoise jewelry is ideal for crafters and artisans, since it can be shaped, cut and carved easily by lapidaries. Turquoise jewelry can be either machine or hand cut to form narrow "needlepoint" stones, small "petit point" shapes, or rough and irregularly-shaped stones. Stones can also be drilled with holes to be strung on necklaces, or made into earrings or pendants. The variety of options for shaping, grinding, and cutting turquoise jewelry enables people to use stones in a diverse range of styles and processes including overlay, inlay, bezel setting, and stringing.
Turquoise Jewelry Guide: Notable Mines & Types
There is a wide range of colors, qualities and types of turquoise jewelry that are marketed as "turquoise," and the vast majority of turquoise sold has been treated in some way. While taste in the color, texture and style of turquoise is a personal preference, it is important to be familiar with the kinds of treatments that are commonly used on turquoise. The four main types of products sold as "turquoise" are enhanced, stabilized, reconstituted and imitation turquoise.
Enhanced turquoise is turquoise that has been treated to enhance color and resist wear and tear. Through the enhancement process, turquoise is infused with vaporized quartz, resulting in a harder, more uniform-looking stones. Enhanced turquoise is considered the closest on the spectrum of treated turquoise to high-grade turquoise.
Stabilized turquoise is porous and relatively soft turquoise that has been treated to form a more workable appealing-looking stone. In the process of stabilization, turquoise is covered with an epoxy and heated at high temperatures. Not only does the stabilization process enhance color, but the application of resin also fills the turquoise pores, creating a harder and less porous gemstone. The waxy surface of stabilized turquoise jewelry protects the stone against some wear and tear as well as breakage.
During the process of reconstitution, the turquoise is crushed and bound with other inexpensive stones to form a mineral paste. This paste is then heated and dyed to form a turquoise-like substance that can be shaped and used in turquoise jewelry.
Containing absolutely no turquoise at all, imitation turquoise jewelry can be made out of man-made materials such as ceramics, glass, and plastic with such skill that it is difficult to distinguish from the real thing.
Turquoise Jewelry Maintenance
Compared to many precious gems such as diamonds, emeralds and rubies, turquoise jewelry is a relatively soft and porous stone that requires special care to guard against unnecessary staining, lightening, and breakage. Because it is a porous stone, turquoise jewelry can easily absorb fluids and oils such as perfume, sunscreen and makeup. Eventually, the absorption of additional substances can take its toll on the color and longevity of your turquoise jewelry by altering the color and chemical stability of your pieces.
Though it initially is enhanced by sunlight, turquoise jewelry can quickly become faded, dried out and even cracked from exposure to direct sunlight. Over time, the cumulative effect of sun on your turquoise jewelry can be quite significant. To protect your turquoise jewelry, we recommend that you put jewelry on after applying makeup, sunscreen and perfume, and never wear your jewelry in the shower, bath or swimming pool. Additionally, avoid wearing your turquoise jewelry when you know you will be spending long periods of time in the sun.
Turquoise Jewelry Guide: Cleaning and Care
The best way to clean your turquoise stones is to dab them gently with warm water, and then use a lint-free cloth such as a chamois cloth to pat them dry. The use of mild soaps and popular cleaning agents is harmful and unnecessary. Never submerge the turquoise in water, as you won't be able to dry all surfaces within the setting, which can lead to long term damage. Once cleaned, store your turquoise in a place where it will not be bumped or scratched by other, harder gems or jewelry. The proper care and cleaning of turquoise will ensure that your turquoise jewelry has greater longevity and more aesthetic appeal, and will guarantee that your investment is protected.