History of Turquoise in Jewelry

Turquoise has captured imaginations and fueled the artistry of civilizations for thousands of years. It is mined throughout the world and can be found in a variety of shades, including the sky blue this stone has become known for.

This opaque stone has been used as adornment by some of the earliest civilizations known to man. 

Archeologists have discovered turquoise in the tombs of Ancient Egyptian kings. The Aztecs also used the stone and its use in China dates back to the Shang Dynasty. 

In the United States, this stone is most closely known as a primary material used in the making of Native American jewelry. Southwest tribes are known to produce some of the most detailed and sought after examples.

Many historians believe the stone was considered to have immense value and brought the Ancestral Puebloans considerable wealth.

The name, as we know it today, comes from Levantine traders known as Turks. The Turks introduced the stone to Europeans via Turkey.

Turquoise Mining

The American Southwest is home to some of the most revered turquoise mines, but there are operations all over the world producing very high quality stones.

Many mines have ceased operations due to depleted supply and these stones are still on the market and considered some of the more valuable varieties. The Sleeping Beauty Mine in Globe, Arizona is one of the remaining mines in the Southwest producing enough turquoise to meet commercial demand.

To mine turquoise stones, explosives are used to blast away the area of rock and gravel known as overburden. Once the overburden is blasted away with explosives, the material is hauled off and crews pick the exposed turquoise by hand.

The large pieces are collected by hand while the smaller are sent to a conveyer belt for sorting, where they are picked by hand from skilled line workers who can spot turquoise as it cruises past at high speeds.

The stones are then sent to an area where they are chipped by hand. Workers carefully chip away the outer stone to get to the beautiful turquoise below.

Turquoise that is strong enough to be carved polished and used in jewelry in its natural form is among the more rare and valuable examples. Much of the turquoise pulled from the Kingman Mine in Arizona is ready to be used for jewelry and art straight from the ground.

The majority of turquoise on the market is stabilized to ensure it will hold its color and strength for years to come. Turquoise that is stabilized is impregnated with acrylic to enhance the color and durability. Stabilized does not mean the stones are died, the stabilization is a method used to ensure the color will maintain its depth and vibrancy.

The stones, stabilized or not, are then sent to artists, jewelers and dealers where they are cut, shaped and polished to become the jewelry and art you find at SilverTribe.com.

Turquoise Color

Turquoise is found in a variety of colors ranging from very pale blue to brown – and every shade in between. The color, hardness and other turquoise characteristics vary greatly depending on where the stone is formed.

For instance, Sleeping Beauty and Persian turquoise are known for a pure sky blue coloration. Bisbee turquoise is known for a characteristic black webbing and vibrant blue color. Other varieties may be green with brown webbing or shades of brown.

The matrix, or host stone weaves through many varieties of turquoise and contributes to the coloration and complexity. While some enthusiasts search for pure varieties, others actively seek out stones with a complex and intricate matrix.

If the matrix is thin and spread throughout the stone, it is known as webbing, due to the resemblance to a spider web.

In the United States, a good matrix will enhance the value of turquoise, while in other parts of the world it is considered a flaw – despite the stunning beauty and depth a matrix can add. The United States turquoise market is also different from the rest of the world in that the stone is most frequently set in sterling silver rather than gold.

This tradition started with the Navajo tribe, which learned the craft from a Mexican blacksmith. The Navajo melted down silver coins, silverware and other items to make turquoise jewelry. The tradition of using sterling silver and turquoise stuck and spread throughout the Southwest.

Turquoise Blue
Turquoise Blue Green
Turquoise Green
Turquoise Purple
Turquoise White

The Turquoise Mysticism

The stone is considered sacred by many cultures that believe it harbors spiritual and mystical powers.

It is believed the Egyptians began mining turquoise in 3200 BC. Due to the vibrant color, Egyptians believed it could heal both the mind and body. Archeologists have discovered necklaces, bracelets and headdresses adorned with turquoise in Egyptian tombs.

Native Americans also believe turquoise harbors mystical powers. While the best-know examples today are set in sterling silver, ancient tribes in the Southwestern United States have mined and worn turquoise for many generations.

Many tribes believe the stone will bring good fortune, enhance strength and even help overcome certain illnesses. Its imagery is also used to represent the beautiful landscape of the Four Corners region as well as the elements so many tribes hold sacred. 

Interesting Facts About Turquoise

Turquoise is the birthstone of December. It is mined all over the world, with the United States still recognized as a leading producer. It is most-commonly mined in Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada.

The stone can also be found in China, Mexico, Peru, Tibet, Persia and Afghanistan, to name a few.

It is formed when water runs through rocks with a high concentration of copper, aluminum and other minerals. The chemical reaction that forms the stone takes place over millions of years.

The American varieties can be found in shades of light blue to green. Chinese turquoise is typically more blue, but some mines produce stones with a more green hue. Persian turquoise is highly prized due to its beautiful light blue color.

American stone varieties are revered for the veins that run through. For instance, many stones found in the Southwest will highlight brown, black or even gold "veins" running through the stone. In the industry, this is known as the "matrix."

Some collectors' value stones with a matrix above all others, while others prefer a more pure stone. Both are beautiful in their own way.

Turquoise Style Evolution

Both New and Old World cultures have used the stone for adornment and turquoise jewelry for centuries. Some styles were complex and elaborate (such as the burial mask of Egyptian King Tutankhamun) while others featured a single stone used as a pendant.

The Aztecs inlaid turquoise with other stones to make mosaic masks, knives and shields. The stones were bonded using natural resins and wax.

In the United States, the Pueblo, Navajo and Apache tribes cherished turquoise. The Apaches even believed wearing the stone would provide archers with perfect aim.

Throughout its history, the stone has remained an important part of world cultures and remains a popular stone used in jewelry and other products.

Caring for Turquoise Stones

Turquoise stones come in many different shades and sizes. Like other gemstones, turquoise needs periodic care to ensure it maintains its color and vibrancy. It is sometimes treated or stabilized to enhance its color and durability. To keep it looking beautifully for a long time, avowing temperature swings, chemicals, cosmetics and ultrasonic cleaners.

Turquoise may undergo several forms of treatment before it is stable enough to use in jewelry. It may be impregnated with colorless resin, dyed luster enhanced or lab created. At SilverTribe, we make every effort to ensure every stone in our collection meets or exceeds the highest standards of quality.

Turquoise information