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Turquoise Information

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Popular for 6,000 years, Turquoise is more popular than ever as modern designers incorporate Egyptian, Persian and Native American motifs with modern silversmithing and production techniques.

The Egyptians began mining Turquoise in the Sinai Peninsula around 5500 BC. When the tomb of Queen Zer was unearthed in 1900, a Turquoise and Gold bracelet was found on her wrist ­ one of the oldest known pieces of jewelry on earth!  In Ancient times the Egyptians, Persians, Mongols and Tibetans all valued Turquoise. The Persians preferred sky blue Turquoise and the term "Persian Turquoise" is now used as a color grade, not a geographical indicator.

European interest in Turquoise can be dated to around 500 BC when the people of Siberia began using the stone, but it did not make an impact on Western European fashion until the late middle ages when trade with the Near and Middle East began to soar.

The name Turquoise is probably derived from the French pierre turquois meaning Turkish stone, as Western Europeans mistakenly thought the stone came from Turkey. In actual fact it probably came from the Sinai Peninsula or Alimersai Mountain in Persia (now Iran), which has been mined since around 5,000 BC. In Persian, Turquoise is known as Ferozah, meaning victorious and it is the national gemstone of Iran to this day.

The first Millennium AD saw a big increase in the popularity of Turquoise with both the Chinese and Native Americans becoming captivated by the blue stone. While the Chinese had some mines in their empire, they imported most of their stones from Persians, Turks, Tibetans and Mongols. In Mexico, the Aztecs began mining Turquoise between 900-1000 AD. The Anasazi people mined Turquoise in what is now Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. The city of Chaco Canyon became very wealthy based on the Turquoise trade, which was often exchanged for the feathers of tropical birds.

Turquoise from this area found its way around the trade routes of the American continent and has been unearthed as far away as the great Mayan city of Chichén Itzá in the Yucatán. By the 16th century, the cultures of the American Southwest were using Turquoise as currency.

Today Turquoise is prominently associated with Native American culture particularly Zuni bracelets, Navajo concha belts, squash blossom necklaces and thunderbird motifs. The Native American Jewelry or "Indian style" jewelry with Turquoise mounted in or with silver is actually relatively new. Some believe this style of Jewelry was unknown prior to about 1880, when a white trader persuaded a Navajo craftsman to make Turquoise and silver jewelry using coin silver. Prior to this time, the Native Americans had made solid Turquoise beads, carvings, and inlaid mosaics.

Turquoise is currently mined in Arizona and New Mexico, USA; Australia; Afghanistan; and Iran, which produces the finest quality of Turquoise.  Turquoise is almost always opaque but rare, translucent stones are known to exist. It is considered the Birthstone for December, along with blue zircon and blue topaz..

It is believed that Turquoise helps one to start new projects; can warn the wearer of danger or illness by changing color; and protects the wearer from falling - especially from horses.

Legend has it that some Native Americans believed that if Turquoise was affixed to a bow, the arrows shot from it would always hit their mark. It is also believed to bring happiness and good fortune to all.

The blue of Turquoise was thought to have powerful metaphysical properties by many ancient cultures. Montezuma's treasure, now displayed in the British Museum, includes a fantastic carved serpent covered by a mosaic of Turquoise. In ancient Mexico, Turquoise was reserved for the gods, it would not be worn by mere mortals.

In Asia it was considered protection against the evil eye. Tibetans carved Turquoise into ritual objects as well as wearing it in traditional jewelry. Ancient manuscripts from Persia, India, Afghanstan, and Arabia report that the health of a person wearing Turquoise can be assessed by variations in the color of the stone. Turquoise was also thought to promote prosperity.

The book of Exodus contains an important reference to Turquoise. The Breastplate of the Hebrew High Priest Aaron contained twelve stones set in four rows. Turquoise was the first stone on the second row.  In Europe even today, Turquoise rings are given as forget-me-not gifts.

Turquoise from Iran is often said to be the best because it is sometimes a clear sky blue with no green modifying color and no black veins running through it. Turquoise just as fine is produced in Arizona and New Mexico. In general the bluer the blue, the more highly valued. A clear even texture without mottling or veins is also preferred. However, some people prefer Turquoise with veins, sometimes called spiderwebs, which set off the color.

Turquoise is porous and should be kept away from chemicals. Clean it with warm soapy water only.

 

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