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Turquoise Story

Introduction & History of Turquoise

Carico Lake Mixed Green
The name “Turquoise” may have come from the word Turquie, French for Turkey, because of the early belief that the mineral came from that country (the turquoise most likely came from the Alimersai Mountains in Persia (now Iran) or the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, two of the world's oldest known turquoise mining areas.) Another possibility could be the name came from the French description of the gemstone, "pierre turquin" meaning dark blue stone.
For thousands of years the finest and most intense blue turquoise in the world was found in Persia, and the term "Persian Turquoise" became synonymous with the finest quality and most valuable turquoise. The ancients preferred blue because a gem-grade blue stone would not change color (King Tut's treasures include a substantial amount of this type of blue turquoise and the colour appears unchanged today.The mines of Nishapur, in northeastern Iran, described in 1300 AD as having belonged to Isaac, the son of Abraham, supplied turquoise to Europe and Western Asia for centuries.

This changed during the late 1800's and early 1900's when modern miners discovered or rediscovered significant deposits of high-quality turquoise in the western and southwestern United States. Material from many of these deposits was just as fine as the finest from Persia Today, the term "Persian Turquoise" is more often a definition of quality, rather than a statement of origin.

Exactly when turquoise first came to the attention of man is unknown. We have archeological as well as literary references that pre date the Christian era by five millennia. The four bracelets of Queen Zar, found on her mummified arm, date to the second ruler of the Egypt's First Dynasty, approximately 5500 BC. Turquoise was used for beads by the Egyptians. Combined with other ornamental stones, the turquoise was inlaid in gold by Sumerians and Egyptians to produce very sophisticated articles of Jewelry.

Large mines were reported around 3,200 BC in the Sinai. The oldest known source of turquoise is the Maghara Wadi mines in the Sinai Peninsula. Mining expeditions of up to several thousand laborers were sent there annually. These mines were worked for the pharaohs for 2000 years. They were rediscovered in the mid-nineteenth century and worked on and off until the beginning of this century.

Turquoise was worn by Pharaohs and Aztec Kings. Its prized blue color is so distinctive that its name is used to describe any color that resembles it. Pre-Columbian Indians in Mexico, as well the American Southwest, used turquoise for beads and pendants.

The Anasazi and Hohokam mined turquoise throughout our Southwest. Absolute evidence exists that these prehistoric people mined turquoise at both Cerillos and in the Burro Mountains of New Mexico; also, at Kingman and Morenci in Arizona as well as the Conejos areas of Colorado. Turquoise was a popular trade item. We know this because so much has been found in archeological sites, many hundreds of miles away from its source. A prime example is the Cerillos, New Mexico, turquoise found in the Aztec regions of central Mexico.

The Magic & History of Turquoise

Although not specifically mentioned in the Bible, many scholars believe that the robe worn by the high priest Aaron was adorned with turquoise. Aristotle, Pliny and others refer to stones that must have been turquoise. After the fourth or fifth century AD, many writings appeared discussing the stone. Explorers such as Marco Polo took time to write about it.

Turquoise became a major trade and barter item for the early Persians. Persian turquoise was found in ancient graves in Turkistan, and in the first to third century AD, in graves throughout the Caucasus. Persian stones were much coveted in Afghanistan, and as far north as Siberia.

Jewelry containing turquoise has always been popular in Tibet, where it was highly revered, perhaps considered more valuable than gold. They had their own source of turquoise, usually with a green cast; a very hard stone often with a significant amounts of spider webbing. It would be fair to say that every Tibetan wore or carried a piece of turquoise throughout life. Turquoise was also used for currency in many areas of Tibet.

The history of turquoise in China dates to the thirteenth century AD. Although mining did exist, most stone came from trade with the Persians, Turks, Tibetans, and the Mongols. Much Chinese turquoise was used for carving and in other decorative ways. The Chinese are greatly fascinated by turquoise, and to them it is second only to jade. Turquoise was unknown until the 18th Century in Japan.

Turquoise was not of great import in early and medieval Europe. However, as Asian conquests and interactions with Europe occurred, seventeenth century Englishmen traveling there brought the style back with them. However, it was not until Victorian time that it became fashionable for European women to wear the stone. Victorian and Art Nouveau jewelry featured a good deal of turquoise.

As turquoise found its way into the mystic arts, ancient doctors exploited the stone's medicinal potentials, which varied from land to land and age to age. It was good for nearly every ailment including insanity. Turquoise is considered beneficial to general physical well-being, and its cooling nature is thought to help high blood pressure as well as to purify the blood and benefit the liver. Its colour could forecast good or bad, predict the weather and influence dreams. It was thought to prevent injury through accident and prevent blindness by placing perfect stones over the eyes. Egyptians mounted turquoise in silver to treat eyes suffering from cataract. It was ground into a salve or powder, and was rubbed on or ingested to cure stomach disorders, internal bleeding and ailments of the hip. It was even said to be used for snake bites and scorpions stings.

As a good luck talisman turquoise found usage in nearly every culture. Turquoise has been believed to confer foresight as well as protect the wearer from danger. In various countries, it is believed to fade when illness or danger is near. Another belief is that a fading stone indicates a lover's faithlessness or a friend's disaffection. In many cultures, the stone is regarded as a harbinger of good fortune, success and health. Aztecs and Egyptians considered it a symbol of prosperity. In India, one was to wear a turquoise on the little finger and look at the stone after seeing the new moon to gain great wealth. Since the fourteenth century, harnesses of dogs, horses and other animals have been decorated with turquoise to protect the animal and master from falling injuries.

Turquoise Use in the Native American World

Certainly the prehistoric peoples of the Western hemisphere knew of turquoise. Turquoise was likely found and used by early man. A long time ago someone noticed a clear blue line running through gray rock, and saw the imagery of sky and water in stone, and from that time on, turquoise has been cherished above all else in creation. Pieces of turquoise have been found in burial and archeological sites throughout the two continents. It seems clear that turquoise was always considered a stone of life and good fortune and that it even had healing properties. The stone was used in religion, art, trade, treaty negotiations as well as for jewelry. It was considered by some tribes to be associated with life itself.

There are legends saying that the People danced and rejoiced when the rains came. Their tears of joy mixed with the rain and seeped into Mother Earth to become the SkyStone. Turquoise, the "fallen sky stone" hidden in Mother Earth, has been valued by cultures for its beauty and reputed spiritual and life-giving qualities for all of history. It is a true gem of the centuries.

Other stories say that the stone brought together the spirits of sea and sky to bless warriors and hunters, and that a turquoise arrowhead assured accurate aim. It was also said that fine turquoise was hidden in the damp ground at the end of the rainbow. A Navajo belief is that a piece of turquoise cast into a river, accompanied by a prayer to the god of rain, will cause rainfall.

Another example of the native American view of the power of turquoise would be if you are wearing a turquoise ring and suddenly you look down and see a crack in your stone; the Indians would say "the stone took it," meaning the stone took the blow that may have been aimed toward you.

Physical Properties of Turquoise CuAl6 [(OH)2/PO4]4

Most specimens are cryptocrystalline, meaning that the crystals can only be seen by a microscope In chemical terms, turquoise is a hydrated phosphate of copper and aluminum, and is formed as water trickles through a host stone for about 30 million years, gradually leaving a deposit. Turquoise is usually found in the "alteration zones" of arid or desert regions. These zones are areas where the native, original rocks have been altered through the intrusion of other rocks from some volcanic or other thermal influence. The hydrothermal alteration is created by magma solutions from deep in the earth being forced to the surface through fractures or pores which eventually change the original rocks.

Several steps and processes are necessary to create the unique properties of turquoise. First there must be a source of copper. This occurs in a rather limited number of areas in the world. There must be a source of phosphorus co-located with the copper, usually from the mineral Apatite, which is not always in rocks associated with copper.

There must also be feldspar for the aluminum, along with deep hydrothermal alteration, which breaks down the feldspars and frees the aluminum needed for the turquoise. The phosphorus usually comes from phosphoric acid leached from the Apatite, during the hydrothermal alteration.

The copper is usually introduced into the "host" rocks by the rising hot magma. The copper readily oxidizes near the surface when it is in the hot magma solution. It reacts freely with the aluminum and phosphoric acid to form turquoise. Another key geological activity is called silicafication; it too is an act of hydrothermal and intrusive alteration. Here silica, which is a common associate of turquoise, is introduced into the turquoise deposit. This addition combined with periods of intense heat are responsible for the hardness of the turquoise and frequently the matrix as well.

At this time other minerals enter into the turquoise structure and create color variations. The chemical formula of turquoise is: (CuAl6 (PO4)8 4H2O) this structure will vary greatly with the introduction of Iron, Calcium, Magnesium, Manganese, Silicon, and Zinc. These additional elements when incorporated in the molecular structure of turquoise influence its color and hardness. The color of turquoise can vary from a deep blue to a deep green, with every variation of color in-between. Generally, the more copper in the molecular structure the bluer the turquoise. The introduction of iron causes a greener cast to the stone.

To explain further, turquoise must consist of copper, aluminum and phosphorus. Other elements can replace various percentages of these and change the molecular structure. For example, two very rare minerals, Chalcasiderite (where iron replaces the aluminum, creating a yellow-green color), and Faustite (where zinc replaces the aluminum, creating a lime yellow-green color), do exist in turquoise environments. Usually there will only be a partial replacement of the aluminum with iron and zinc, thus leaving the turquoise properties altered only in color.

Turquoise is opaque and has a Mohs scale hardness that varies greatly. The deeply mined chalk-like turquoise may only have a mohs hardness slightly over 2, while a gem specimen mined closer to the surface may be up to 6. The hardness varies due to several factors, including both the environment and the matrix or host rock in which the turquoise is found.

In silica varieties of turquoise, quartz particles are present and the stone will be hard enough for use as a gem stone. Silicafication will strengthen some of the matrix as well. If some extent of silicification has not occurred, the turquoise properties will likely be chalky, porous, and soft. It will not be usable in jewelry without undergoing some form of treatment to harden or stabilize the stone. Stabilization may also be used because moisture will cause turquoise to turn toward green This can occur in the ground or in jewelry by absorbing moisture and oils. This is not unlike blue azurite changing to green malachite as its creation environment increases its water content.

Turquoise can be formed in many ways. It can appear as nuggets or it can be deposited in cracks in rocks, which then form vein turquoise. Turquoise can be formed in a cavity lined with quartz crystals and, most interesting, can take the place of another crystal when that crystal dissolves and become a "pseudo morph" or false form. This could give the impression that it is an actual turquoise crystal. Since turquoise is a mineral that is deposited by water solutions, turquoise can take the shape of cavities left when the stems and parts of fossil plants were dissolved out of harder rock or matrix, leaving turquoise in its place. Although this is sometimes referred to as "Fossil" turquoise, the term is incorrect, since "fossil" means the actual remains of plants or animals preserved in the rocks of the earth's crust.

If you believe, as Native Americans believe, that the earth is alive, then all things, no matter how small or apparently inanimate, are precious. To the Native American, Turquoise is Life. In the modern age, there is still this primal recognition of life-giving rock: the smooth stones that lie in streams, the clear quartz that juts from limestone, the humble stone found on a walk, the little black pebble lying mysteriously on the path to your door. There are stones medicine men keep in their sacred bundles because they possess powers of healing. There is the stone that comes to you in dreams and the magic ring you wear on your finger. These rocks and stones are alive and give forth energy to those who wear and hold them. Stones and crystals have unique attributes that support and heal us. The properties of Turquoise are especially known for positive healing energy, to aid in mental functions, communication and expression and as a protector...

Here in the United States, turquoise is synonymous with the Southwest. Native American jewelry featuring turquoise is found in the streets, plazas and in the middle of the desert. Turquoise jewelry is worn over plain dresses, velvet blouses, satin skirts, cowboy shirts and ceremonial costumes, Anglos as well as Pueblo and Navajo Indians wear turquoise necklaces, turquoise pendants, turquoise bracelets, belts and pins and as much as they can at one time. Elsewhere, turquoise may come and go with fashion. Here turquoise is more precious than gold, an enduring expression of Native American culture. It is the birthstone of December and signifies success. All pictures on this page are of untreated, beautiful, Natural Turquoise.

Turquoise, once a luxury intended only for the noble, is worn by every native of the Southwest as a sign of relative wealth. The rain gods and the kachinas wear it. The Earth Mother herself was once a little figure made of turquoise, before Talking God brought Changing Woman to life.

Today, turquoise can be found in many countries of the world, but high-grade turquoise is found mostly in China, Tibet, Persia and the Southwest.

The name is derived from "Turkish Stone" because it was brought to Europe through the ancient trade route, via Turkey. Pure blue is rare; with most stones either a blue-green hue or else containing matrix. Deposits are found in Iran, China, Australia, Israel and the southwest United States. The deposits in the Sinai were already worked out by 4000 BC. At that time turquoise was used for jewelry, amulets and the preparation of cosmetics by the Egyptians.

Considered precious by the Native Americans, turquoise evokes peace of the soul, as when we gaze at the immensity of the sky. By gazing at turquoise the same way, we eventually feel a peace that surpasses all analysis. Turquoise amplifies light blue and blue/green rays in the Divine Light spectrum. When handled or worn, turquoise often turns a darker green, which is said to be caused by the absorption of lotions and body oils.

Understanding the Value of Turquoise: True Natural Turquoise is Very Rare

Since the late 1950’s, there has been a larger demand for turquoise than there has been supply. Since supply has not been able to satisfy the demand, there have been many market-oriented business people (sometimes unscrupulous), who have tried to fill this void with alternate products. The range of turquoise treatments is huge. Soaking soft, light colored turquoise soaked in a liquid plastic creates the effect of a much higher quality material. This idea was not new as it was done with animal fat and tallow thousands of years ago. Another technique is achieved by grinding soft turquoise into a powder and then compressing it, later adding various resins and sometimes dye, to create a “reconstituted” block of turquoise.

The various possibilities are numerous and I will try to make some sense of them for you. The words treated and stabilized are similar, but not necessarily synonymous. They describe the same type process, and there are several, for impregnating soft porous turquoise with liquid plastic and hardening or stabilizing it. One of the newer processes being used today is called 'enhancing'. This process creates a slurry, and then charges the turquoise with electrical energy, intensifying its hardness and color. The actual chemical structure does not change, as opposed to stabilizing with plastic. Most of these processes are well-guarded secrets, so any description is, at best, only an educated opinion.

The treating of turquoise is not to be condemned and it is not wrong to buy or sell it; but it is wrong to misrepresent it or to mislead people. It should be sold as treated or stabilized and should not hold the status and value of Natural Gem Turquoise, which is the true gemstone. In my opinion 98% of all turquoise mined is stabilized or enhanced in some way. This is generally the turquoise that is softer, porous and chalky and will not hold together by itself. Treating the stone in this way makes it darker and harder, less likely to fall apart or crack when worked.

To complicate the subject even further, there is high-quality turquoise that is stabilized due to the seam-structure in the stone that might fracture if not treated. This material is often treated with “opticon”, a kind of super glue used as a fracture-seal, just before cutting, in an effort to hold the matrix together. It is getting more difficult for even gemologists and turquoise experts to tell the difference between some forms of treated turquoise as opposed to the natural.

The natural turquoise used in many of the pieces we offer on this website represents less than 1 percent of the all the turquoise mined. If we state that the turquoise is untreated and Natural, we will guarantee it. We generally buy our turquoise either from the miner in rough rough stones or cut cabs, or else we cut our own stones from our extensive personal collection of turquoise. In most cases we design our jewelry, and then give the stones to one of the many Native American jewelry artists who work with us, to execute the design. That way we can guarantee the quality and authenticity of our jewelry and stones. The best guarantee to the buyer as to the authenticity of a piece and the stones that are set in it is to deal with a reputable dealer that you can trust. After over 40 years as an Indian Trader, and being fortunate to live and work in Santa Fe, the 'heart of the Indian Jewelry business', we have access to the sources that enable us to offer such quality items. Native American artisans may buy turquoise cabochons directly from miners, but most buy from jewelry supply stores or trading posts.

Turquoise Terms & Definitions

Here are a few terms and their definitions that may help in understanding the various processes:

Natural Turquoise means a stone with no alteration to its original state. Such stones are merely polished and cut into shapes before being made into jewelry. Natural turquoise remains porous, as all natural stone is to varying degrees, and may tend to change color over time as it is worn and handled, absorbing ones natural body oils.

Stabilized Turquoise means that the natural material as it comes from the ground has been chemically altered to harden the stone, usually by infusing an epoxy or similar chemical into the porous surface of the stone. The stabilization process serves to maintain or sometimes darken the color of the stone so it will not change. Generally the color remains natural in this process.

Color Treated Turquoise means that the natural material, as it comes from the ground, is usually too soft and pale to be of any commercial use. It is then altered in similar ways as the stabilized product, but a blue dye is also added to the mix. Treated turquoise is best recognized by its transparent plastic appearance. It looks unnatural because it looks too blue and too highly polished.

Reconstructed Turquoise is the name used for turquoise dust and chips that are mixed with plastic resins and dye and compressed into a solid block so as to resemble natural turquoise.

Simulated or Imitation Turquoise is not really turquoise. This material is pure plastic which has been colored with blue dye. It contains absolutely no actual turquoise whatsoever. Pieces of rocks, sand, pyrite and black dye are often added to the formula to imitate matrix.

Turquoise Mines & Origins

Visit our List of Turquoise Mines and Origins along with turquoise we carry from each turquoise mine.


Turquoise, The Gem of the Centuries, by Oscar T. Branson, Treasure Chest Publications
Bob Jones, Senior Editor, Rock & Gem Magazine, Turquoise, Blue Sky...Blue Stone"
The Turquoise Trail, by Carol Karasik, Harry N. Abrams Publisher
Arizona Highways, January 1974
Silver Sun, 656 Canyon Road, ,Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501, www.silversun-sf.

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