T is for Turquoise
My apology to anyone who received my premature ‘draft’ of this post yesterday. I lost all of the post I was writing, so I’m starting fresh.
I have always loved turquoise. My step-sister sold turquoise jewelry back in the 70’s. It always had a great energy to me. When my husband and I traveled to Santa Fe, I went to a few antiquity markets hoping to buy an authentic antique Native American turquoise ring. I found a plethora of them, but purchasing one was not meant to be. Not because I couldn’t afford it, but because none of them would fit. Our hands and fingers are much larger now or else the people who wore these ring were much smaller in stature. One of the shopkeepers suggested I check out one of the authentic Native American shops.
We went into a Zuni shop and it was a sight to behold. The craftmanship was amazing and the fair trade policies and authenticity were appealing to me. I found a beautiful ring set with fifteen tiny turquoise stones. I fell in love with it. One day I noticed I lost one of the stones. I was heartbroken until I found that tiny little turquoise at the bottom of my purse. I have since repaired it, but rarely wear it for fear the stone may come loose again. I did not want to glue it in place.
Turquoise is a hydrated phosphate of copper and aluminum and ranges in color from blue to green. It was one of the oldest gemstones known to have been mined for adornments. The Aztecs and Incas favored the colors as did the Native Americans. The copper impurities turn the stone blue and the iron impurities turn the stone green. Archaeological digs have dated turquoise adornments back to the time of Aztec kings and Egyptian pharaohs. Even Tutankhamon’s burial face mask includes turquoise along with other gemstones.
Sadly, American turquoise is fast becoming a depleted mineral. Many of the turquoise mines in the U.S. have shutdown resulting in gem quality turquoise becoming a more rare gemstone. Turquoise fakes, liked dyed howlite, are often sold as turquoise – there is no honor among thieves. Another case of buyer beware. There is an abundance of turquoise mined in China, however much of it has been filled with epoxy to stabilize it, or it has been enhanced to deepen the color. There is also an abundance of compressed or composite turquoise on the market, made up of smaller pieces joined together to create a larger stone.
The more pure the color in turquoise, the more valuable. Much of the available turquoise on the market is “in matrix” meaning there are dark web-like veins of the host mineral running through the stone. I prefer turquoise in matrix myself. Turquoise is somewhat soft, a 5-6 on the Mohs scale. It is also a porous material which makes it vulnerable to chemicals, perfumes, oils from the skin, and extreme sunlight. There is no industrial use for turquoise.
The most recognizable Native American jewelry piece must be the squash blossom necklace. The ornate design and use of silver (often from melted down silver dollars or pesos) and turquoise were worn to show wealth and position. The necklace has three parts, the beads, the ‘blossoms’ and the upside down crescent shape called a naja. This diné (Navajo) piece is in the collection of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.