Gemstone Spotlight: Turquoise
What is Turquoise?
Turquoise is one of the most popular material used in Mexican art and jewelry. But did you know that it’s name is actually French? It was named for the Turks who brought the brilliantly colored mineral with them to France from Turkey in the 1600’s.
Known for its beautiful greenish-blue color, turquoise has been valued for thousands of years. Since 3000 BC, ancient Egyptians, Persians and Mesopotamians used Turquoise to make jewelry honoring their pharaohs and kings. As early as 2000 years BC, members of the Shang dynasty in China were using a form of turquoise for decoration and jewelry.
Native cultures in North America, including the Navajo, Pueblo, Apache, and Aztecs (who called it chalchihuitl), prized turquoise for its beauty and durability. They believed it to be an omen of good luck. The Aztecs used turquoise, gold, jade and coral to make ceremonial masks and amulets. You can see some of these influences reflected in modern Mexican jewelry.
Keep reading and we’ll tell you more about turquoise, its history and how it is used today.
Where is Turquoise Found?
Photo: Lynn Ceteras Huerta
Historically, turquoise has been known as a stone of the people, due in part to the fact that it is so widespread. For thousands of years, turquoise has been mined in Iran, the Sinai peninsula, North America, China, India, Chile and even England!
Today however, there are fewer turquoise mines than ever before. This is because most turquoise deposits were relatively small and because of turquoise’s enduring popularity. Now, the majority of jewelry-quality turquoise comes from just a few mines in North America. Other mines in Iran (formerly Persia), India and a few other locations continue to produce smaller amounts of very high-quality turquoise.
Turquoise throughout History
This might be the most famous use of turquoise of all time! It’s the burial mask of King Tutankhamun. While made from gold, the ancient Egyptians added inlays of turquoise and other precious materials.
It’s interesting to note that while most cultures have believed turquoise jewelry to bring its wearer good luck, King Tut’s mask is believed to be cursed! Many people associated with it have died under mysterious circumstances over the years.
Don’t blame the turquoise!
Photo: Richard Weil on Flickr
In ancient Persia (now known as Iran), turquoise’s blue color was believed to be a representation of heaven on Earth. Because of this, it was used in glazes covering the domed roofs of many Iranian palaces.
The most incredible example of this is the Dome of Soltaniyeh (pictured above), which was completed in 1312, after over 10 continuous years of work. To this day, it is the largest brick dome in the world.
We generally think of turquoise as being used by the native people of North America, but as you can see, turquoise has had meaning for cultures all across the globe. This is especially true in China where traditionally, turquoise is the second most popular mineral after jade!
Chinese artists inlaid bronze pieces with turquoise (most often mined in Persia) as far back as 400 years BC. Often turquoise was used as a decorative accent on tools, plaques, plates, and other everyday items.
In traditional Chinese medicine, turquoise has represented faithfulness and fidelity, and has been used to clear and protect the throat chakra.
Today, much of the turquoise jewelry made in China is considered to be of lower quality. There are also environmental concerns related to Chinese turquoise jewelry.
Mexico & United States
Photo: Neil Henderson on Flickr
That’s a serpent made by an Aztec artist around the year 1400. It’s meant to represent one of the forms of the god Quetzalcoatl. The Aztecs called high-quality turquoise like this tuexivitl, or the “Stone of the Gods.”
Look at the fantastic detail in that mosaic above. Imagine the painstaking work that went into creating such a beautiful piece!
Other North American native people, including the Navajo tribe in the Southwestern United States used turquoise as well. The Navajo believed turquoise to represent luck, health, and happiness.
Photo: D Fredericks on Flickr
One of the more common pieces crafted by Navajo artists are Heishi necklaces– pictured above. These necklaces are notable for their beautiful beadwork. Navajo artists perfected techniques for making incredibly smooth and consistent beads from rough pieces of turquoise.
What incredible craftsmanship!
Spanish settlers taught Navajo tribespeople the art of silversmithing in the late 1800’s. Jewelry made after this era tends to combine traditional Navajo methods with Spanish silverwork techniques, making for a very interesting combination of styles.
While the Navajo people only used turquoise for art and jewelry to be used in religious ceremonies, today their modern works have become popular with tourists, jewelry lovers, and art collectors around the world.
Modern Mexican Turquoise Jewelry
Turquoise is just as popular today as it has been for thousands of years. In fact, due in part to its increasing rarity, high-quality pieces of turquoise are becoming more valuable than comparable diamonds! But don’t worry, there are still an incredible variety of affordable pieces of turquoise jewelry available today.
Let’s take a look at a few of our favorite pieces of turquoise jewelry.
Silver & Turquoise Beaded Necklace
Beaded necklaces are always in style and this beaded silver and turquoise necklace is no exception. You’ll love the way the light catches the silver beads.
Frida Kahlo Style Teardrop Earrings
It’s important to us that we honor traditional Mexican artists in the jewelry we offer. These silver and turquoise teardrop earrings are made in the style of Frida Kahlo, featuring intricate silver work with beautiful pieces of inlaid turquoise.
Ignacio Gomez Silver & Turquoise Necklace
Ignacio Gomez is one of Mexico’s greatest artistic treasures and one of the greatest silversmiths that we’ve ever seen.
This silver and turquoise peacock necklace is a classic piece that is truly representative of his unique style. If you’re looking for a piece of turquoise jewelry that can make a statement, this is it!
Turquoise Narcissus Poison Ring
A gorgeous piece of turquoise conceals this ring’s secret: a hidden compartment. Use it to store a small keepsake or charm. You’ll be able to carry your memories with you wherever you go.
Silver & Turquoise Inlay Necklace
This classic piece is a great way to show your love for Mexican art, culture and turquoise. Elegant, classic, and tasteful, this silver and turquoise inlay necklace is the perfect addition to any look or style.
Do you have a favorite piece of turquoise jewelry? Tell us about it in the comments below.