Professional Jeweler Archive: Turquoise Is Making Noise

June 2000

Gemstones & Pearls/News

Turquoise Is Making Noise

Jewelers have been smitten again by the beauty of turquoise

A stroll down New York City’s Fifth Avenue is a revealing way to put your finger on the pulse of fashion. There, in the spring and summer window displays of the district’s major retailers, is turquoise. Not just the color, (which is hot this year in apparel), but the gem itself.

Saks Fifth Avenue has bold turquoise apparel in the windows, and heaps of green and blue turquoise at the jewelry counters inside. Down the street at Cartier and Tiffany & Co., robin’s-egg-blue turquoise is mounted in fine jewelry and featured prominently in window displays.

Meanwhile, prestigious designers such as Steven Lagos of Philadelphia, PA, and Tamara Comolli of Rottach-Egern, Germany, acknowledge a revival of interest in turquoise. Several other designers plan new lines that celebrate the unique, pastel blue color and usher in its return after about 20 years off fashion’s radar.

Front of the Line

Turquoise has been appreciated on every continent for thousands of years. Necklaces of turquoise were found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 3500 B.C., and 1st century Roman scholar Pliny the Elder described what was probably turquoise, under the name callais, in his books on natural history.

The word turquoise first became known in the 13th century, according to The Curious Lore of Precious Stones (by George Frederick Kunz, Dover Publications Inc., New York City). He says Persian traders used turquoise as horse amulets: they believed it protected the wearer from falls. In Europe turquoise became known, incorrectly, as a gem from Turkey, even though the classic source was Persia, near Nishapur (now Iran). The Incas and Aztecs treasured turquoise too, and sources were scattered throughout the Americas. Its value as treasured fetishes, trading objects and jewels is notable among the Zuni, Navajo and Apache Indian nations.

Overcoming the Cheap Stigma

In recent history, turquoise fell out of favor. “In the 1960s, a lot of hippies used it in inexpensive jewelry,” says Comolli. It also was typecast as belonging only in American Indian jewelry styles.

Still, some designers and manufacturers have stuck with turquoise through the years. “I’ve always loved it and used it in my jewelry lines,” says Kim Hulbert of Timeless Gem Designs, Los Angeles, CA.

It also was a staple of fine jewelry designers in the 1930s and 1940s and even earlier. “It was especially important in the 19th century,” says jewelry historian Elise Misiorowski of Los Angeles, CA. “It was considered a lucky gem; every woman had to have her lucky blue.” She says big jewelry houses such as Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels combined turquoise with diamonds in impressive jeweled statements.

This spring, turquoise was in the news again at Basel 2000, the world’s most important jewelry show. “It looks warm and inviting in yellow gold, as well as with white gold and diamonds,” says Comolli. She credits turquoise’s renewed popularity to its color variations and understated appearance.

Turquoise is well-suited for gem carving, cabochons and beads. Turquoise with matrix is ideal for one-of-a-kind jewelry designs.

Turquoise Gem Trivia

Turquoise is a hydrated copper aluminum phosphate; its copper content accounts for the sky blue color. It has varying degrees of toughness and is considered a soft gem at 5-6 on the Mohs Hardness Scale.

It’s also porous so it can discolor over time. Turquoise has been treated with paraffin, wax and resin to help seal the porosity and accentuate the color; these treatments are fairly easy to detect by qualified labs or gemologists.

However, the Spring 1999 issue of Gems & Gemology, the Gemological Institute of America’s quarterly journal, described a new, unidentifiable process known as the Zachery treatment. “Tests show this process effectively improves a stone’s ability to take a good polish and may or may not improve the stone’s color. It also decreases the stone’s porosity, limiting its tendency to absorb discoloring agents such as skin oils,” the article states.

This could be viewed as beneficial to turquoise durability. “Our treatment never changes color,” says Roben Hogobian of R.H. & Co., Glendale CA, whose contracted scientists invented the proprietary Zachery treatment.

Most of today’s finest turquoise is mined at the Sleeping Beauty Mine near Globe, AZ. In fact this site has overtaken Iran as a source of solid blue turquoise. Hogobian says the mines in Iran are inactive after centuries of use. Meanwhile, China produces an unusual, lime-green variety.

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

Turquoise was often juxtaposed with transparent gems in the 1930s and 1940s. Elle’s April jewelry feature (above) shows this amethyst brooch with turquoise accents, circa 1940, by Fred Leighton.

Turquoise is hot at chic department stores and is the current darling of consumer magazine editors as seen in a Town & Country feature in April (left).

Fine turquoise from the Sleeping Beauty Mine in Globe, AZ, is being carved, used as beads or mounted in jewelry with high karat gold and diamonds. Jewels courtesy of Timeless Gem Designs, Los Angeles, CA.
All Photos by Robert Weldon
Turquoise is often fashioned free-form style, as seen in the turquoise and amethyst necklace (bottom of photo) and may contain seams of matrix. The mostly green bead necklace (top of photo) comes from China.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications