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Mexican Two-Headed serpent brooch from the mixtec period (15-16th Century) with Turquoise inlay.
Mexican Two-Headed serpent brooch from the mixtec period (15-16th Century) with Turquoise inlay.
"As a compassionate Turquoise that doth tell By looking pale, the wearer is not well."

  -- John Donne, Poet (1572-1631)

Turquoise is a particularly problematic stone when it comes to verifying its authenticity. It consists of a phosphate of aluminium, colored by copper and traces of iron. Some gemologists believe that the beautiful blue color is produced by a complex ion formed from copper and ammonium. The finest colored material is mined and worked in Iran; its colors range from the highly desirable sky blue to a bluish green.

Amulet box adorned with Monster Mask Gold, turquoise, perl, ruby, coral, lapis lazuli, amethyst, emerald, glass
Amulet box adorned with Monster Mask Gold, turquoise, perl, ruby, coral, lapis lazuli, amethyst, emerald, glass
H: 7 cm; W: 6 cm; D: 1 cm

SHADE CHANGE

The color of turquoise is sometimes affected by the acid perspiration of certain wearers. When this happens, the stone will become green or greenish, as it also does if it becomes too warm. The color is also affected by the alcohol content in perfume, hair sprays and cosmetics.

Turquoise got its name from the Turkish merchants who first carried this beautiful and very desirable blue stone to Europe for trade. Trudging the commercial trade routes from the East, they drove great camel caravans burdened with sacks of exotic, aromatic spices, bolts of cloth encrusted with gemstones and interwoven with gold and silver threads, and all kinds of jewels and other treasures.

The stones were first exported to Germany, where they became known as Turkisher Steins, which translates as "Turkish stones". When the stones reached France, the German name became translated into Pierre turquoise - stone of Turkey.

THE PEOPLES OF THE AMERICAS

A spectacular double strand of large gem-quality, sky-blue Cerrillos turquoise nuggets
A spectacular double strand of large gem-quality, sky-blue Cerrillos turquoise nuggets. The necklace, weighing nearly three pounds, was made by Leekya Deyuse (Zuni), who "carved each stone to mother nature's dictate." c. 1935. Length, 30" (76.2 cm). Millicent Rogers Museum of Northern New Mexico, 1958-60

Many thousands of years BC, forebears of the Aztecs, Toltecs and Olmecs migrated from that vast tract of grassland we now call Mongolia. They crossed the ice bridge formed on the Bering Straits which, at times, joins Russia to Alaska. The tribes roamed farther and farther south until they finally settled in southern America - in and around the lands now called Mexico, Brazil and Peru.

These tribes took with them their reverence for turquoise and their skills to work this beautiful, sky-blue rock. Their talents and ingenuity are evident in the craftsmanship and beauty of the arte-facts that have been recovered from ancient tombs, including the death masks skillfully inlaid with turquoise mosaic.

According to the missionary Bernardino de Sahagun (History of New Spain, 1830), no one was allowed to wear or own this blue stone: it was exclusively reserved as an offering to the gods and for the decoration of their images. After the decimation of the Mayan Empire by the Spaniard Hernando Cortez in AD 1533, it fell to the lot of the Pueblo people of the American southwest to keep this reverence for turquoise alive. Event today, Pueblo miners believe that the "flesh" of turquoise must remain undamaged; if it is to be used as a religious offering, it must be mined and handled with respect.

Turquoise was also held in very high esteem by the Apache peoples of North America. Indeed, without possession of a turquoise, no medicine-man could command the honor, respect and veneration his office demanded. Nor would the spear or arrow of the hunter fly true to its target.

Navajo lady wearing her turquoise jewelry. 1994
Navajo lady wearing her turquoise jewelry. 1994

PROTECTION FROM HARM

Turquoise was once credited with the ability to overcome malevolent glances from the Evil Eye. Even today, the citizens of many Middle Eastern countries weave turquoise beads into the manes and tails of beasts of burden such as camels, mules and oxen to bring good luck and assurance that the animals will surefooted.

Turquoise beads are also believed to protect a horse if it becomes overhead by too much exertion - and to shield the rider from harm. From the thirteenth century, this stone became the horse man's talisman and it was at this time that a certain man called Volmar wrote: "whomsoever owns a true turquoise set in gold will not injure any of his limbs when he falls, whether he be riding or walking, so long as he has the stone with him."

A HEAVY FALL

The seventeenth-century medical man Anselmus Boetius de Boot gives an account of how, the morning after his horse stumbled and threw him heavily to the ground, he noticed that a large piece of the turquoise stone in his ring had broken away. He believed that the influence projected by his turquoise had saved him from severe injury.

According to another writers, Van Helmont, "whoever wears a turquoise so that it touches the skin may fall from any height; the stone attracts to itself the whole force of the blow so that it cracks, and the person is safe." A certain Marquis of Villena had a slightly different story to tell, however. The Marquise employed a court jester who was asked "What are the magical properties of the turquoise." "Why Sire," replied the jester, "Should you climb to the highest rampart of your castle while wearing that stone, and hurl yourself there from to the courtyard below - the magic of the stone is that it would remain unbroken."

It was also Anselmus de Boot who wrote of turquoise chiming the hours against the side of a glass when suspended from a thread. On a fashion note, he observed that the best-dressed men considered themselves totally unprepared to step out unless they were wearing a turquoise jewel.

FACT & FANTASY

Aztec Death Mask C. 1400 AD, Inlaid with Turquoise - An Offering to the God Queztalcoatl or Tlaloc
Aztec Death Mask C. 1400 AD,
Inlaid with Turquoise-
An Offering to the God Queztalcoatl or Tlaloc

Turquoise is a symbol of generosity, sincerity and affection.

It is thought to preserve friendship and make friends of enemies.
To bring good luck, it should be given, not bought.
To dream of turquoise is to greet prosperity.
It brings good luck on a Saturday.

HEALING PROPERTIES

Many physicians of the fifteenth century carried a turquoise in their medical bags, claiming that the stone would counter the harmful effects of poison. They prepared a portion containing finely powdered turquoise, which, as well as proving to be a powerful antidote to scorpion stings, was also considered effective in banishing the pains arising from possession by demons. Looking at a turquoise - or placing a stone on the eyes - was believed to soothe inflamed or strained eyes.

Turquoise indicated the health of the wearer by turning pale if he or she became sick. It lost its color completely when its wearer died, regaining its beauty when it was possessed by anew, healthy owner. Sir John Horsey, a messenger in the employ of Elizabeth I, records that Tsar Ivan the Terrible believed that turquoise had a unique empathy with its wearers and showed its sympathy for their sufferings by turning pale. Many eighteenth-century writers contributed to these beliefs when they included in their books such words as "the stone grew pale when there is any peril prepared for him that weareth it."

BLUE SKIES AHEAD

To the Persians, the intensity of the sky-blue stone foretold the kind of weather to be expected that day. A dazzling blue color seen during the morning foretold a fine day, and a happy one. The Persians also say that to have good fortune and repel evil, a man must see the reflection of the new moon on either a copy of the Koran, the face of a friend, or on a turquoise stone.


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