The Art Medium Turquoise

Turquoise is a blue-green mineral famed for its beauty throughout the world. It has been known by many names. The Aztecs called it chalchihuitl. The ancient Romans called it callais. Its modern name dates to the 1600s and comes from the French “turques;” the French called it thus because it was imported to Europe from Turkey. As an artistic medium, turquoise it most famously used in jewelry, but it can also found in other kinds of decorative objects. Many famous relics from antiquity employed turquoise; perhaps one of the most famous archaeological objects that employed the mineral is the burial mask of Tutankhamun which is also inlaid with lapis lazuli and carnelian.

Archaeologists date the use of this opaque gemstone to roughly 3000 B.C. when it was used in ancient Egypt to inlay various burial furnishings. It is considered one of the first gems ever mined. From its earliest use it was revered as a kind of talisman with protective qualities. Various cultures have believed in its ability to grant good fortune, for example. Ancient Persians, who wore turquoise around their neck or wrists believed in the power of turquoise to safeguard them from an unnatural death. On the other hand, the mineral’s composition can cause it to change colors depending on changes in light or even changes in the acidity of the wearer’s skin; this change in color was regarded as an evil omen by the ancients warning of danger or doom.

Turquoise has been found in many parts of the world. The ancient mines of Persia were especially noted during antiquity, but Iran continues to be an important source of turquoise today—particularly in the region of Neyshabur. The ancient Egyptians, however, obtained their turquoise from the Sinai Peninsula where it continues to be mined today. The American Southwest is well-known for its deposits of turquoise as well. Native Americans have been mining the mineral since pre-Columbian times. According to popular opinion, the best and most valuable turquoise comes from Iran; however, the Sleeping Beauty turquoise mined in Arizona is regarded as the most precious and valuable in the U.S. Other countries where turquoise is mined include China, Afghanistan, Tibet, India, Australia, Turkestan, and Chile.

Probably introduced to Europe through the Silk Road, turquoise is prized for its beauty throughout the world. Often used to decorate ceremonial objects in many cultures, turquoise was additionally fashioned into beads as well as pendants. In the Middle East, turquoise could be seen as a decoration for both turbans and horse saddles. Often it was used with other precious stones to inlay a particular object. Unfortunately, the imitation of turquoise has been occurring since the days of ancient Egypt. Gemologists value the mineral according to hardness and coloration. The most prized shade of turquoise tends to be robin’s egg blue. Experts also recommend that turquoise be kept out of intense sunlight or worn with cosmetics as these elements could change the mineral’s color. Turquoise that is blemish and vein-free is particularly prized as an artistic medium.