Exploring the World of Turquoise

-Part One-


There are so many varieties of turquoise that it can be overwhelming! The different colors and various names might be confusing to someone looking into buying turquoise jewelry. We believe that knowledge is power, and we hope this blog post will guide you through the complex and beautiful world of turquoise!

The Basics

All turquoise is definitely not the same but there are some shared properties among all varieties. Opacity is one of these characteristics; turquoise is opaque which means that it is not transparent like typical gemstones are. For this reason, most turquoise in jewelry is used as a cabochon (a polished rounded stone), not faceted like a diamond. Some jewelers may put basic facets on turquoise to create interesting shapes, but it is not commonly done. Turquoise is also often used in inlay jewelry which is when the stone is cut into a precise size and shape and set into the metal, causing the top of the turquoise to be level with the metal.

Turquoise is most often discovered in arid regions of the world; places that lack water, often desert environments. There are turquoise mines all over the world, in the United States, the Middle East, Australia, China, and many more locations. Most of the turquoise you see in authentic Native American jewelry  is from the United States, namely Nevada or Arizona.

Turquoise Colors

When you hear the word “turquoise” you may think of a color swatch or paint sample. While the stone turquoise does come in this familiar color, there is a wide range of blues and greens in the turquoise family.

Blues – Turquoise can be found in a light white-blue and can range into robin’s egg blue and sky blue. Blue turquoises can deepen into lovely medium shades but does not get too dark. If someone tries to sell you a dark blue turquoise, you might be looking at Lapis Lazuli instead!

Greens – Just like blue turquoise, green varieties can range from very pale to sage green tones and can deepen into medium green and even get fairly dark as well. Beware when people refer to something as “African Turquoise” however, which is a mottled dark green often with black and blue specks; although turquoise can come from Africa, “African Turquoise” is a name given to a green variety of Jasper.

A turquoise ring made by Leonard Nez Santa Fe Native American Jewelry
Here is an example of green Carico Lake Turquoise set into a 14 karat yellow gold ring by Leonard Nez.

Green-Yellow – Some turquoise can also be a unique shade of yellow-green such as a faustite variety of Carico Lake Turquoise which has a high content of zinc, creating a bright apple-green to yellow-green tone. However, watch out for “Yellow Turquoise” which is most often not real turquoise; it is either a dyed variety of another mineral or a yellow Jasper. True yellow turquoise is extremely rare and expensive.

White – Some varieties of turquoise can appear almost white while they have either a very faint tint of blue or green or brown. Pure white turquoise is almost unheard of in a hardness that is able to be used for jewelry.

There is a stone known as “White Buffalo Turquoise” (or just “White Buffalo”) which appears to be a beautiful white turquoise with black and/or brown veins. There is still a debate on whether or not White Buffalo is actual turquoise, it is currently not classified as a true turquoise, though it is a beautiful stone and certainly a worthwhile choice for jewelry.

Be wary of anyone with pure “white turquoise” for sale as there are white and off-white minerals with veins that appear similar to turquoise; such as Howlite and Magnesite. Both of these stones are softer than turquoise: between 3 and 4 on the Mohs hardness scale whereas true turquoise is usually 5-6. They are very inexpensive stones and not comparable to turquoise.

Purple turquoise is also not natural. If someone is selling “purple turquoise” then it is most likely a different dyed stone or a compressed, dyed, and altered turquoise powder. “Mohave Turquoise” is one such stone which is usually bright purple with gold-colored matrix. This is a man-made stone from powdered, compressed and dyed turquoise.

Turquoise Quality

The quality of turquoise is determined by a few different factors.

Color is an extremely important consideration in turquoise quality and value. Any natural range of color can be valuable but what is important is the saturation of the color. A deeper and richer saturation of color is almost always more valuable than that of a duller shade. Rarer colors of turquoise can also affect value. 

Arland Ben native american jewelry santa fe cuff with 18kt gold and lander blue turquoise.
An 18 karat yellow gold cuff bracelet design by Arland Ben featuring stunning Lander Blue Turquoise cabochons with an intricate spiderweb matrix.

Matrix is another factor to consider when looking at turquoise. The matrix is essentially material in the turquoise that is not turquoise. This could be other minerals, or metallics such as pyrite. The matrix is often referred to as “veins” and can range in color anywhere from pale grays and tans to golden-browns, medium and dark browns, black, or metallic gold-colored pyrite. Turquoise with little to no matrix may be highly sought for its purity of color. Conversely an exaggerated matrix can also be very valuable such as the variety referred to as “spiderweb” which can present in any type of turquoise.

Hardness is a final consideration of quality turquoise. You may wonder how to determine the hardness of a piece of turquoise without making the seller very nervous or possibly damaging it! But the reason hardness is a factor is because of how a harder turquoise takes on a more beautiful luster and polish. Softer turquoise is much more difficult to polish and may appear dull or matte.

Search for highly saturated natural turquoise with a beautiful luster and whichever variety of matrix you prefer.

Always remember: What matters is how you feel about it.

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