December Birthstone: Turquoise

Antique bar brooch set with pearls and turquoise. Chester hallmark, dated 1902.
Ref: 10103

Thursday 1st December 2011

Along with blue topaz, those born in the winter month of December are rather appropriately assigned the icy blue birthstone turquoise.

The history of turquoise is an ancient one, dating back thousands of years.  The Egyptians revered the stone, which they mined on the Sinai Peninsula as early as 3000 BCE, and which they set in royal commissions, the most famous example being the burial mask of King Tutankhamun.   The Persian culture also holds a long association with this gem, the geographical areas of present-day Iran and Afghanistan being another ancient source, which was mined as early as 2000 years ago.  The Persians believed that turquoise held protective powers and also brought wealth to wearer.  Turquoise was also important with the peoples surrounding the other major world source—the central region of the Americas—where it was considered holy by the Aztecs, Incas, and later, the Pueblo civilizations.

It was not until the Crusades in the eleventh and twelfth centuries that turquoise made its first appearance in Europe, brought from Persia via Turkey—hence the name, derived from the French word turquoise meaning Turkish.   It was not, however, readily available to artisans until the nineteenth century, when it became a highly popular in European jewellery, particularly English and French.  Due to the Romantic movement, and with it the sentimental concept of the Language of Flowers, the gem became a symbol of true love, remembrance and faithfulness by association with forget-me-nots, a flower of the same colour.

Chemically speaking, turquoise is a copper aluminium phosphate—copper being the primary cause of the blue colour—and has a microscopic crystal structure, making it ideal to be fashioned into smooth cabochons or tumbled forms rather than faceted.  The most desirable turquoise specimens display a highly saturated blue hue, by which the colour itself is now defined, though it can also be found in greenish and greyish tones. Furthermore, turquoise often forms with what is called matrix,  a black or brown veining derived from the host rock in which the gem forms.  Though fine, regularly patterned matrix is also sought-after, unblemished turquoise is still the ideal, especially in fine jewellery.

Particularly when paired with diamonds, turquoise makes for an elegant wintertime jewel.

Boucheron Paris turquoise, lapis and diamond brooch, circa 1960.
Ref: 12286
Antique Turquoise and Pearl Ring, English circa 1850.
Ref: 13636
Turquoise and diamond cluster ring, English, circa 1915.
Ref: 14533
Antique turquoise and rose diamond necklace
Ref: 13910
Art Deco turquoise diamond and enamel ring in platinum, circa 1925.
Ref: 14417
Turquoise set pendant necklace by Murrle, Bennett & Co, English, circa 1900.
Ref: 15402
Lapis and turquoise ring in yellow gold.
Ref: 14418
Antique turquoise and diamond brooch, circa 1870.
Ref: 12029
Antique diamond and turquoise carved ring, circa 1890.
Ref: 12082
Antique turquoise and pearl brooch, English, circa 1902.
Ref: 14945
Antique turquoise and diamond ring.
Ref: 10805

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