Turquoise

When the tomb of Queen Zer, the Egyptian monarch, was excavated in 1900, the mummy was found adorned by four bracelets made of turquoise and cast gold that had encircled the dead queen’s arm for about 7,500 years. These bracelets are the world’s oldest known pieces of jewelry and remain as beautiful today as when new.

The name turquoise is believed to have been derived from the French use of pierre turquoise, meaning “Turkish stone,” probably because the stone first reached Europe by way of Turkey. The Persians called turquoise ferozah for “victorious,” and in Tibet it was known as gyu, which resembled the Chinese name for jade, China’s most precious gem.

Turquoise

The history and romance of turquoise include a multitude of legends and superstitions. Most ancient civilizations — the Aztecs, Incas, Egyptians and American Indians or the Southwest — valued turquoise very highly. In fact, the American Indians used turquoise in the sixteenth century as a medium of exchange and an adornment of their house fronts, their graves and their persons. To them, turquoise embodied the spirits of the sea and the sky; they also believed that it had the power to bring abundant spoils to their warriors, many animals to the hunters and happiness and good fortune to all who wore it. The turquoise was expected to protect the wearer from injury from falling, especially from a horse and to make his steed more sure-footed. A belief still prevalent among the Navahos is that a piece of turquoise thrown into a river while saying a prayer to the rain god will almost surely bring immediate rain!

Turquoise

The oldest known piece of turquoise jewelry made by these early Indians was found in Death Canyon, Arizona. It was a pendant bearing a mosaic formed of eighty-one pieces of turquoise affixed to the wood with gum. Every Navaho wears a piece of turquoise, and the higher his position in tribal society the finer the stone. Few religious rites of the Indians of New Mexico and Arizona take place without the inclusion of turquoise and almost all the Indian jewelry in the southwestern United States contains turquoise.

Great chiefs and monarchs of the past were often buried with a treasure of turquoise to guide them safely into the spirit world. This practice of the ancient Egyptians extended to the Aztecs of Mexico. Turquoise was used also as a powerful charm to protect the newborn in the voyage of life. In India it was believed that the man who looked long at the new moon and then instantly fixed his eyes on a turquoise would be assured of great wealth.

Turquoise

The oldest turquoise mines in the world are located on the Sinai Peninsula, and it was from this area that the Egyptians, as long ago as 5500 BC. obtained the turquoise they used for personal adornment; beads found in prehistoric caves confirm this. By the time of the first dynasty, about 3200 BC., the kings of Egypt were sending mining expeditions to Sinai. These venture were highly organized and often included several thousand laborers and a military escort. The long journeys usually began in November and ended in May, before the summer heat became too oppressive. The mines were worked in this way for about two thousand years, but the turquoise they yielded was never of great quantity. Most of today’s turquoise comes from the United States, mostly form the Southwest. Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and California have substantial deposits of turquoise. The finest quality stones are an intense medium blue with the color smooth and evenly distributed. Iran still produces some stones of this quality. The term “spider web turquoise” indicates a specimen with a smooth color but with a rather evenly distributed network of very fine lines.