Turquoise has always been a prized gemstone. The name probably comes from the French 'turques' as it was first mined in Persia (Iran) and then brought to Europe probably via Turkey. It is one of the earliest gemstones to be mined and used by the ancient Aztecs and Egyptians as well as the Persians, all of whom were keen users of it in their jewellery and religious objects. Many cultures esteemed it as a bringer of good fortune, a talisman.
There are 3 main types of commercial turquoise
for jewellery making, in addition to imitations.
The most expensive is called 'gem grade'. This is hard enough to be cut and polished without any treatment although sometimes it can be treated with a small amount of waxing or oiling. Quality supplies are becoming harder to find and obtain and the price has been going up accordingly. This type of turquoise tends to constitute under 10% of the world's supply.
And so to satisfy the world market for turquoise, softer turquoise, which is more plentiful and often found lower down in the same mine, is stabilized in various ways. The Zachery or Foutz process impregnates turquoise with vaporized quartz and the benefits here are that it makes the stone harder, polishes well and quartz sometimes naturally occurs with turquoise anyway.
The other stabilization method is to combine it with resins which are inserted through pressure or vacuum techniques. This stabilization process makes it hard and also very suitable for jewellery making. This is an extremely common practice and does make turquoise jewellery more affordable whilst still retaining the overall quality of the gemstone when it was mined. Stabilization is actually quite a good thing as it helps to protect the rather porous turquoise and make it more durable to accidental soakings and damage when wearing jewellery.
The bottom grade is powdery, or scrap from cutting turquoise which is reconstituted and mixed with dyes and resins or plastic. This is only suitable for the very lowest priced jewellery.
As for imitations there can be many, but one of the most popular is dyed howlite. Howlite often has dark veining similar to the natural stone so it can be a good base to dye to produce imitations. Also plastics and bone can be used to mimic the gemstone but not always with huge success.
You should be told when purchasing your jewellery what treatment and type or grade of stone you are buying and if it is not volunteered, you should ask. Prices vary from country to country of course, but a typical price today for a necklace in the UK would be a few pounds for bottom grade, then a reconstituted gemstone necklace would be from say A�30-90, depending upon what other beads are added (sterling silver or gold for example which would also alter the cost) and of course more for the highest gem grade. Gems from mines which are no longer operative can command very high prices due to their scarcity.
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