Turquoise is, undoubtedly, the most common stone used in Southwestern Indian jewelry. And while the bright, sky blue stones set in sterling silver are commonly seen in Zuni turquoise jewelry, turquoise naturally occurs in a variety of hues.
The Properties of Turquoise
Chemically, turquoise is a hydrous phosphate of aluminum containing copper and iron. It is a porous stone, and as such, is not naturally very hard. It is opaque and characterized by a waxy luster.
The presence and amounts of various elements within turquoise composition dictate its color. Genuine turquoise may range from light blue to yellow-green. Some gemstones like White Buffalo and Wild Horse look like white turquoise but chemically they do not qualify as turquoise.
Blue and green turquoise is energetically associated with strength, wisdom, protection and positive thinking.
Turquoise in the Jewelry Industry
Historically, the most valuable turquoise was a flawless sky-blue stone. However, the more exotic matrixed varieties of turquoise are becoming more popular, thanks in part to the popularity of Native American jewelry that uses all types of turquoise.
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Southwestern Turquoise Jewelry
The two Native American Indian nations most famous for their sterling silver and turquoise jewelry are the Navajo and Zuni.
Navajo turquoise jewelry often features large chunky stones, showcasing the various color matrixes found in natural turquoise. Even in pieces that do use the classic sky blue turquoise color there is no attempt to hide dark veins or color variations.
Zuni turquoise jewelry, on the other hand, typically uses Sleeping Beauty turquoise, which has a consistent, unblemished sky blue color. Zuni turquoise needlepoint jewelry uses small slivers of turquoise stones arranged in intricate patterns, like the squash blossom; the absence of matrixes in the Sleeping Beauty stones help to keep attention on the overall pattern and color scheme.
Turquoise Treatments and Classifications*
Because it is naturally a relatively soft stone (its hardness is comparable to window glass), turquoise is often treated to increase its durability for use in jewelry by Navajo and other Southwestern American Indian artists. Treatments like lacquering that only affect the stone’s hardness result in “stabilized” turquoise.
However, some treatments also affect the color of turquoise. Treatments that apply dyes in addition to processes to improve hardness result in turquoise that is classified as “treated.”
Still, other processes compress turquoise nuggets or powders into a solid stone. Depending on the size of the turquoise particles at the start of the process, stones resulting from this process may be classified as “reconstituted” or “imitation.”
*Turquoise classifications are delineated in the 1973 New Mexico Indian Arts and Crafts Act
It is important to understand the types and results of various treatments when purchasing Native American Indian turquoise jewelry. Merchants may not always let you know how a stone has been treated, which means the stone could be fake or the treatment effects may be likely to degrade quickly.
If you have any questions about turquoise treatments or your Native American Indian turquoise jewelry, please contact us.