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Turquoise has been the commonly accepted birthstone for the month of December for well over four hundred years now. However, Turquoise has been mined, used and treasured for thousands of years and has a history that predates the idea of a “December birthstone,” birthstone lists, and lists in general. (In fact, humans began mining the precious blue stone long before the earliest Egyptians began to experiment with hieroglyphics.)
Regardless, like all great stories the story of Turquoise as a birthstone doesn’t really begin with the beginning. Instead it begins with a twist of fate, a bad translation, an unfortunate inability to read a map and an overwhelming desire for the most beautiful blue stone in the world.
It has been well over a century since anyone in the western world thought of turquoise –or any other stone– as a pigment. But a few hundred years ago blue was one of the rarest and most sought after colors. A cloth merchant could make do with indigo, but a painter needed Lapis Lazuli or Turquoise.
For the painters of Renaissance Italy the best blues came from the East. Or, more exactly, from traders who brought their precious cargoes from Constantinople –Jewel of the Ottoman Empire– to Venice. Cloth wrapped bundles of precious dusty blue pebbles would then make their way into the mortar and pestles of the painters who ground their own pigment. (And often demanded payment upfront for a commission that involved a lot of blue.) Lapis Lazuli was the dense midnight blue. Turquoise was a brighter blue. Light like the endless sky over Rome.
If the traders knew the origin of the paler blue stone they never bothered to tell the painters. Instead they called it “Turk’s Stone” –a stone they had brought from the land of the Turks. “Turk’s Stone” became, inevitably, “turquoise.” And, for a few hundred years no one much thought about what, exactly, Turquoise was. (Or even where it really came from. In fact there is some Turquoise that has been discovered in modern day Turkey, nevertheless, for roughly five thousand years the vast majority of Turquoise traded throughout Asia and Europe came from Persia –or the Sinai Peninsula– not Anatolia.)
Most of the early traders were far more concerned with the quality of the blue material they had found and where they had found it than they were with figuring out why the stone we know today as Turquoise existed. (In fact, Turquoise, like Malachite, is a copper associated mineral and examples of Turquoise have been found in copper rich regions in Persia, China, Tibet, Egypt, Poland, Mexico and the United States.)
Today, of course, when we think of Turquoise we almost always think of the American Southwest. For well over a century a fine –or sometimes not so fine– piece of Turquoise jewelry has been the preferred souvenir of a trip to the American West.
Sadly much of the Turquoise jewelry now sold in the Southwest does not actually incorporate real American Turquoise. Synthetics and simulants are cheap and readily available. The colors more even and matchable than natural material. (And usually far far less expensive.) Of course…. all of the stones sold as Turquoise by N.C. Nagle are genuine Turquoise. We believe in full disclosure of all treatments. And… not only can we tell you whether our Turquoise ahs been treated or not we can often tell you which exact mine it came from!
But just because a stone seems odd or bright does not mean it isn’t real. Natural Turquoise is a true gift of nature and, like all the best gifts, it can be a bit surprising. So… if you are a December baby and feel a little blue because you don’t like blue and your December birthstone is “Turquoise” never fear…. there is natural green Turquoise as well. And the natural blues can range from an intense deep blue to a pale sun-washed skyblue.
P.s. If you are looking for a birthday gift for your special December baby that is truly out of this world may we suggest this one of a kind necklace featuring Tektites and all natural American Turquoise.