Where and What of Turquoise


Turquoise is an opaque mineral that occurs in beautiful hues of blue, bluish green, green, and yellowish green. It has been treasured as a gemstone for thousands of years. Isolated from one another, the ancient people of Africa, Asia, South America and North America independently made turquoise one of their preferred materials for producing gemstones, inlay, and small sculptures. 

Blue minerals are rare, and that is why turquoise captures attention in the gemstone market. The most desirable color of turquoise is a sky blue or robin's-egg blue. Some people inappropriately describe the color as "Persian blue" after the famous high-quality material mined in the area that is now known as Iraq. Using a geographic name with a gem material should only be done when the material was mined in that locality.

After blue, bluish green stones are preferred, with green and yellowish green material being less desirable. Departure from a nice blue color is caused by small amounts of iron substituting for aluminum in the turquoise structure. The iron imparts a green tint to the turquoise in proportion to its abundance. The color of turquoise might also be altered by small amounts of iron or zinc substituting for copper in the turquoise structure.

Some turquoise contains inclusions of its host rock (known as matrix) that appear as black or brown spider-webbing or patches within the material. Many cutters try to produce stones that exclude the matrix, but sometimes it is so uniformly or finely distributed through the stone that it cannot be avoided. Some people who purchase turquoise jewelry enjoy seeing the matrix within the stone, but as a general rule, turquoise with heavy matrix is less desirable.

Some turquoise localities produce material with a characteristic color and appearance. For example, the Sleeping Beauty Mine is known for its light blue turquoise without matrix. Much of the turquoise from the Kingman Mine is bright blue with a spider web of black matrix. The Morenci Mine produces a lot of dark blue turquoise with pyrite in the matrix. Much of the Bisbee turquoise has a bright blue color with a chocolate brown matrix. People who know turquoise can often, but not always, correctly associate a stone with a specific mine.