Those celebrating December birthdays are fortunate to have a few birthstones to choose from – zircon, tanzanite, blue topaz and lapis lazuli, among them. But one of the best known and most loved December gems is turquoise, a gem that has been mined and used for thousands of years.
Jewelry found in ancient Egyptian tombs dating to 5500 BCE give turquoise the distinction of being one of the longest-loved gems in history. Many in the U.S. associate turquoise with Native American jewelry, but the gem is also commonly found in China and beloved by designers and collectors around the world.
One of the reasons collectors love this gem is because its appearance can have so much variation. Not all turquoise is turquoise! Turquoise is colored by copper, which creates an array of colors from intense blue to greenish blue to avocado and lime green. The gem’s color can be an evenly distributed medium blue, appear mottled, or display matrix. Matrix is the remnant of the host rock in which the turquoise formed and appears as splotches or veins.
The most prized turquoise color is an even, vibrant blue sometimes called “Persian blue” in the trade, as seen on the right.
Turquoise is most often cut into cabochons, smooth domed shapes that are best suited to show off the stone’s color and any matrix. However, designers also use turquoise in jewelry inlays.
If you own (or hope to own) turquoise jewelry, there are a few things to keep in mind. Natural turquoise is porous, and its porosity makes it a candidate for treatment to alter its color and improve its durability. The gem can be discolored by chemicals, perfume, cosmetics, and even natural skin oils, so remove turquoise jewelry when cleaning or applying products to your skin.
When needed, clean turquoise with warm, soapy water; never use steam or ultrasonic cleaners. More on the care and cleaning of turquoise can be found on our Gem encyclopedia.
With the right care, fine-quality turquoise is quite durable, and jewelry fashioned from the gem will last generations.