Natural Turquoise vs. All Others

Natural Turquoise vs. All Others

Published On: 05-14-2013 04:03am

Comments: 35 - Hits: 0

Category: Gemstone Information

I love using turquoise in my designs since, even as a small child, it has always been a favorite gemstone.  Unfortunately there is quite a bit of misconceptions out there about turquoise.  And, due to unscrupulous dealers, there are stones (even plastic!!!) being passed off as genuine turquoise.  Good quality turquoise, especially American, is getting harder to find and more expensive since many mines have closed.  The turquoise that is still coming out of open mines is often of a lower quality than what was once produced.  I was dismayed when visiting the Turquoise Museum in Albuquerque to learn that a majority of silversmithing Native Americans have had to switch to Chinese turquoise for their designs due to the depletion of American turquoise.  However, many Chinese turquoise mines are now closing due to problems of environmental degradation and mine collapses.  

Stabilized Kingman turquoise and sterling silver pendant by Quentin of LunarSkies

Natural turquoise is hard to find - there is hardly any natural turquoise on the market today.  Turquoise is a soft stone (between a 5-6 on the Moh's Scale of Hardness) and can be quite susceptible to scratching and even fracturing.  It is also porous which means, over time, it can fade, change color or stain due to the absorption of oils from the skin and coming into constant contact with the elements when worn.  Because of these two problems, turquoise has historically been treated with waxes and oils, something that has been going on for thousands of years. 

Hand cut native turquoise and copper necklace by Nancy of StoneCroneCreations


In doing quite a bit of research about turquoise, I ran across the five "types" of turquoise, from natural to faux, that any lover of this beautiful gemstone should be aware of.  Please note: the turquoise jewelry featured below aren't put in any specific order to represent the different types of turquoise - the order was randomly selected (except for the turquoise magnesite necklace).  

Here are the short descriptions of the types of turquoise:

1.  Natural Turquoise - This type of turquoise is what a turquoise aficionado lusts after:  turquoise that is hard and beautiful and untreated.  It is simply mined, cut, polished and set in jewelry or carved into a fetish.  Less than 3% of all the turquoise on the market worldwide is natural.  

Sleeping Beauty turquoise and gold filled earrings by Margaret of BohoWireWrapped

2.  Stabilized Turquoise - About 97% of all the turquoise on the market today has been infused with a clear epoxy, resin or some other form of liquid plastic.  A dye is never used for stabilized turquoise.  A simple approach to stabilization is to soak the raw turquoise stone for a long period of time in a hardening solution.  Newer technologies involve impregnating the turquoise with a hardening solution through a pressure treatment.  After drying, the stone can be cut, formed into cabochons or other shapes, polished and sold.  The final product usually looks a bit shinier and smoother than natural turquoise.  Through stabilization, turquoise will keep its color and be more resistant to scratches, fracturing and dirt.  Most stabilized turquoise is very beautiful but you should not pay as much for it as with natural turquoise.  

Stabilized turquoise pendant necklace with red coral by Catherine of ShadowDogDesigns

3.  Treated Turquoise - This type of turquoise has been stabilized with a hardening agent AND dyed.  Since Persian Blue or the blue of Sleeping Beauty is considered the epitome of turquoise color by many people, dyes are added to the hardening agent to bring a stone as close to that color as possible.  Poor quality turquoise can be dyed to look like Sleeping Beauty.  Another strategy is to dye the matrix a darker color to enhance the contrast.  Colors in treated turquoise have a tendency to look artificial. Prices should be much less than natural or stabilized.

Arizona blue turquoise and sterling silver ring by Lynda of WestWindCreations

4.  Reconstituted Turquoise - With this method, low grade "chalk" turquoise stones too small to be used for cabochons, beads or freeform nuggets are ground into a powder.  The powder is then mixed with a binding agent, dyed, compressed into blocks or cakes and dried.  The reconstituted turquoise then can easily be cut into shapes to use for jewelry.  Reconstituted turquoise is quite inexpensive and, unfortunately, can be sold as natural unscrupulous sellers. 

Kingman turquoise nugget and sterling silver bracelet by Diane of DianesDangles

5.  Imitation Turquoise - Except for the color, there is no turquoise whatsoever in this category.  Some porous stones, such as howlite and magnesite, are dyed to look like turquoise.  These stones have their place, but should be labeled as to what they are and never be passed off as genuine turquoise.  Even worse is pure plastic epoxy resin, sometimes called "block turquoise", that has been dyed to look like turquoise.  Unfortunately, these imitation "turquoises" can be set in sterling and passed off as the genuine item. 

Turquoise magnesite, gemstone and leather necklace by Nancy of EponasJewels

So what can a turquoise buyer to do to not get ripped off?  Trust is  important.  If you want to obtain quality turquoise, you must go to knowledgeable, reputable dealers and expect the price to be in direct proportion to the quality.  It requires a great amount of training and experience to discern between natural and treated turquoise and even experts can sometimes be fooled.  Many reputable turquoise jewelry dealers sell enhanced or reconstituted stone as well as natural - but they will TELL you if there has been any enhancement to the stones.  Be sure that the seller guarantees that the turquoise is what he/she says it is, not just verbally, but in writing.  Include a signature on the sales document with the name of the store on it.  If the cost of a piece of turquoise seems too good to be true, it is - and is probably NOT real turquoise!  

Here are a few other turquoise creations from the studios of ArtFire artists:

Abstract Kingman turquoise and sterling silver pendant by Chris of GildedOwlJewelry

Stabilized turquoise nuggets on copper link bracelet by Anna of CraftsofthePast

Spiderweb turquoise inlay and sterling silver ring by Mark of HilemanSilverJewelry

Nevada turquoise, tiger's eye and sterling silver necklace by Catherine of ShadowDogDesigns

I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about turquoise, what to watch out for and questions to ask when buying turquoise.  Above all remember that you must find a dealer you can trust.  And that good quality turquoise does not come cheap.

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Reader's Comments

By Guest on 03/25/2017 @ 02:51am

Thanks for the insight. I learned a lot

By Guest on 11/26/2016 @ 12:54pm

I loved learning about turquoise. I recently became interested in crystal healing and I have been purchasing various stones for this purpose, not to mention that I have always found stones to be beautiful. I only have two pieces of jewelry with blue/green stones, both from Mexico that I purchased in the 80s. The ring, I believe is crysocholla and a necklace with a largish square stone that I bought as a turquoise, but which your article has made me wonder about. Thank you for this wonderful, informative blog. I to any more articles that you put out.

By Guest on 11/08/2016 @ 08:03am

There are a couple other 'fake' turquoise that you didn't mention. One is is the mineral chrysocolla. The only way I knew how to tell chrysocolla from turquoise was to touch an unpolished, unwaxed, natural piece with my tongue. Chrysocolla will stick to your tongue. Turquoise does not. The most common fake turquoise found today is dyed howlite and magnesite. Both of these are white in their natural states. Howlite also has natural, and very convincing, dark veining similar to real turquoise.

By Guest on 03/21/2016 @ 08:07am

Beautifully designed pieces by all the artists involved here as well! I wish to one day create expression using tears of the sky in similar fashion. Nevada Turquoise rules!

By Guest on 03/21/2016 @ 08:04am

I have had Turquoise fever for many years now and my viewpoint is, speaking only of turquoise and variscite, that unless u trust the person u acquire it from, 100% without doubt AND either you, that person (s), or both of you know exactly where and when it was mined, with or without credible documentation, rough or cut, the only way someone can know natural from the other 4 market products is if you go get it out of the ground yourself. I've bought little bits of turq here and there over the years oblivious...then I moved to Vegas in 2001. Ive collected minerals since and gradually developed more want for the stone after drooling over it in Native American stores and after two years of hiking and searching in the desert outside of town and finding nothing, I hit the internet and searched everything on its geology, including its matrix, and finally started finding my own and have a collection of a few pounds of untreated natural Nevada turquoise and a couple pieces from elsewhere that I've since traded some of mine for (all but one had papers not just to ID the person or company I did business with, but to state its condition as natural and its geographic origin. I still suspected they were stabilized so I chipped tiny fragments off and hit them with a torch and they were all untreated (stabilization of any kind will be what burns, stinking and turn the stone black or brown. Untreated will crackle like popcorn and the H2O will evaporate from in the stone and push out making tiny fragments fly off in all directions and the stone will not miscolor.). I got lucky. I see 99 out of every 100 pieces I see for sale is stab/fake in some way. I have polished most of it in freeform next is starting to design settings for them. Nice informative page. Everyone that does not luckily live where it occurs need to be careful out there buying it from others. A critical error many make is they think the word 'genuine' means its real and untreated. It can be real, but it will be treated in some way. A genuine diamond will ALWAYS be lab grown. Genuine means natural OR synthetic because it is genuine since the atom structure is identical, but it doesn't have to come from the earth anymore to be a real diamond since man can now synthesize it. Only look for the word 'natural', and go from there.

By Guest on 01/26/2016 @ 04:51am

The problem becomes multiplied when both "knowledgeable" and "reputable" can be value judgements, difficult to assess and implicitly trust. A high price asked in a tony establishment by a well-spoken salesperson is no guarantee of anything except the high price. If "experts"can be fooled, then where do you turn for assurance? Where's there's a market, the cheaters, fakes and counterfeiters will eventually appear. The bigger the market, the bigger the frauds.

By Guest on 09/12/2015 @ 06:48am

thank you for this great article!

By Guest on 04/29/2015 @ 05:13pm

Nice page to read, we like to know others are educating others about natural and stabilized/faux turquoise. There are sellers out there that dont bother telling their customers that the turquoise they are buying is not natural. Clint & Louisa with the Burtis Blue Turquoise

By Guest on 07/28/2014 @ 02:07am

Thank you so much for the information on turquoise. I have bought several pieces of jewelry advertised as sleeping beauty but are made in Thialand or just shows imported. There is no romance card of authenticity. I have questioned the seller and have been assured this is sleeping beauty but I have my doubts. I will certainly be more careful of my purchases from now on. How can I really be sure of buying sleeping beauty?

By bluemorningexpressions on 05/22/2013 @ 05:50pm

Great information on turquoise. I knew there were different types, but never looked into it much since I normally do not work with gemstones. I do use my clay to simulate different types of gemstones with a faux approach. I have faux turquoise sitting on my workbench now. I do this because it is a challenge to mimic stone and it offers me a versatile way to make stones that will match my design, rather than match my design to a stone. I love this post and thank you again, Julie and Blu

By ShadowDogDesigns on 05/19/2013 @ 12:44am

Thanks to all for the kind comments! I'm glad the blog was helpful to so many of you! Peace and joy . . . Catherine

By adorebynat on 05/18/2013 @ 01:19am

I love Turquoise color. It's one of my most favorite colors and wow, it amazes me how much I learn about many different turquoise gemstones...the real ones (or not) from your article. Thanks for sharing.

By Uniquelyhandmade on 05/17/2013 @ 12:08am

Catherine thank you for laying out the types of turquoise. It was a mystery to me why I had seen such a fluctuation in prices of things being displayed as turquoise. Whether or not they did specify I wasn't aware but now will be the wiser.

By Laurascrafts on 05/16/2013 @ 03:13pm

That was such an interesting article. I had no ideas of the complexity of types of turquoise and really enjoyed learning about this stone.

By luvncrafts on 05/16/2013 @ 12:01pm

Beautiful turquoise! I love that ring!

By JewelryArtByDawn on 05/16/2013 @ 04:52am

Wonderfully informative article, Catherine! I learned a lot reading this post. In the future, if I'm not certain what the material is or have doubts, will describe it as turquoise colored or something along those lines. Thank you for educating us about this beautiful stone. It's good for all of us to be as truthful as we can what we use in our jewelry designs.

By eponasjewels on 05/15/2013 @ 02:07pm

Very informative article! Thanks for including me!

By SolanaKaiDesigns on 05/15/2013 @ 07:30am

Thank you for teaching me the ins and outs of turquoise. So interesting!

By KatsAllThat on 05/15/2013 @ 01:32am

Love this Catherine...I know how much you love turquoise. I have used chalk turquoise quite a bit as I cannot even begin to afford the good stuff anymore. Your use of turquoise is always a delight. Great blog post.

By CardsbyLiBe on 05/14/2013 @ 11:33pm

Fantastic amount of information about Turquoise - who knew?? Well done Catherine, a very interesting read. Lisa :)

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