A Complete Guide to Turquoise

The always-popular turquoise stone is enjoying a huge revival in designer jewelry and current fashion. Learn what turquoise is, types of turquoise gems, typical gemological enhancements and buying tips for this popular blue-green gemstone.

What IS Turquoise?

Natural turquoise is a hydrous aggregate of copper and aluminum. Turquoise gets its color from the amount of either copper or iron present. Vivid blue turquoise is a result of high copper content and the softer green tones result from iron. Turquoise stones have varying degrees of matrix. True turquoise has an opaque, waxy luster that may or may not include matrix, depending on the type. Turquoise gems can be found across the world, including the United States, Mexico, Iran, northern Chile and China, though many turquoise mines have closed.

What is Turquoise Matrix?

Matrix is the vein-like inclusions that run through turquoise. Turquoise matrix is basically some of the host stone that housed the turquoise as it formed. Turquoise gemstone forms as a result of water (containing certain minerals and aluminum) leaking through a rock, then being subjected to heat and pressure. The turquoise stone forms as clumps or nuggets in cracks of porous rock, sometimes alongside other gemstones such as chrysocolla. As far as matrix value, that is up to personal preference. A lot of the Southwest states in America and the Far East consider matrix to be beautiful. Other regions view the matrix as an imperfection and it therefore decreases the turquoise value.

  • Black matrix = Result of iron pyrite (iron sulfide). This is typically the most favored matrix color.
  • Yellow matrix = Result of rhyolite.
  • Brown matrix = Result of one (or more) or 16 different types of iron oxide.

Turquoise Treatments

There are many different enhancements applied to turquoise stones and each treatment should be clearly identified by the seller through the standardized enhancement codes of the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA).

When selling turquoise, Fire Mountain Gems and Beads uses these standard enhancement codes:

  • (D) or (dyed) to indicate when turquoise has been dyed
  • (S) or (stabilized) to note if the turquoise has been stabilized
  • (N) or (natural) to denote a gemstone that has not been dyed, stabilized or had other enhancements applied

There is also reconstituted turquoise. Reconstituted turquoise is made from ground-up turquoise such as pieces that are lost during the cutting process. There is usually very little natural stone in reconstituted turquoise, instead containing mostly resin and dyes. This is often called "block" turquoise and is considerably cheaper than other turquoise stones.

What is Stabilized Turquoise?

Most turquoise sold for use in jewelry-making is stabilized. There are three main stabilization treatments currently applied to turquoise stones:

  • Paraffin polish
  • Polyresin polish
  • Impregnation of a colorless bonding agent--commonly plastic--for basic stabilization. This stabilization increases the durability, hardness, chemical resistance and uniform appearance of the turquoise. Stabilization frequently darkens the color and gives the stone a glossy appearance--a handy way to identify basic stabilized turquoise.

A fourth stabilized turquoise method, reserved for high-grade varieties of turquoise, is called the Zachery process, which does not use artificial additives such as plastic or dyes and can only be detected at the molecular level. The time-consuming treatment results in a more dense stone that takes a better polish and is resistant to discoloration over time.

Types of Turquoise

Sleeping Beauty turquoise

Sleeping Beauty Turquoise

Sleeping Beauty turquoise, from the Sleeping Beauty mines in Arizona, is the most prized in the world and often exhibits a vivid blue color commonly known as a "Persian color." Many Sleeping Beauty stones are treated with the trademarked Zachery process.

Stabilized Turquoise

Stabilized Turquoise

Stabilized turquoise is widely available and a popular choice for use in jewelry designs. The stone is chemically treated by adding an epoxy resin for increased hardness and enhanced color. With a permanent color and nice matrix, stabilized turquoise is a beautiful value.

Chalk turquoise

Chalk Turquoise

A lot of people ask us, "What is chalk turquoise?" Usually from China, porous white turquoise that is stabilized and dyed is often referred to as chalk turquoise. It is typically dyed lively shades of blue, apple green, lime green and fuchsia pink. This form of natural turquoise has a white chalk-like consistency and has the same chemical composition as turquoise with one exception: it does not contain copper--the element that causes the blue color of naturally occurring blue turquoise. Chalk turquoise beads are popular for jewelry because of their hardness and bright colors. Most of the time, chalk turquoise will have a matrix pattern, often resembling subtle crackles.

African "Turquoise"

African "Turquoise"

At Fire Mountain Gems and Beads, if a stone resembles turquoise in appearance, but is not true turquoise, it will appear in quotation marks ("turquoise"). Great examples of this are the varieties of dyed jasper, known in the industry as African ''turquoise'', that have an exotic blend of green base colors and dark matrix, making it an affordable turquoise substitute in jewelry.

Yellow "Turquoise"
Yellow "Turquoise"

Yellow "Turquoise"

Yellow ''turquoise'' has a subtle blend of gold, green, brown and black colors of quartz and jasper gemstones that many times will come from the same mines as turquoise. Yellow "turquoise" is wonderful for earthy and fall-themed jewelry.

White "Turquoise"

White "Turquoise"

What is commonly sold and known as white ''turquoise'' is actually a white magnesite. This creamy, white stone has either a brown or black matrix that resembles the patterns found in dry creek beds or crackled antique pottery. It can also be dyed dark shades of turquoise blue and green with stained deep black or brown matrix patterns, and sold as Tibetan "turquoise." This material can also be seen dyed orange, red and other colors.

Howlite dyed blue

Howlite and Mountain "Jade"

Affordable turquoise substitutes can also include matrix-free howlite, dyed a stunning turquoise-blue, and bright blue-colored, matrix-free mountain ''jade''. Howlite is found in continental evaporite deposits and other borate minerals in the form of nodules that resemble cauliflower. The color of turquoise-blue dyed howlite is not permanent, so application of an artists' fixative is recommended. Turquoise-blue mountain "jade" is actually a high-grade dolomite marble mined in Asia and dyed a wide variety of hues. Both of these stones are an economical way to incorporate the look of turquoise into jewelry.

Imperial Crown Turquoise - Stuart's Stash

Spare stones

Stuart started cutting turquoise in the 1970s and, over the years, he has bought top-quality Chinese turquoise rough stones and stored them in our warehouse for "later." His idea was, in his "spare time," he would have fun and turn the rough into beautiful cabochons and beads. Well… after working and traveling for his company for over 40 years, he came to the conclusion he would never have "spare time."

Raiders of the "Lost" Stash

So, we decided to raid Stuart's stash and to put those stones to good use: we have incredibly good cutters in India, so our idea was to send them a sample of the turquoise rough to test its cutability. Well, we were impressed, and now we're offering to you the top-quality results of cutting Stuart's turquoise.

Imperial treasure

Imperial Crown turquoise is top-quality turquoise: no stabilization with resin, no color enhancements, nothing but expert faceting by master stone cutters. The natural beauty of the stones determine the sizes and shapes of the beads or cabochons only allowing for limited numbers or one-of-a-kind finished products.

Turquoise Buying Tips

It is important to establish good relationships with your turquoise vendors and research the seller to ensure they are reputable. If you don’t know the seller, it is always a good idea to ask about factors that affect turquoise value:

  • If the stone is true turquoise or an imitation
  • What enhancements were used
  • Which mine or area the stone came from

Check for uniform color (no streaking), and opaqueness with low shine when buying turquoise stones. The best way to tell if turquoise is real is to show the bead strands to someone familiar with turquoise grades and enhancements before you buy--like how we use our in-house gemologists to inspect product. Unfortunately, unethical bead vendors may include glass, resin and plastic beads with their turquoise strands to fool trusting customers.

Once you find a trusted seller, the fun part happens--enjoy creating your own turquoise jewelry!

Have a question regarding this project? Email Customer Service.