Photo of natural turquoise pieces courtesy of @arrowsandstone on Instagram.
We here at Blue Door Beads are unfortunately neither gemologists nor lapidaries, but after many years of being rock hounds (and 3+ years running a bead store!) we’ve learned a thing or two about gemstones and beads made of other precious, natural materials and how to tell which ones are the real deal.
Writing about every bead and/or gemstone in the world would take forever, so we decided to dedicate our next few blog posts to the top beads we carry whose authenticity is most frequently questioned: turquoise, amber, coral, and ivory.
Through numerous experiences, both good and bad, we have found that there are certain attributes to look for in a bead if you want to know if the vendor you’re buying from is trying to pull a fast one on you. Specific factors make certain beads highly desirable, including their rarity and how un-modified they are; the less they’ve been messed with, the better. Of course, the worst-case scenario is that the bead has been completely mislabeled — nobody wants to pay top dollar for a faux stone! So, without further ado, here are some crucial facts to squirrel away for future reference about one stone in particular:
This large cabochon from the Kingman mine is worth over $200. (Photo courtesy of Durango Silver Company.)
There are many, MANY different turquoise mines throughout the world, several of which closed decades ago, making certain turquoise specimens very rare and extremely sought-after. (Source 1) Kingman turquoise, for example, is a type that is only found in the Kingman mine of northwestern Arizona. Kingman turquoise’s bright blue color with fine, black matrix is highly coveted by collectors. Another example of “exclusive” turquoise is Sleeping Beauty, a type only found in The Sleeping Beauty mine near Globe, Arizona. This type of turquoise is noted for its solid, light blue color with little or no matrix. The heyday of both the Kingman mine and Sleeping Beauty mine was in the 1960’s, and within a decade, the turquoise in the mines had been depleted, forcing them to close in the 1970’s.
This fairly small natural Sleeping Beauty turquoise cabochon is worth over $50 because of it’s highly desirable light blue color with very few imperfections. Photo courtesy of ChamisaGems on Etsy.
Both Kingman and Sleeping Beauty specimens are examples of some of the most expensive in the jewelry industry, and tiny-to-small pieces are the only types that haven’t been stabilized. The term “stabilizing” refers to a process which “involves impregnating the material with a clear epoxy resin, which effectively is absorbed by the turquoise and fills the pores in the chalky material, much like silica does, thus hardening the stone.” (Source 2) Overall in the world of gemstones, you would be hard pressed to find a piece of any turquoise that has not been stabilized since it “has been estimated that less than 3% of the world’s supply of turquoise can be used in its purely natural state for jewelry, as most is soft and crumbly.” (Source 2)
Purists search high and low for natural turquoise, and although it would be wonderful to find non-stabilized turquoise, the culprit to really look out for is reconstituted turquoise. This is a process that involves “grinding pieces of turquoise to a powder and binding it all together with glue or resin.” (Source 2) Though technically made from turquoise particles, we consider it stretching the truth a little too much to call this type of turquoise “natural.”
Magnesite is frequently dyed to imitate many different types of turquoise. One giveaway that it’s not the real deal: magnesite is MUCH less expensive than real turquoise. Photo courtesy of Rings & Things.
However, there are other stones that exist that are 100% synthetic turquoise, but are sometimes sold as the real deal: howlite and magnesite. Although they are real stones, they don’t have a single molecule of genuine turquoise in them. Both respond really well to dye, and both have interesting crevices and matrix patterns (magnesite more so than howlite), so they can make excellent imitations. We don’t feel there is anything wrong with imitation turquoise, as long as both the vendor and the consumer know that it’s imitation. The only way to truly find out if the stone you have is genuine or imitation is to crack one open: if it is super veiny on the outside, and white with a chalky consistency on the inside, chances are it’s dyed magnesite. If it’s less veiny on the outside, and white — but with a denser consistency — on the inside, the stone is probably dyed howlite. Like the folks at Rings & Things say, vendors “make mistakes, but when we discover we’ve used the wrong description or name we quickly change to the correct one and admit our error.” (Source 3) Certain beads may sometimes slip through the cracks, but 9 times out of 10, we’re confident we’re identifying our turquoise — or our non-turquoise — correctly.
Check out more tips & tricks in identifying beads of different materials:
Part 2 – Amber
Part 3 – Bone
Part 4 – Coral
Source 1: AG Designs
Source 2: Blue Turtles Turquoise Facts
Source 3: Rings & Things Blog (includes tons of even more helpful tips)
Other helpful source: Durango Silver Company (includes a list of different grades of turquoise)