The Real Deal: How to Tell If Your Gemstones are Genuine – Part 1 – Turquoise

Photo courtesy of @arrowsandstone on Instagram.

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 Kingman mine cabochon from Durango Silver is worth over $200.

This large cabochon from the Kingman mine is worth over $200. (Photo courtesy of Durango Silver Company.)

Turquoise

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 Sleeping Beauty turquoise cabochon is still worth over $50 because of it's highly desirable light blue color with very few imperfections. Photo courtesy of ChamisaGems on Etsy.

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. The giveaway that it's not the real deal: magnesite is MUCH less expensive than real turquoise. Photo courtesy of Rings & Things.

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)

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What Makes A Gemstone Valuable?

There’s no denying that gemstones are an incredibly beautiful part of nature. Over the past few millenia, humankind has figured out how to best showcase gemstones and harness their beauty, making them incredibly desirable. Chances are, most jewelry-lovers have a favorite gemstone or two, but there are some gems that are more highly coveted than others worldwide. That got us thinking: what makes a gemstone valuable?

The most stunning star sapphires are found in Australia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Photo courtesy of jewelryexpert.com

The most stunning star sapphires, like the lavendar one pictured above, are found in Australia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Photo courtesy of jewelryexpert.com

There are several factors that contribute to a gemstone’s value — some that fall under common sense, and others we had not been aware of until we started doing some research. One element is where in the ground a gemstone can be found. The three layers of rock in which gemstones can be found are igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rock. You can find out more about which gems are found in which types of rocks here, but in general, a gemstone’s value can increase depending on how rare the stone is overall combined with how difficult it is to mine. If particularly lovely gemstones are located deep underground, such as rubies or sapphires, chances are they will be considered more valuable than lovely gemstones that can be mined closer to the surface, such as amethyst or citrine.

However, this isn’t always true; a large, incredibly clear, brilliant purple amethyst is worth much more than a tiny chunk of flaw-filled ruby. It may be easier to access the amethyst, but its clarity & color are far superior to the ruby that takes much more work to dig out. If the ruby cannot be cut and polished in a way that will increase its value, then all of the work it took to access the ruby will be for nothing.

A beautiful example of a clear, colorful, natural ametrine stone. Photo courtesy of gemselect.com

A beautiful example of a clear, colorful, natural ametrine stone. Photo courtesy of gemselect.com

Another factor than can add to a gemstone’s desirability is its rarity. For example, the gemstone ametrine is a combination of amethyst and citrine gemstones. Ametrine only occurs when the perfect amount of heat and pressure are applied to the stones, and their mineral make-up is then altered, creating a stunning blend of purple and gold. This reaction can be recreated in a lab with no problem, but finding a clear, colorful specimen of amertine “in the wild,” so to speak, is much more difficult, making a clear piece of ametrine much more valuable than its equally-flawless amethyst & citrine cousins.

As with many other items in this world (such as items on eBay listed as “limited edition”), some of the most desirable gemstones earn their value due to the fact that, “no matter how rapidly demand for the stones may develop, the rate at which gemstones are produced is comparatively limited or fixed.” (WikiAnswers) Gemstone mines are also vulnerable to drastic weather changes, as well as ever-changing local politics, so a stone that may be easy to access now may be completely unavailable in a decade. Although the gemstone may not be considered “rare” today, its status could change very soon.

No other turquoise in the world has the same vibrancy as  Sleeping Beauty. Photo courtesy of garlandsjewelry.com

No other turquoise in the world has the same vibrancy as Sleeping Beauty. Photo courtesy of garlandsjewelry.com

A prime example of this type of gem is Sleeping Beauty turquoise. The stone gets its name from the mountain where it is mined, which “resembles a sleeping woman laying on her back with arms crossed.” (SleepingBeautyTurquoiseInfo)

Sleeping Beauty Turquoise is a particularly vibrant, pure blue color with very little veining or webbing. It is also one of the more stable forms of turquoise around, which means very little needs to be done to the stone to make it stable enough for shaping and polishing. It can only be found at the Sleeping Beauty Mine in Globe, Arizona, and once all of the turquoise has been mined from that location, that’s it. So if you are a lover of Sleeping Beauty Turquoise, buy some now  — while you still can!

In closing, we wanted to highlight some of the most impressive gemstones in the world. Enjoy!

The Hope Diamond, worth an estimated $250 million. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute.

The Hope Diamond, worth an estimated $250 million. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute.

 

The Dresden Green Diamond is 41carats and is the largest naturally-green-colored diamond in the world. Image by © Michael Freeman/CORBIS

The Dresden Green Diamond (seen here with over 400 small and medium white diamonds) is 41 carats and is the largest naturally-green-colored diamond in the world. Image by © Michael Freeman/CORBIS

The Imperial State Crown from The Crown Jewels Collection. The full collection has an estimated worth of over 2.5 billion euros, or 3.4 billion U.S. dollars.

The Imperial State Crown from The Crown Jewels Collection. The full collection has an estimated worth of over 2.5 billion euros, or 3.4 billion U.S. dollars. Photo courtesy of The Royal Collection Trust.