Know Your Gemstones: Moonstone & Turquoise
Coveted for their beauty and lore, gemstones have been integral to the decorative arts since ancient times. We’re digging into the history of these decorative stones and minerals in this blog series.
The Celestial Moonstone
Owing its name to its similarity (in appearance) to the moon, moonstone is a semiprecious gemstone that has been coveted since ancient times. According to Hindu and Roman legends, the stone was formed by moonbeams that fell to earth. Today, moonstone is the alternate June birthstone and traditionally given as a gift to celebrate the 13th marriage anniversary.
While moonstone does not have actual celestial origins, it is a type of orthoclase feldspar (a potassium aluminum silicate). Its famous creamy blue/white surface reflections are known as “adularescence” by gemolgists. The more of this shimmer exhibited by the stone, the more valuable it is.
“Moonstone is almost always cut en cabochon to maximize the desirable effects of adularescence.” Cut with a high dome, light will brilliantly reflect on the stone creating maximum shimmer and pearly luster.
The finest moonstone is mined in Sri Lanka and India. “Sri Lankan moonstone is most famous for its attractive blue colored material, but blue moonstone is becoming increasingly rare. India is known for producing fine ‘rainbow moonstone’.” Even rarer than blue moonstone are peach, black, red, champagne-colored, and smokey variations of the gemstone. Perhaps most valuable is transparent moonstone.
Moonstone has been worn for centuries, dating to ancient Greece and Rome who associated the stone with their lunar gods. In India, moonstone was so sacred that it could only be displayed on yellow cloth by merchants (yellow was a sacred color). Arabian women kept the stone as tokens of fertility.
In the late 19th-early 20th century, moonstone saw a peak in popularity. A staple in Art Nouveau decorative arts, moonstone was used liberally by jewelers such as Lalique and Tiffany.
While it remains a popular stone for jewelry, moonstone is a relatively soft gemstone. It rates 6-6.5 on the Mohs scale and is easily scratched. Proper care and cleaning with mild soap and a soft cloth will keep moonstone in pristine condition for a long time. Be aware, though, that since dust often contains quartz, “simply wiping dust off your moonstone can eventually result in surface scratches and reduced polished.”
The Ancient Turquoise
One of the first gemstones ever mined, turquoise has a long and storied history as one of the world’s most ancient gems.
“Archaeological excavations revealed that the rulers of ancient Egypt adorned themselves with turquoise jewelry, and Chinese artisans were carving it more than 3,000 years ago. Turquoise is the national gem of Tibet, and has long been considered a stone that guarantees health, good fortune, and protection from evil.”
Early Persians believed that turquoise (because of its brilliant color) reflected the heavens and thus covered the domes of palaces and places of worship with the gemstones. In the southwestern United States, turquoise was coveted and celebrated by Native American tribes who used the stone in their amulets and jewelry. The Apaches, in particular, believed that turquoise could improve a hunter or warrior’s accuracy.
The name, “turquoise” derives from the French term “pierre tourques,” or “Turkish stone.” The name most likely refers to the fact that turquoise was imported into Europe by way of Turkey.
Turquoise is formed “…by a chemical reaction which occurs when water containing specific minerals such as copper and aluminum leak through a rock. It forms in veins, which later then turn into a clump of turquoise.” It is the copper which gives the stone its unique sky-blue color.
One way to determine whether turquoise is natural or lab-made is the presence of brown/black veins in the stone; laboratory-made stones will have an even color throughout and no veins.
Whether natural or lab-made, turquoise is a soft stone, rating 5-6 on the Mohs scale. This softness makes the stone easy to carve and shape (it’s commonly used for beads, carvings, inlays, and cabochons), but leaves it susceptible to nicks and scratches. Turquoise should be cleaned with warm water and mild soap and dried immediately. US turquoise tends to be especially porous and should be filled with resin or wax to best protect the stone.
Main image: Leaf-Shaped Box. 17th–19th century. Top decoration: Newari; box: Tibet, Lhasa area. Gold, aquamarine, diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphire, pearl, lapis lazuli, and turquoise. Via MetMuseum.org.
Moonstone Gemstone Information – https://www.gemselect.com/gem-info/moonstone/moonstone-info.php|
Moonstone Symbolism – https://www.gemsociety.org/article/history-legend-moonstone-gems-yore/
Moonstone Meaning, Powers, and History – https://www.jewelsforme.com/gem_and_jewelry_library/moonstone
Turquoise History and Lore – https://www.gia.edu/turquoise-history-lore
Turquoise Symbolism – https://www.gemsociety.org/article/history-legend-turquoise-gems-yore/
Turquoise History – http://www.historyofturquoise.com/
Facts About Turquoise – http://www.historyofturquoise.com/facts-about-turquoise/
Turquoise Meaning, Powers, and History – https://www.jewelsforme.com/gem_and_jewelry_library/turquoise
Tags: Ancient History, Birthstone, February 2018, Gemstones, History, History of Jewelry, Jewelry, Jewelry Care, Jewelry Cleaning, moonstone, turquoise
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