Turquoise - A stone worthy of Great Civilisations

Written by Evdokia Samara

Greece, where I come from, is the country of blue colours! The blue sky, the blue sea and its even tradition to give newborn babies a small blue turquoise bead. Why? To protect us of course.  

For centuries the Greek civilization believed that the bearer of turquoise is protected by the evil eye! Even in today’s rational and modern society this belief is deeply rooted in our culture, and the proof lies in my jewellery box and in the countless pieces of  jewellery I received as a baby from family and friends, all featuring beautiful  turquoise stones. 

(Ioanna Bracelet - SALOME) 

However, the Greeks were not the firsts to believe in this unique stone’s protective and healing properties. So, let us take a trip down memory lane and discover together the great civilisations that used, adored, and even immortalised the beautiful semi-precious stone we call turquoise.  

Its name comes from the 17th century French expression pierre turquoise or Turkist stone, which gives a clue to the origins of the stone. Although the  Greeks also adopted their turquoise beliefs from the Turkish culture the truth is, originally the stone came to Europe from a place further in the East, Persia.  

 It was one of the first gemstones to be used in jewellery, embroidered on clothes and turbans, or placed on military weapons and generally coveted by cultures. In truth, wherever turquoise could be featured... it was!

The word for turquoise in Persian is pērōzah, meaning victory and for centuries it was their national stone. Even the roofs of Persian mosques and palaces were adorned by the stone’s serene existence to symbolise the human world’s connection to the divine, to Heaven itself.

 (Sheikh-Lotf-Allah mosque - Iran)  

(Small turquoise heart-shaped inlay - Afghanistan British Museum) 

The other great civilisations, which immortalised the symbolism and use of the stone, is the one most people are familiar with - Ancient Egypt. Every archaeological museum you've probably ever walked into across the world is bound to have a turquoise carved hippo, cat or other decorative item from Egyptian times!

 (Turquoise pendant in the form of a cat - The British Museum)  

Egyptians traded turquoise from Persians and fashioned it into religious and decorative objects, jewellery and amulets set with gold most of the time. The most well-known Egyptian artifact to be set with the stone is no other than Tutankhamun's iconic burial mask. Just imagine what it means for the importance of a stone to be used for the most precious object a famous Pharaoh, like Tutankhamun, would take with him to the afterlife.

(Funerary mask of Tutankhamun - Egyptian Museum – Cairo)

If you are familiar with the  Ancient Egyptians then you probably know that the scarab (beetle) was their sacred insect. Many times, after a victory or a hunt the Pharaoh would commission the creation of a commemorative scarab which most of the time was fashioned on a cabochon turquoise stone. They deeply believed that the greenish and blue shades of the stone were symbols of dynamism and life renewal and also a bringer of joy and delight. However, I should let you know that not all blue objects you will see in an Egyptian collection are made of turquoise. The reality is most of them are not. Turquoise was very rare and truly expensive and for that reason ancient Egyptians used regularly faience, a blue tinted ceramic to create precious objects. Nevertheless this fact only attests to how important even the idea of turquoise was for them. 

 (Egyptian Gold and Turquoise Jewellery – Cleveland Museum of Art)

(Egyptian Fish amulet - The British Museum) 

In the New World, aka America, turquoise was widely used by the Native Americans as a talisman, believed to be a holy stone that protected people’s health. They believed if the stone changed colour, the wearer was approaching a time of misfortune and sickness. Civilisations like the Aztecs of central Mexico and the Moche in northern Peru set the stone on masks, shields, knives, and jewellery which were used during religious ceremonies and rituals.

(Turquoise mosaic mask of Xiuhtecuhtli, the god of fire - Aztec or Mixtec - British Museum)

(Ear Ornament, Winged Runner – Moche – The MET)

 Later, indigenous Native American tribes like the Navajo and Apache people valued turquoise believing it to be a sign of good fortune and spiritual healing. Thus, they used it like so many before them in jewellery and as a  talismans.  The Navajo, just like Greeks, give their babies a turquoise bead when they are born to protect them. It is simply amazing to think that the same custom can be found in more than one place, one so far away from the other.

(Silver and turquoise bracelet - Navajo - The British Museum)

This striking blue-green, semi-precious gemstone has been at people's hearts for centuries of civilisations. In the 21st century turquoise is also the traditional birthstone for those born in the month of December. I really believe whoever created the first list of birthstones gave December such a beautiful and warm-coloured stone to help its December born wearer keep always with him a small reminder of summer and the infinite blue sea and skies.  

However, those born in December should not be the only lucky ones that get to adorn their ears, neck, or hands with turquoise jewellery. Everyone today has the chance to acquire one and they should! Cause if you take my grandmother’s words into account (I personally always do) “Never go out without your blue turquoise bead, as the evil eye is worse than sickness!” and who are we to dispute years and years of wisdom and culture?  

So next time you go out, don’t forget to wear your beautiful, turquoise jewellery as they do more than just compliment you. We have many beautiful turquoise designs to choose from, take a little look and find that little piece of the heavens that speaks to you!  

Evdokia Samara, content creator SALOME