Turquoise is symbolic of sky, water, life, prosperity. It is a fascinating stone and story.
Recently I discovered a YouTube series on Turquoise based on the display “Turquoise, Water, Sky : The Stone and its Meaning” running at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in New Mexico from April, 2014-May, 2016.
The nine videos are extremely interesting and informative. If you love the stone, its color, and symbolism, then you will enjoy this series with Maxine McBrinn, Curator of Archaeology at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. She shares a range of interesting things about turquoise and the videos are worth watching at least twice.
The stone is formed in a rather paradoxical way. We think of “mining” for a stone as “digging deep”. Turquoise is not found deep in the earth but rather higher in the ground and only where channels of water could have once flowed. For the paradox: turquoise symbolizes water, but it is only formed when there is no water. Water moves through cracks and crevices in rock and carries the copper, zinc and other minerals to settle in the crevice. The turquoise forms when the water is gone.
In the movie “Turquoise: Real or Fake” I am fascinated by two pendant stones Brinn shows. One is real and the other is a piece of wood that has been painted with what she called “malachite paint.” I cannot find “malachite paint” online. You would think you could buy everything online, right? That someone created the stone with paint so convincingly close to turquoise is fascinating. I’m puzzled though, because not once in this particular movie does Brinn mention howlite or magnesite — white stones often dyed a turquoise color and then frequently confused for turquoise.
Brinn tells a range of stories about the history of turquoise. I loved the story about how turquoise was so named — a story she tells early in the first video “Turquoise: The Stone.”
There is a particular necklace that is Brinn’s favorite. The turquoise necklace is made in the heishi style — the holes are drilled, the stones are strung and then ground to shape to give a fluid look to the necklace. Brinn points out the the darker beads in the necklace and I must admit I really like her interpretation.
She said some might look at the necklace and say, “… it’s a piece that has been damaged by wear.” For me, Brinn’s interpretation of this necklace makes it a riveting story-piece of history. She says,
This is one of my favorite pieces. And it’s one of my favorite pieces because it’s a living piece. It’s a piece that had a life and continues to have a life. And we see that in the fact that the stone changed color because it was worn and loved so much.
To me, it looks like a small area of the necklace is worn. It is a young neck that wore the necklace. Already a story begins to unfold. A young woman, given the necklace by her lover …
Brinn will tell you that turquoise is a light and soft stone. But we do have to think about that. Any time we handle turquoise jewelry it has been heavy — or rather the silver is heavy and gives the stone its weight. As I have held different types of turquoise and worked with them in my jewelry and flutes, I continue to be amazed by this light, soft stone.
You will hear the word “jet” used often — starting with the video on “Turquoise and its Companions”. Brinn says jet is a form of coal. I assume this is the same as what fossilized driftwood is sometimes called, “black amber” (although it is not amber). She holds a chunk of jet and says the tree rings in the end of the fossilized limb are visible. How interesting. She declares it to be of jewelry hardness although small black crumbs fall off while she turns it in her hands.
In one of the movies, Brinn shows a piece of jewelry that has a black base. By now, you’ve learned that when you see black in the jewelry, you’ve learned it’s “jet”. But she tells us it is black plastic from a battery. Really, car battery plastic? Furthermore, the pieces of red embedded in the fake jet are not coral (turquoise is often worked with jet and coral) but plastic. She speculates they might be pieces of a plastic red toothbrush. If you were to look at the piece, you’d be fooled. But a crucial thing to know about this piece of elaborate-looking jewelry: it was made during the Depression.
If you have any turquoise jewelry or a flute with turquoise, you will find this series of videos most interesting. The list of videos can be found by clicking on the list icon in the top left corner of the video embedded below. If you just start playing, they’ll continue in order.