In the land of great kings, long before Islam, people worshipped fire, a symbol of their God.
Zarathustra guided them, preaching duality between good and evil, symbolized by the meeting in the twilight of the moon and sun. According to legend, the glowing rays of the sunlight called tears of the sun melt into the calm waters of a lake and turn into a blue gemstone tender and heavenly. Thus were born the most beautiful turquoise in the world, and their birthplace was Persia.
Persian turquoise jewelry. Images via Alaligems.com
China, the United States, and other countries produce turquoise, but the most valuable and most beautiful ones come from these mines in Iran. Its name comes from the French meaning “Turkish stone” because turquoise arrived in Europe from Turkey. But in reality, it was mined in Persia. In Iran, it is called Firuze ( Feroza Stone). It is also the name that was given to the nearest village and the mountain that produces these exceptional stones.
Turquoise as a Mineral and Gemstone
Turquoise is located at a shallow depth. Upon entering the mine, the blue veins appear on the walls. Water from bad weather seeps in these fractured terrains, and on its journey, it dissolves the copper layers it penetrates. In the depths, it warms on contact with hot magma. Later it goes back through the volcanic rocks, enriched in aluminum and phosphorus. The connections between copper, aluminum, and phosphorus allow the formation of the turquoise deposits in the adjacent fractures. This process is very slow and may take several million years.
Turquoise is found in arid regions, highly soluble in water; it cannot survive in humid areas.
Turquoise quality depends on where they were extracted, but prices vary depending on size.
Once a month, the production of the mine is sold at auction. Buyers come from all over to buy turquoise that will feed a veritable industry in Nishapur.
The bags containing stones sorted by the village elders come out of their secure location and are weighed. Each bag is empty done to the floor of the mine in front of buyers so they can assess the quality of the stones before making their bids.
The buyer should estimate the amount of turquoise that it’s possible to extract from the lots that are sold by weight, including unusable bedrock. The color also has a great influence on price.
One must first rough-hew the stone with the diamond saw, the cutter cuts, the uninteresting parts known as gang or matrix. This operation is always done in the presence of water to avoid overheating of the saw and overheating of the stone.
After giving a preliminary shape to the cut, stones are assigned to the polisher. Turquoise is a gem that is cut en cabochon; it is a rounded shape without facets. It is used for different reasons. Firstly to protect them from where indeed the hardness of turquoise is 5 to 6, which is relatively low compared to other gemstones such as diamonds 10, sapphires 9, and emeralds 8. This size also protects it from shock as it is fragile. Turquoise is an opaque stone; faceting is unnecessary because light cannot penetrate. To better hold the stone during polishing, it is glued to a stake. The last step performed by the artisan is the mirror polish.
Each setting is made manually based on the chosen stones. The metal used for these rings meant for men is silver. The rings are welded with a thin sheet of metal called spangled placed between the two parties to be connected. This sheet melts under the heat of the flame and forms the weld.
Persian turquoise jewelry is more beautiful when the color is a deep, uniform blue. Turquoise is porous; it absorbs water quickly. The artisan must trim it with great skill. The techniques were developed thousands of years ago. These stones were once cut with a bow polisher; the only ingredients used were sand from Tripoli and water. To be sold, each of these gems is crimped onto a copper mount intended only for presentation. Yellow and red boxes are also characteristics of quality stones. Sellers believe that these colors highlight them best.
A few years ago mine production of turquoise in Iran fell sharply. Dealers asked to meet the high demand of their customers ordered them from other producing countries, principally the United States and China.
The turquoise from these countries, especially the United States are much more porous and less hardened than those from Iran. It is necessary to treat them so that they retain a good appearance over time. Silica, paraffin, and plastic gels are injected, which are often artificially colored because the blue is often too pale. One can notice areas where the dye is concentrated; it is easy to detect these additions because the color is too intense.
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Turquoise Meaning and Healing Properties
Persian turquoise jewelry is not a mere object of pageantry for Iranians; it is intimately linked with religion. The Prophet advised his followers to wear it.
According to the imam, it was decreed that every man who wears a turquoise stone will not know insecurity. Turquoise will also provide many benefits to his health; it will fortify his heart and strengthen his eyesight.
It is particularly men who wear turquoise and silver rings because gold is forbidden. Whole sectors of the bazaars of Iran’s major cities are reserved for the sale of these jewels.
Believers have the right to wear the sacred stone during the prayer; only one other stone shares this privilege, agate.
In Iran, women also enjoy turquoise. The reasons are different from those of men, but they do not use it only for the aesthetics of its deep soft blue. For all time, it’s been considered in these regions that turquoise wards off the evil eye. Very often, women sewed turquoise into the clothing of grandchildren to protect them.
Ancient writings tell that turquoise brings good health and success. It was said that after a battle, no one had ever seen turquoise on a fallen soldier. Other powers are attributed to it as well. It is said to change color depending on the purity of air and weather.
This gemstone has great importance in traditional medicine. The famous botanist Ibn al-Baitar wrote in the middle of the 12th century that they cared for the bites of scorpions and snakes by administering a potion made of turquoise.
It’s true that Iranian jewelers quickly recognized the source of their turquoise. One of their secrets is the underside of the stone, where the stone cutter always leaves a bit of bedrock, whose color is very different depending on which mine it is from. Throughout history, civilizations of the Far East have turned their gaze to the heavens and admired the blue sky. Turquoise is its symbol. In central Mesopotamia, the Neolithic man was already making necklaces and bracelets out of turquoise in the 6th millennium BC. The centuries pass, and man continues to use this sky-colored stone.
Turquoise in Ancient Persia
The Empire of Darius the great, a community king of Persia, in the 6th century BC stretched from India to the Danube, also encompassing Egypt. He created Persepolis, where each year, he received the offerings of the 30 countries he had conquered. No less than 370 tons of silver, jewelry, and goods from the four corners of his empire.
From that time, archaeologists have unearthed a princely tomb near Susa in which were found necklaces and bracelets made of turquoise. In present-day Afghanistan, near the town of Bourgin, archaeologists have unearthed a treasure belonging to the Empire of Bactria. Full of gold jewelry set with turquoise dating back a century BC. The stones used probably came from the mines of Nishapur near the Afghan border.
The history of Persia was a succession of glories and defeats, which enabled it to accumulate and lose some incredible treasures. For centuries this country was ruled by kings and shahs. Some years before the reign of the Shah of Iran, Shah Mohammad Riza crowned his last wife, Farah Diba, in great pomp.
During the ceremony, sovereigns were exceptional jewels. The Shah’s crown, emblem of the Pallavi dynasty, had been made for his father, Reza Shah. Made of gold and silver, the crown was covered with nearly 4,000 precious stones that were predominantly diamonds.
Formerly, the shahs did not wear crowns; only a crest adorned their head covering. It was set with the finest and biggest gems, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and diamonds.
Persia became Iran. Zoroastrianism gave way to Islam, but here turquoise remains forever a symbol. Maybe that of the paradise of Shaddad where everyone wants his place.