Even though turquoise makes for breathtaking jewelry, this sedimentary mineral is relatively soft and porous. The softness causes it to easily fracture or chip. Its porous allows it to discolor, stain and fade. Historically, less than about 10% of all excavated turquoise has the hardness and density to be considered gem quality. The rest needs some form of “help” to be considered jewelry quality.
For thousands of years, people have treated turquoise. With high quality turquoise increasingly harder to find, more advanced techniques has been developed to “enhance” this stone.
We will go through each of the methods for processing turquoise and tell you which type of treatment we prefer, which we stay away from and why.
Natural Birdseye Water Web Turquoise
This refers to turquoise that hasn’t been treated in any way.
Natural turquoise is prone to change color over time, which happens when it comes in contact with light, detergents, and oils. Only the highest quality natural turquoise can withstand environmental factors and not fade in color from wear and tear. This kind of turquoise comes with a very expensive price tag but we feel is a wonderful investment as the value will only continue to skyrocket as the number of good quality turquoise dwindles.
Turquoise Treated with Fat, Oil and Wax
Wax Treated Turquoise
The idea is that fat, oil, and wax acts as a security layer around the turquoise to avoid materials from entering their pores.
Fat/oil are the earliest forms of turquoise treatment. For centuries, animal fats and mineral oils were widely used. The most effective of the fats/oils is whale oil, which has a high melting point. However, from our experience fat/oil rubs off easily and disappears over time.
Wax is another early form of turquoise treatment. In our opinion, wax is a better than fat/oil because it’s harder and doesn’t rub off as easily as oil but is still messy and wears off over time.
This kind of treatment is the least intrusive. Some purist turquoise collectors can only accept this kind of processing. We are not fans of these treatments because of their temporary nature. With advancement in technology, there are better ways to treat turquoise that are almost as intrusive, more permanent and less messy.
There are lots of turquoise stabilization methods out there. The idea is to fill the pores of the turquoise with some form of hardening solution such as clear epoxy, resin or liquid plastic. This will “lock” in the color, making the stone much harder and prevents material leak out from within, in the form of white deposits.
A newer form of stabilization is called pressurized impregnation where the hardening solution is forced deeper into the stone, creating a stronger turquoise.
It’s extremely difficult to stabilized turquoise properly. Not well stabilized turquoise can appear waxy. In some case, sellers will sell fat, oil or wax treated turquoise as stablized turquoise. It’s important to get stabilized turquoise from an experienced and reliable seller.
We favor stabilized turquoise over fat, oil or wax as long as it’s not color treated and done properly.
So far, the processes we’ve talked about involves filling the pores of the turquoise in an attempt to strengthen it. Enhancement on the other hand doesn’t fill the turquoise pores. Instead, chemical is used on the turquoise to do what nature never finished. Enhanced turquoise is virtually undetectable and has improved color, luster, is less porous and prevents color fading. Since the turquoise is still left with some pores, only good quality turquoise should be enhanced.
Two types of turquoise enhancement techniques are worth mentioning. The first and most famous is the Zachery Enhancement Method, which is named after James Zachery, an electrical engineer and turquoise lover. The process involves soaking the turquoise in a proprietary chemical along with a charge of electric current. The resulting turquoise is left with slightly more potassium. The second is the Eljen Enhancement Process named after Elven Jennings. The benefits are similar to that of the Zachery Enhancement Method but leaves a negligible trace of polymer resin.
We believe that properly enhanced turquoise is the next best thing to high quality natural turquoise.
Color Treated Turquoise
Color Treated Turquoise
This is essentially injecting the pores of the turquoise with dye to improve the color. Another color treatment technique is to darken the matrix to create more contrast between the turquoise and the matrix. Color treatment is done during the turquoise stabilization process.
A very cheap piece of turquoise can be made to look higher quality than it is. Poorly color treated turquoise can look unnatural in color and overly polished. We are very careful to stay away from color treated turquoise.
Reconstitution involves taking low quality or very small turquoise stones, grinding it into powder, mixing it with dye and binding agent, make into slabs and cut into jewelry.
Reconstituted turquoise is inexpensive and has no investment value so we don’t recommend them. Buyers should be very careful because reconstituted turquoise can looks very much like genuine turquoise.
This is imitation turquoise made from material that is not at all turquoise. Iron pyrite is used to imitate matrix. It’s important to mention that block turquoise are often falsely sold as reconstituted turquoise.
Block turquoise has no investment value. Well made block turquoise is also hard to differentiate from the real thing so be very careful.
There you have it. I hope this was helpful in giving you a better understanding of all the possible kinds of turquoise treatment out there. In case we left something out, kindly leave a comment below or email us.
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