Are you a December baby? Lucky you! December’s birthstone, turquoise, is one of the most ancient gemstones known to man. Even if turquoise isn’t your birthstone, you may enjoy wearing this unique and beautiful gem that is steeped in history and lore simply because it’s stunning!
What Are Birthstones?
Birthstones are a collection of precious gems that correspond to a person’s birth month. Traditionally, each gem holds different meanings and symbolizes unique characteristics, which are said to belong to the wearer of the gems. Each month’s birthstone has a fascinating history behind it. Some months have just one birthstone while others have two.
Some sources such as 1st Century Roman-Jewish historian Josephus tell us birthstones originated on the breastplate of Aaron, with each gem representing the 12 months of the year, and accruing 12 signs of the zodiac. Others say the breastplate’s stones signified each of the 12 tribes of Israel. And more modern accounts claim wearing one of these gemstones during its assigned month enhances its therapeutic properties.
Throughout history, accepted birthstones rotated in and out, with style and availability sometimes determining which stones would reign. In 1912, the UK’s National Association of Jewelers standardized the list, which was updated in 1952 by the Jewelry Industry Council of America.
Some months have just one assigned birthstone, while other months have two.
Turquoise is an opaque stone that ranges in color from the bright blue of its name to green. It typically has a veined appearance, which is created by the remnants of the rock in which it formed. These veins can range from black to silver, tan, and even gold shades.
Among geologists, turquoise is referred to as “copper aluminum phosphate.” It’s most often found near water tables in semiarid and arid regions where rock contains copper-bearing minerals. Turquoise forms when chemicals leach out of surrounding rock via rain and groundwater to create these blue and green crystals. In fact, it is copper that gives turquoise its famed sky blue shade. Iron is what gives green turquoise its color.
Variations of this stone can be found all over the world. In Iran’s Nishapur district, turquoise has been mined for more than 1,000 years. Stones from this area come in intense shades of blue, some of them famous enough to get their own names like “robin’s egg blue,” “sky blue,” or “Persian blue.”
Up until the 1920s, most of the turquoise mined in the United States came from New Mexico. However, today, Arizona and Nevada are the two major turquoise producers. In particular, the Kingman Mine of Arizona is known for a particularly intense blue shade (see video below!).
These days, China is the world’s largest producer of turquoise. Much of it comes from Hubei Province, which is located in central China.
History of Turquoise
Of all stones, December birthstone turquoise has a particularly long history. In fact, it is one of the earliest stones known to be used in jewelry. The Aztecs believed it sacred, using it to make masks and other ceremonial objects, and Native Americans from many other cultures have used this stone in jewelry and ornamental pieces for thousands of years. One Native American name for turquoise is chal-cui-hui-tal, which means “the highest and most valued thing in the world.”
Turquoise was most widely used among American Southwestern groups including the Zuni, Hopi, Pueblo, and Navajo Indians. Among these cultures, blue turquoise represented the heavens while green represented the earth. Medicine men would use these stones to make charms, and the Navajo thought that tossing turquoise into a river while praying to the rain god would bring rain.
In ancient Egypt, pharaohs and rulers used turquoise in jewelry. One tomb excavated in 1900 revealed the remains of Queen Zer, a ruler from 5500 B.C.E. She was wearing four turquoise bracelets. Beads dating to 5000 B.C.E. have been found in Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq), and turquoise decorates King Tut’s mask, which is more than 3,000 years old. Persians regarded turquoise as the national gemstone, using it to decorate their thrones, weapons, horse tack, cups and bowls, and more, and from China, there are turquoise carvings dating back more than 3,000 years.
Royals in more modern times have used turquoise, too. The Duchess of Windsor, Wallace Simpson (1896-1986), who King Edward VIII famously gave up his throne for, wore a turquoise and amethyst Cartier necklace.
And what about the name? Historians aren’t entirely sure how “turquoise” came to be the name of this stone, but some think it may come from the French pierre turquoise, which translates to “Turkish stone.” This idea stems from the fact that turquoise came to Europe via Venetian merchants who bought it at Turkish bazaars.
December’s Turquoise Birthstone – Traits, Traditions, and Folklore
- Turquoise is recognized by many as a healing and balancing stone.
- In some cultures, turquoise is a love charm.
- Turquoise is the stone of the 11th wedding anniversary.
- When given as a gift, turquoise represents a pledge of affection. In fact, in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Leah gives Shylock a turquoise ring to represent her affection in the hopes that he would propose marriage to her.
- Turquoise is regarded in some cultures as a good luck stone.
- By the 13th century, many believed that turquoise protected people from falls, especially from horseback. Along with this tradition, some said that a piece of turquoise would break if disaster was approaching.
- Hindus believed that seeing turquoise after witnessing a new Moon would bring about fabulous riches.
- Apache Native Americans thought one could find turquoise at the end of a rainbow, and that if one attached this stone to a bow or firearm, it would provide more accurate aim.
- Pueblo Native Americans said that this stone’s color came from the sky.
- Hopi Native Americans maintained that turquoise was produced by lizards hurrying over the earth.
- European traditions hold that giving a turquoise ring means “forget me not.”
- It’s Tibet’s national stone. Here, people believe that turquoise grants good luck, protection from evil, and good health.
- In Russia, turquoise is a popular stone in wedding rings.
- Twelfth-century Arabian writings say that “turquoise shines when the air is pure and becomes pale when it is dim.”
- Persians said that reflecting the new moon on turquoise ensured good luck and protected against evil.
That’s a lot of history all wrapped up in one beautiful stone. Its versatility is unmatched—you’ll find December’s turquoise birthstone made into beads, chunky pendants, carefully carved pieces, and more. There’s a piece out there that is uniquely yours, no matter what your birth month is!
Amber Kanuckel is a freelance writer from rural Ohio who loves all things outdoors. She specializes in home, garden, environmental, and green living topics.