Turquoise is December's birthstone, blue as a winter sky or a Christmas forest. These cool turquoise shades have endeared December’s birthstone to cultures from antiquity to today. Even though this opaque gemstone brings to mind the native tribes of the American Southwest, historically, the largest source of turquoise beaded jewelry was the Middle East.
Iran was the single greatest source of quality turquoise, and December’s birthstone was prized by the Egyptians as far back as the First Dynasty. Indeed, turquoise is a regal stone that has adorned the rulers of Persia, Egypt, Israel, and China. Even on the other side of the world, turquoise beaded jewelry was considered fit for Aztec royalty and chiefs of the Pueblo, Navajo and Apache tribes.
For all these civilizations, turquoise was held in esteem not just for its peaceful hues, but because they believed that the gemstone worked as a talisman to clear the mind, enhance good health and protect the wearer from dark forces. In fact, the legends surrounding turquoise all revolve around the gemstone’s reputed ability to bring cheer and dispel darkness. This might be one of the qualities that makes turquoise the ideal birthstone for December -- Seasonal Depression Awareness Month.
When given as a gift, turquoise beaded jewelry is meant to endow the recipient with great happiness throughout the year. Certainly, the cool blue that is most prized in turquoise cannot help but be a soothing balm to weary winter spirits. But the green tints that bring to mind placid Caribbean seas add warmth to the season.
In ancient times, Egyptian turquoise was said to be greener than the gemstones found in Iran. Then, as now, green turquoise beaded jewelry was less prized than the blue. The difference in color is caused by the presence of copper and iron. The more copper is present in the turquoise, the bluer it will be. If more iron is present, the turquoise beaded jewelry will appear greener.
Whether green or blue, December’s Birthstone requires some special care. Scoring below six on the Mohs Scale of Mineral Hardness, even turquoise beaded jewelry can fracture easily. If turquoise jewelry is exposed to cosmetics, perfumes, or even skin oils, the appearance of the stone can change dramatically. Turquoise stones and beaded jewelry needs protection from the elements and is seldom faceted. (If one desires a more traditional translucent December birthstone, the alternative is icy blue topaz.)
To enhance the appearance and durability of turquoise, even the ancients treated their polished turquoise beaded jewelry with wax. In modern times, jewelers often seal turquoise gemstones in a synthetic resin. But even more radical treatments have been devised that can devalue December’s birthstone for the unwary buyer. Perhaps this is why some experts claim that high quality turquoise is now rarer than any other precious gem, including diamonds.
But for those who were born in December, many beautiful and affordable turquoise beaded jewelry and inlaid stone options are available. After all, December brings with it the winter solstice when the sun’s ebb on the sea’s horizon finally reverses course. That makes turquoise, a gemstone that encompasses notions of both sea and sky, a most fitting birthstone for December’s devotees.