Turquoise and Zircon
"If cold December gave you birth
The month of snow and ice and mirth
Place on your hand a turquoise blue;
Success will bless whate'er you do."
The name is believed to originate from the French phrase “pierre turquoise” meaning “Turkish stone” because turquoise was brought to Europe by Venetian merchants who first acquired it in Turkish bazaars.
A relatively soft gemstone, turquoise can be easily scratched and broken. Being so porous, it is easily discolored by oil and pigments and it also changes colour when it loses some of its water content.
A sky blue shade in turquoise is due to the presence of copper, while iron gives it a greener tone. Ochre and brown-black veins in the stone occur due to oxide staining.
The most valued variety of turquoise is an intense sky blue colour.
Hard, relatively non-porous compact stones have the best appearance because the stone can be finely polished. Pale and chalky varieties, however, are sometimes impregnated with oil, paraffin, liquid plastic and glycerin to give a good polish.
Native Americans have been using this gemstone to create magnificent jewelry and ornamental pieces for the past several thousand years. It was called “Chal-cui-hui-tal”, meaning “the highest and most valued thing in the world”. The blue in turquoise symbolized the Heavens, and green symbolized the Earth.
The Navajo believed that turquoise pieces, thrown into a river while offering a prayer to the rain god, would bring much needed rain, whilst the Apache believed that a turquoise attached to a bow or gun would ensure accurate aim.
There are many superstitions associated with the turquoise. In the 3rd century, it was believed to protect its owner from falling off a horse. A change in colour revealed the infidelity of a wife.
It was said to have a healing effect on the eye - merely looking at it strengthened the eye - while placing it on the eye supposedly reduced inflammation. Turquoise was a barometer of its user’s health, turning pale in illness and losing colour in death, yet regaining its original beauty in the hands of a new and healthy owner.
Turquoise is considered by some to be a symbol of good fortune and success, bringing prosperity to its wearer. It is also considered by some as a love charm, and when received as a gift, the turquoise symbolizes a pledge of affection.
The alternate birthstone for December is the zircon. Its name is probably derived from the Arabic words “zar” and “gun”, meaning “gold” and “color”. The gemstone is found in a wide range of colors, and possess great brilliance, fire and clarity.
The mineral zircon, known as zirconium silicate, is commonly found as a minor constituent in igneous rock such as granites. Gem quality zircon stones are rare: they are formed mainly in coarse-grained igneous rock and tend to be found in alluvial and beach deposits due to weathering of the gem-bearing rocks,
Zircon, in its unchanged natural form appears colourless to pale yellow, or green. These colours are caused by minute quantities of thorium and uranium that replaces zircon in the crystal structure.
The most prized zircon is the red gemstone, which is rare. The pure intense blue and sky blue varieties are also highly valued, while the colorless, orange, brown and yellow stones are less expensive. Many zircons on the market are heat treated, and sold as blue, golden brown or colourless stones.
Colourless zircons are the best imitators of diamonds, being almost as dazzling as the real thing. However, the resemblance is superficial: Zircon is a brittle stone due to internal stresses in the crystal caused by radiation damage and heat treatment. It is easily broken with a well-placed knock but it is, nonetheless, still highly valued because of its stunning beauty.
Green zircon was among the stones of the ‘Kalpa Tree’ of the Hindu religion, where it represented the tree’s foliage. This tree was a symbolic offering to the gods. Hindu poets of the 19th century described it as a glowing ensemble of precious stones that also included sapphires, diamonds and topaz.
Zircon was regarded as the amulet for travellers in the 11th century, protecting them from disease, injury and insomnia, as well as assuring a cordial welcome wherever their travels would take them. The gem was also believed to hold magic powers to fight evil spirits.
During the 14th century, zircon was popular as a safeguard against the Black Death, the great plague that wiped out one quarter of the population of Europe. The stone was believed to possess healing powers and was used as an antidote against poison. It was also prescribed to insomniacs to induce sleep.