Designer Advises Jewelers to Use White Turquoise
White turquoise is a stone that can be mistaken for howlite or magnesite. Here’s what I know about the difference between them.
The real white turquoise is not turquoise-colored at all but a white stone with a black matrix. I like to think white turquoise is turquoise before it turned blue and absorbed all that copper over the eons of geologic time. Chemically speaking, turquoise is CuAl6(PO4)4(OH)8.4H2O. Understandably speaking, turquoise is a hydrous phosphate of copper and aluminum, and gets its familiar blue color from the copper. So, if somebody dug up the turquoise before the copper settled in, it would be colorless, hence white turquoise. Right?
The real white turquoise is from the Dry Creek Mine in Nevada. Discovered on the Shoshone Indian Reservation in the 1990s, the tribes there didn’t make much jewelry from the white turquoise found litereally in their backyards. The Navajo and Zuni, being master crafters of turquoise jewelry, put the white turquoise to work in their creations much the same as their turquoise-colored turquoise. They called the white variety “sacred buffalo turquoise” because it was as rare as a white buffalo. Or as rare as a plain buffalo for that matter, because as far as I know, there hasn’t been a buffalo sighted in the Navajo Nation for decades. But what do I know.
Howlite is also a white stone with a black matrix. A calcium borosilicate hydroxide, chemically it is Ca2B5SiO9(OH)5. And how did howlite get its name? After Henry, the Nova Scotian geologist, that’s Henry How. Howlite is the white stone often dyed blue and “substituted for turquoise by unscrupulous jewelry dealers” (according to Charlotte Kuchinsky in her AC article, “Howlite: Uncovering the Duality of the Gemstone“). So, if howlite looks like turquoise before the techs turned it blue in the lab, maybe howlite is the stuff in the ground that’s turquoise before copper turned it blue. No. You don’t need to know any chemistry to see that the chemical formulae for turquoise and howlite are sufficiently different, with or without the copper (Cu), to be very different rocks from one another.Magnesite is yet another white stone with a black matrix. A carbonate of magnesium, magnesite is MgCO3, and is named after, well, magnesium the element. And the only thing it has in common with white turquoise and howlite is that it is yet another white stone with a black matrix.
So where’s all that difference between the fakes and the real thing? The fact is that they are all beautiful white stones with a black matrix and none of them are fakes for a white stone with a black matrix. What you call them may be the same or may be different. Call them what you will. Call them by whatever the seller said they were. The fact is you’ll never know if they’re different from what somebody says they are or what you bought them as. Oh, you can pulverize your necklace and put it through an elemental analysis to know whether you have white turquoise, howlite, or magnesite. For myself, I’d rather have the necklace and enjoy it for the beauty I bought it for.
I do know that the white turquoise I have as my jewelry supply was sold to me as white turquoise. I do not know what ground, mine, or country it came from before it was sold to me. And I didn’t think of asking, being the trusting soul that I am. The stones were gorgeous, the white ones in a black matrix, and I paid a fair price for the rather ample supply I purchased (although I paid an unfair price for the airline’s over-limit weight charges to get it on the plane).
Lovely to look at and interesting to wear, all of them–white turquoise, howlite, and magnesite– were created equal in the eyes of Mother Earth and destined to display their majesty through the artistry of jewelers who see lovely white stones with a black matrix and call them beautiful.
Written by Lorrain Yapps Cohen