Woman’s Brooch with Monster Mask. Nepal. Gilt silver, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, coral, pearls, mother-of-pearl, and turquoise; 3 in. x 4 in.; 17th–19th century. John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1915 (15.95.93b)
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Turquoise Delight

Summer’s most irresistible gem can trace its roots all the way back to antiquity

Few gemstones are as synonymous with summer style as turquoise. Paired with a crisp white top or a flirty sundress, a turquoise piece can elevate any look to a chic, bohemian ensemble. But did you know that this semiprecious stone has been a fashion staple around the globe for millennia?

Egyptian Revival bracelet. Carlo Giuliano (Italian, active England, ca. 1831–1895). Gold, turquoise, ruby, rose-cut diamond, enamel, seed pearl; 7/8 × 2 3/8 × 2 1/8 in.; ca. 1865. Gift of Judith H. Siegel, 2015 (2015.410a–d)

 

Turquoise takes its name from the French pierre tourques (Turkish stone), which suggests that it first made its way to Europe by way of Turkey. 

Alexander the Great (?). Probably Italian. Turquoise, enamel, gold; 1 x 1 1/16 in. overall; ring: mid-16th century; cameo: early Hellenistic 4th century B.C. Rogers Fund, 1910 (10.110.2)

 

In Egypt, the blue-green stone, which likely came from mines in the southwest Sinai, was highly prized. Associated with fertility and used as protection against evil, turquoise was carved into beads and small amulets and often inlaid in gold. Egyptian rulers and nobles would adorn themselves in these splendid creations, examples of which can be found in The Met collection, including a pectoral and necklace belonging to Princess Sithathoryunet.

Pectoral of Sithathoryunet with the Name of Senwosret II. Egypt, Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 12. Gold, carnelian, lapis lazuli, turquoise, garnet; 1 3/4 in. x 3 1/4 in.; ca. 1887–1878 B.C. Purchase, Rogers Fund and Henry Walters Gift, 1916 (16.1.3a, b)

 

Moche artists, who worked on Peru’s North Coast from A.D. 200 to 850, also crafted jewelry from turquoise. While often lauded for their achievements in metalwork, these artists excelled at micromosaics as well, which they would make using valuable materials such as shell, turquoise, and other stones. These pieces, like the Museum’s pair of ear ornaments with winged runners, would be worn by wealthy men and women alike.

Pair of Ear Ornaments with Winged Runners. Peru, Moche. Gold, turquoise, sodalite, shell; diam. 3 3/16 in.; A.D. 400–700. Gift and Bequest of Alice K. Bache, 1966, 1977 (66.196.40-.41).

 

Turquoise enjoyed considerable popularity in Europe, particularly in the 19th century. Queen Victoria was said to be a fan of the stone, and on the occasion of her wedding, she gave each of her bridesmaids a turquoise brooch. Turquoise’s vibrant blue color also made it the perfect stone to represent the forget-me-not flower, which symbolized true love according to “the language of flowers.” These turquoise-studded jewels were popular gifts during a period when sentimental jewelry was de rigueur. 

Brooch in the form of a dove on an olive branch. Designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (British, 1833–1898); made by Carlo (II) Giuliano (Italian, active England, 1864–1914) and Arthur Giuliano (Italian, active England, ca. 1864–1914). Gold, coral, turquoise, seed pearls, ruby, red and green translucent enamel; 1 5/8 × 1 1/2 in.; ca. 1895. Gift of Judith H. Siegel, 2015 ( 2015.409)

 

To this day, turquoise is celebrated for its brilliant color and its uncanny ability to flatter everyone who wears it. A birthstone for those born in December, turquoise can easily be worn by anyone, on any occasion, be it fancy or casual. To see more turquoise jewelry in action, visit us online at store.metmuseum.org.

The Met Store’s Roman Bead Jewelry, in turquoise

 

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