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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.