Picture this: a richly-hued stone of sky blue set out on an adventure across the Silk Road. China to Turkey, Turkey to Europe, it travelled, garnering fame as a warden of health. Turquoise—of Turkey, as it was known had different appellations in different lands—Mefkat for the Egyptians, Callais for Greece and Chalchihuitl for the Aztecs. Pliny, Aristotle, Marco Polo—all spoke of its compelling call.
Text: Trishita Khanderia
Isn’t it awe-inspiring to see how tough and barren conditions can produce material of such diversity, distinction, and beauty? Its oldest name, Mefkat can be traced to ancient Egyptian jewels such as King Tut’s burial mask, unearthed 4000 years after their day in the sun. The name 'Mefkat' stands for joy and delight, something this brightly-hued stone never fails to bring.
For something that emerges from such rough terrain, turquoise is incredibly soft and easy to mould—through the years, it gained popularity as a precious stone as well as for its ease in carving. Often identified with that distinctive sky blue (times two), turquoise can range from dull green to grass green to that bright blue that sets it apart.
Photo credits - Gorkey Patwal
A true talisman, turquoise has been desired over the years for its prophylactic properties—here, ornamentation and well-being coexist peacefully to form a stone that is said to guarantee health, good fortune and protection from evil. No wonder traditional civilizations, be it the Egyptians, Chinese and Apaches, turned to it through times good and bad.The myths surrounding turquoise speak of a connection rooted to the elements it emerged from. Some Native American tribes associated the gemstone with the sky due to its colour. Some tribes poetically associated it with water—tears that the creator shed on to Earth. This joy-evoking stone was even considered a lucky talisman during warfare; it was believed that an embedded stone in a bow would ensure that the arrow always finds its mark.
Mystical yet grounded, one can say that the stone somehow stands for life itself—its joy and its journey. For the Egyptians, it symbolized fertility—associated with the goddess Hathor or 'Lady of Turquoise'—known for her vengeful and beneficent sides. A true symbol of femininity in Egyptian mythology, she represented music, dance, joy, love, sexuality and maternal care. For the Persians, the turquoise was associated with heaven on earth. For the Aztecs, it was a sacred stone used for religious ceremonies to celebrate renewal and fertility.
As times turned, the symbolism associated with the stone also evolved. Considered as a forget-me-not in Europe, it’s often gifted as a pledge of adoration—Leah, in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice gifted it to Shylock to win his favour. After the decline of the Roman Catholic empire, turquoise became extremely popular in secular jewellery as it was then allowed. In 1925, the discovery of King Tut’s tomb and his turquoise-laden burial mask led to an increase in the gemstone’s popularity.
Photo Credits - readcereal.com
While trade brought the world closer, certain countries like India and Japan did not use the stone until much later. Regular trade with Turkey during the Mughal era introduced the stone to the Indian subcontinent; not surprisingly, the Persian style of jewellery is still extremely well-known in India. Not only was it used for ornamentation, the stone was also incorporated in architecture, the most notable building being the Taj Mahal.
At Lune, we’re drawn to the stone’s distinctive yet familiar presence. With its jagged texture and indents that speak of the changes the Earth has undergone, it’s one gemstone that’s deeply connected with the land and the many cultures that have made it home.
About the author // After studying the history and culture of fashion, @trishitakd is constantly searching for meaning, even if it's at the bottom of a glass.