Iran is one of the world’s most prolific countries in producing decorative gemstones, and its sky-blue turquoise has always been a magnet for beauty seekers throughout history.
The word turquoise, which dates to the 16th century, is derived from an Old French word for “Turkish”, because the mineral was first brought to Europe through Turkey from the mines in Iran. The Iranians named it “pirouzeh” (meaning victory) and the Aztecs knew it as Teoxihuitl.
It is an opaque stone, which differs in shade from blue, green and blue-green depending on its origin. It is rare and valuable in finer grades and has been prized as a gem and ornamental stone for thousands of years owing to its unique hue. It takes a fine polish and does not lose color with time.
Persian turquoise is extensively found in Iran’s northeastern city of Neyshabur (Nishapur) and dates back to 4,000 BCE. Neyshabur turquoise mines, located 53 kilometers northwest of the city and near the old caravan routes, are believed to be among the world’s oldest known turquoise mines, which supplied the stone to Europe, Western Asia and America.
In Persia, turquoise was the de facto national stone for millennia, extensively used to decorate objects (from turbans to bridles), mosques, palaces and other important buildings. The massive, robin’s egg blue Persian turquoise is used in making jewelry and creating mosaics, inlays or overlays that have adorned numerous monuments over the centuries.
The Persian style and use of turquoise was later brought to India, its influence seen in high purity gold jewellery (together with ruby and diamond) and in such buildings as the Taj Mahal. Archeological excavations have yielded Persian turquoise in ancient graves in Turkistan and throughout the Caucasus dating back to the first to third century BCE.
Iranian artists use turquoise in various forms of art including calligraphy and handicrafts. Inlaid turquoise is one of the most beautiful Iranian artworks. It is made by implanting small pieces of turquoise stone in mosaic fashion on the surface of the dishes, ornaments and decorative objects with copper, brass, silver or bronze bases.