Ethnic Jewels

An appreciation of ethnic jewellery and adornment

If you have ever wondered about the origin of the turquoise stones in a bracelet from Saudi Arabia or the little turquoise beads in an earring from Bukhara, you may be in luck. Arash Khazeni's book Sky Blue Stone: the Turquoise Trade in World History, published by the University of California Press in 2014, may supply some answers.

Khazeni describes how turquoise has been found in 'a wide sweep of mineral-bearing strata extending from Egypt through Iran to Tibet' ... from the blue stones extracted by the ancient Egyptians from the mines in Sinai to the greener stones that were offered in tribute to the Buddha in Tibet. But his main focus is on the bluest and best stones - the sky-blue stones- that were produced by the mines near Nishapur in Persia. He discusses how these stones - precious and sacred as they were - were controlled and used in tribute and exchange throughout the empires of the Middle East, Central Asia and north India; and how they were transported far and wide by caravan along the trade routes long before they were introduced to Europe through the Ottoman empire.

This is a rich source of information, based on research, which throws a clear light on the history of turquoise and, closer to home, on the background of the stones in many of our favourite pieces of jewellery.

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Comment by Thelma on June 9, 2016 at 14:06

How interesting, Alaa. This seems to be a very ancient practice. Here is a passage from the book  'By the thirteenth century, turquoise was mined in six valleys about 35 miles north of Nishapur ...... the stones were taken from the mines to the nearby cities of Nishapur and Mashhad, where craftsmen  cut them, pasted them onto strips of wood, and polished them on a grinding wheel. Shined with pieces of leather, the stones were set in rings, inlaid in metal objects and arranged as tesserae.....' A visit to the turquoise market in Mashhad must be like going back in time.

Comment by Alaa eddine SAGID on June 9, 2016 at 12:12

Thanx thelma for the info. I remember visiting the turquoise market in Mashhad, Iran, near the Turkmenistan border and near the big turquoise mines.... Loads of polished stones but also lots of guys polishing stones on bamboo sticks. One of the loveliest gem in use in jewels!

Comment by Thelma on June 9, 2016 at 11:49

I should mention that although the main focus of the book is on the turquoise mined in Persia, Khazeni also refers to the rediscovery of the turquoise mines in New Mexico, which originally supplied the Aztec empire and which, even today, produce some of the most beautiful stones.

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