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French Version

The summer of turquoise - Gemstone's history in the arab world runs deep

The stones are reputed to carry a whole host of spiritual benefits

Legend has it that over the millennia of its use, turquoise - one of the oldest semi-precious stones known to mankind - was reserved for the gods. It was not, it was said, worn by mere mortals.

Just recently, however, both the color turquoise and the gemstone itself are enjoying a fashion boom that is seeing women stampede to the shops in search of the perfect blue gem.

Enjoying a special place in Arab culture as the stone that wards off the evil eye and the stone that brings good luck, turquoise's connotations and uses have mystified and entranced its wearers for thousands of years. Gypsies, for example, were renowned for wearing turquoise to enchant the unsuspecting traveler, and the queens of ancient Egypt wore scarabs of turquoise for good luck. The legends are endless.

The history of the gem, however, is a global one and dates back further than anyone can imagine.

"Turquoise is one of the most widely used stones in jewelry today," said gemologist and jeweler George Gemayel. "Its popularity has made it among the most valuable, nontranslucent minerals used in jewelry."

Usually cut as a cabochon, the best turquoise comes from Iran, Gemayel said, adding that the most valuable stones exhibit robin's egg blue or deep-blue/azure veins.

"These veins indicate the presence of copper within the stone," Gemayel said, "which explains why turquoise is an excellent electrical conductor."

According to the biblical book of Exodus, the Egyptians began mining turquoise in the Sinai Peninsula around 5,500 BC.

Records show that in ancient times turquoise was highly valued by the Egyptians, Persians, Mongols and Tibetans.

The Persians preferred sky-blue Turquoise and, according to Gemayel, the term "Persian turquoise" is now used as a color grade, not a geographical indicator.

In Persian as well as in Arabic, turquoise is known as Feyrouz, meaning "victorious," and it is the national gemstone of Iran to this day.

In Asia it was considered protection against the evil eye. Tibetans carved turquoise into ritual objects and gave it a place in traditional jewelry. Ancient manuscripts from Persia, India, Afghanistan and Arabia report that the health of a person wearing turquoise can be assessed by variations in the color of the stone. Turquoise was also thought to promote prosperity.

In the first millennium AD both the Chinese and Native Americans became captivated by the blue stone.

In Mexico, the Aztecs began mining turquoise between the years 900-1000 AD. The Anasazi people mined turquoise in what is now Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado.

Turquoise from this area found its way around the trade routes of the American continent and has been unearthed as far away as the great Mayan city of Chichen Itza in the Yucatan. Montezuma's treasure, now displayed in the British Museum, includes a fantastic, carved, turquoise-covered serpent mosaic. Furthermore, some Native Americans believed that if turquoise was affixed to a bow, the arrows shot from it would always hit their mark. By the 16th century, the cultures of the American Southwest were using turquoise as currency.

During the Romantic Period in England (1837-60), turquoise played a great role. The pale, gold-worked jewelry of this period contained fine gems that were often accented by the blue of turquoise. The England of the Aesthetic Period (1880-1901) responded to the strict provisions of Queen Victoria's mourning and jewelry became more whimsical; turquoise played a prominent role in the jewelry of this period.

According to Gemayel, turquoise has always been the favorite Arabian semi-precious stone. "Up until now, wealthy Arab women have always worn turquoise as a symbol of royalty and power," Gemayel said, "and we have to say that the Arab woman's light olive to dark skin complexion fully enhances turquoise's audacious color."

The executive assistant of a renowned Lebanese fashion designer said that turquoise was this year's - and especially this summer's - "most demanded and demanding" color.

"It's demanded because it's the stone's big comeback this year, and it's demanding because it's a very expensive stone," said the assistant, who unusually requested anonymity for both herself and for the design house.

"You can see the major local and international fashion designers featuring turquoise gemstones on most haute couture outfits and even on wedding dresses, accessories and lingerie," she said. "This summer is definitely the 'turquoise craze.'"

According to gemstone expert Rudy Maroun, it is believed that turquoise helps one to start new projects.

"Our ancestors used to think it could warn the wearer of danger or of illness by changing color, and could protect the wearer from falling," he said.

According to Maroun, it is also believed to bring happiness and good fortune to all.

"Come on!" he teased, "don't tell me your grandmother doesn't have at least one turquoise jewel in her box! Turquoise is a living stone for us (in this region); it has become part of our tradition."

According to sfheart.com, turquoise is believed to be "a master healing stone that promotes spontaneity in romance and stimulates the initiation of romantic love. Bringing all energies to a higher level, turquoise is believed to be a highly spiritual stone, bringing soothing energy and peace of mind. It brings strength, wisdom, protection and positive thinking."

Turquoise was brought to Europe by Venetian traders, who procured it in the great bazaars in Turkey. The origin of the word turquoise, Maroun explained, is French - derived from "Turk."

With all the legend and myth surrounding turquoise, it has nowadays come to symbolize many things in modern life.

"It protects me wherever I go," said Salma Bitar, holding her eye-shaped, diamond-encrusted turquoise necklace. "Whenever I take this off, I feel bare. You won't believe it, I took it off once and I fell ill."

Pierre Khoury, general manager for renowned jewelry designer Paolo Bonja, said turquoise has always been at the heart of oriental jewelry design.

"There isn't a single Arab woman who does not own at least one turquoise item," Khoury said, adding that turquoise was one of his Arab clientele's favorite requests.

"There's just something about this stone that makes you instantly want to wear it. It's like magnetism."

Beirut,07 19 2004
Jessy Chahine
The Daily Star
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