The first people to develop imitation turquoise was the Egyptians in a kind of pottery called faience. Imitation turquoise was also used amongst glass, enamel, and porcelain. “Viennese turquoise” refers to an early imitation turquoise made with aluminum phosphate and colored with by products of copper. Of course, imitation turquoise beads were easily distinguished from natural turquoise beads since the product only slightly resembled turquoise in its natural form. Not until the 1970s would a more realistic imitation of turquoise be produced.
Nowadays nearly all imitation turquoise beads are simply dyed howlite and magnesite. Their white color makes them easy to dye to a perfect sky blue, and they have a natural black matrix similar to turquoise. Sometimes natural gemstones, such as chrysocolla and variscite, are sold as synthetic turquoise.
It is important not to confuse imitation turquoise beads with treated turquoise beads. Unlike imitation turquoise, treated turquoise is natural turquoise that has been altered or enhanced to be suitable for jewelry. Waxing is a common treatment that makes the color of a turquoise stone brighter and shinier. Waxing does not effect the hardness of turquoise, only the color a little bit.
The same effect can also be achieved with plastic or water glass, but these treatments affect the hardness of the turquoise at the same time. Turquoise treated this way is called stabilized turquoise and it is the most common turquoise found today. Stabilization makes the turquoise hard enough to be used as beads and in settings while enhancing the appearance of the stone the way that wax does.
Completely natural turquoise beads (turquoise beads with no treatments whatsoever) are rare and expensive. Less than 20% of turquoise mined is allowed to stay in its natural form. Without imitated or treated turquoise, supply would never be able to keep up with demand and many turquoise fans would be without their favorite stone. Imitated and treated turquoise allows millions of people enjoy the exotic beauty of turquoise jewelry.
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