“Turquoise” Nomenclature

Ask any random person why turquoise is so named.  Most will look at you like you are a fool and inform you that turquoise (the gem) is named after turquoise (the color)!  Most individuals seem to believe that the color name came first and was applied to the stone. 

Not so!  Turquoise is a French term meaning Turkish Stone.  It comes from the French phrase pierre turquoise, where “pierre” translates as “stone.”  It was believed, inaccurately, that turquoise came from Turkey.  While much turquoise was traded in Turkey, the items bought and sold probably originated in Iran or the Sinai Peninsula.  The turquoise that first arrived in Europe was probably obtained in Turkish bazaars by Venetian traders.  “Turquoise” is thus a misnomer.

Over time, “turquoise” came to be used to denote a shade of blue exhibited in high quality turquoise.  In fact, if you design websites, browsers such as the one you are using now will recognize “turquoise” as a color command for fonts, background colors, and the like.  If you are a purist, the color code is this: Hex={40,E0,D0}, which produces this color.

Before turquoise became “turquoise,” it was appreciated around the world under other names.  Gubelin (1966) and Pearl (1976) have done a great service by collecting and listing the various name.  Here is a partial list:

  • Agaphite: Turquoise from Persia (modern day Iran). 

  • American Turquoise: Pale blue, porous turquoise.  Applied to turquoise of this kind regardless of its geographic origin. 

  • Aztec stone: A general term applied to many minerals, including turquoise with green shades.

  • Cobweb turquoise matrix: Turquoise with a strong spider web-like matrix.

  • Egg-shell turquoise: Turquoise with a matrix that looks crackled. 

  • Egyptian turquoise: Turquoise deemed to be less desirable due to a weak blue coloring or yellow-green shading.  The term is used without concern for the geographic source of the stone.

  • Mexican turquoise: Synonym of “American turquoise.”

  • Persian turquoise: Exceptional, light blue turquoise from the region now known as Iran.  More recently, “Persian turquoise” is being used as a quality grade, regardless of the origin of the stone.

  • Rock turquoise: Rock which includes turquoise and and other minerals.

  • Turquoise nuggets: Pebbles that have been polished in a tumbler.  

  • White buffalo stone: Aluma Phosphate, not technically a turquoise, but beautiful and often marketed as such. Found in just one mine in Nevada.


The beautiful turquoise heart pendant photo is courtesy of Indian Sun Gallery, which specializes in handmade Native American Indian jewelry and crafts.


Gubelin, E. 1966.  A visit to the ancient turquois mines in Iran.   Gems & GemologyXII:3-13. 

Pearl, R.M. 1976. Turquoise. Colorado Springs (CO):Earth Science Publishing Co.