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The finest of turquoise reaches a maximum hardness of just under 6, or slightly more than window glass. Characteristically a cryptocrystalline mineral, turquoise almost never forms single crystals and all of its properties are highly variable. Its crystal system is proven to be triclinic via X-ray diffraction testing. With lower hardness comes lower specific gravity (2.60–2.90) and greater porosity: These properties are dependent on grain size. The lustre of turquoise is typically waxy to subvitreous, and transparency is usually opaque, but may be semitranslucent in thin sections. Colour is as variable as the mineral’s other properties, ranging from white to a powder blue to a sky blue, and from a blue-green to a yellowish green. The blue is attributed to idiochromatic copper while the green may be the result of either iron impurities (replacing aluminium) or dehydration.
The refractive index (as measured by sodium light, 589.3 nm) of turquoise is approximately 1.61 or 1.62; this is a mean value seen as a single reading on a gemmological refractometer, owing to the almost invariably polycrystalline nature of turquoise. A reading of 1.61–1.65 (birefringence 0.040, biaxial positive) has been taken from rare single crystals. An absorption spectrum may also be obtained with a hand-held spectroscope, revealing a line at 432 nanometres and a weak band at 460 nanometres (this is best seen with strong reflected light). Under longwave ultraviolet light, turquoise may occasionally fluoresce green, yellow or bright blue; it is inert under shortwave ultraviolet and X-rays.
Turquoise is insoluble in all but heated hydrochloric acid. Its streak is a pale bluish white and its fracture is conchoidal, leaving a waxy lustre. Despite its low hardness relative to other gems, turquoise takes a good polish. Turquoise may also be peppered with flecks of pyrite or interspersed with dark, spidery limonite veining.
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. In recent times, turquoise has been devalued, like most other opaque gems, by the introduction onto the market of treatments, imitations, and synthetics.
The substance has been known by many names, but the word turquoise dates to the 17th century and is derived from the French turques for “Turks” because the mineral was first brought to Europe from Turkey, from mines in the historical Khorasan Province of Persia.
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