The History of the Color Turquoise: Which Came First, The Stone or the Color?

Closeup of hand carved turquoise stone

Is it teal? No, perhaps it’s aqua. Maybe it’s blue-green. The argument may lean more toward green and then back toward blue. Actually, it’s likely the ubiquitous turquoise.

Turquoise is a very versatile hybrid blue/green color that is flattering on almost every skin tone and hair color. It’s a cool color for blondes, yet it can emanate warmth for brunettes and those with stark black hair. Even red haired beauties stand out in turquoise. This cannot be said for certain other colors such as oranges and lavenders.

So from where cometh this ubiquitous shade? How is it that it has more shades and tones than does almost any other color on the primary color wheel, i.e. blue or red?

Etymology of the Word “Turquoise”

Map over Turkey in a turquoise color

There are certainly many words in the English language that would challenge the most competent speller in a spelling bee. Turquoise is one such word. Where did this intriguing word come from? Better yet, what does it mean?

The etymology of the word itself can be traced back to the 17th century and the source was the mined stone. It appears that there were a multitude of trade routes that brought the turquoise stones from Persia through the Middle East and onto Europe. The path crossed through Turkey (“Turquie” in French); this left a strong theory that “Turquies,” sounding much like the modern-day “turquoise,” morphed into the word we use today.

At first glimpse, the word appears to mimic the phonetics of many Native American words, such as the Iroquois tribe, the state of Illinois, or the redwood tree known as the Sequoia. Ultimately, it was the French language that had the greatest impact upon this unique word.

In a parallel argument or analogy to the “Which came first.. the chicken or the egg?” conundrum, one might ask, “Which came first.. the turquoise stone or the color?” In light of the previous information, the best answer is likely the stone/mineral, which in turn lent its name to the color that followed.

Color Range and Palette of Turquoise

Color palette with a range of turquoise colors

If you are confused when you see one friend’s genuine turquoise necklace and another friend’s genuine turquoise bracelet appear as different shades of this color, do not be perplexed. This is because, like almost every gemstone identified (including diamonds), there are going to be different shades of this stone. However, they all revolve around a color base of greenish-blue or aqua blue.

How is all of this relevant to the color? It is very relevant because the color name itself evolved from the color of this stone.

Should you choose to designate a specific range of the color turquoise, it would best be described as azure sky and robin’s egg blue to a subtle aqua.

For some in-depth information on this color and its meaning, here’s my analysis of the color turquoise.

Composition of Turquoise Color

Man with a turquoise colored brush painting a wooden table

Should you choose to blend your own turquoise paints or other turquoise mediums, it is important to know that it is basically a mixture of blue and green. However, it is prudent to use a blue that already contains green pigments. This can be done by eye-balling the blue you intend to use. For example, the green-biased blue will radiate a green bias whereas a purplish blue obviously has a red bias.

Due to the fact turquoise is a specific blend of other colors, it is possible to formulate your own preference/shade of this color. There is a very handy DIY video on how to do just that at this link.

Turquoise Colors Found Naturally in Our Environment

Blue sky, turquoise water and beige sand color palette inspired by beach on bright summer day in nature

If you are quite enraptured by the color turquoise, feast your eyes on the many images presented on our list of naturally occurring blue things.

You may be surprised that you will see such things as:

  • Butterfly and insect wings
  • Exotic and island-lapping bodies of translucent, turquoise water
  • The ubiquitous turquoise gemstone/mineral in its natural habitat
  • Peacock feathers
  • Tiny, delicate Robin eggs
  • At close examination, some saltwater sea life and even fresh water fish such as the Bluegill or the Angel Fish

The Many Types of Jewelry Made From Turquoise Stones

Handmade turquoise jewelry with earrings and necklaces on a table

In America, Native Americans were perhaps the most prevalent harvesters of the gorgeous turquoise gemstones and minerals. It continues to be a jewelry construct best known to the southwestern portion of the country, namely Arizona and New Mexico.

Here are the most typical types of jewelry made from the turquoise stones:

  • Men’s and women’s rings, ranging in value from high-quality to reproduced costume jewelry that uses synthetic turquoise stones.
  • Bracelets, but primarily cuff bracelets, and typically those combined with white gold, silver-plate, or pewter.
  • Necklaces, wherein most are chunky and even heavy. Some delicate stones are found on silver chains but they are the minority of the styles.
  • Earrings of all categories: hoops, dangling, post, or clip.

Ultimately

History has brought us a truly amazing color through the turquoise stone. Should someone choose to debate or argue whether a shade of blue or green is truly turquoise, teal, aqua, aquamarine, or even blue-green, it might be best simply to pick your battles and let it be a subjective judgment. In other words, these colors are pretty much all in the same family and that indicates you’re all pretty spot-on. After all, you might need that time to argue the pronunciation of the city of Louisville.