Handcrafted natural turquoise jewelry can be gorgeous—but it's also easily confused with a couple of other types of "turquoise" on the market. The confusion gets even harder to sort through because some sellers either don't know the difference or purposefully mislead buyers to pass off the less-expensive stones as the real thing. Before you buy, you should know the difference between these stones. That can help you know the right questions to ask the seller.
Could It Be Howlite?
Howlite is so similar in look to turquoise with its dark veins that it's undyed form is sometimes referred to as "white turquoise." It's a borate mineral that took its name from the geologist who discovered it, Henry How. The veining that usually runs through the stone can sometimes be nonexistent, quite small and light, or exceptionally dark and magnificent, which is why it reminds people so much of a turquoise. Only the whitest howlite and the howlite with the darkest veining is generally used in jewelry because of how striking the stones look.
Howlite also has the distinction of being easy to dye. Because it is porous, it takes bright dye very easily. It can be dyed to a color that's actually more brilliantly blue than most real turquoise. There's nothing wrong with howlite jewelry—dyed or undyed. It's actually a lovely stone, so if your concern is about the quality and the artistry of the jewelry, don't let the use of howlite stop you from buying a piece that you love. Just make sure that you aren't being charged the price of natural turquoise, which is more expensive.
Could It Be Magnesite?
Magnesite is another stone that is frequently used by jewelry artists to simulate the look of real turquoise without the expense. Made of magnesium carbonate, magnesite ranges from transparent to opaque, with and without a matrix of veins. It also takes dye very well and is used to simulate a variety of other stones, including turquoise, jade, and coral, depending on whether the magnesite has veins or not.
Again, part of the confusion with this stone comes from the fact that it is used by Native American artists in their work quite regularly. Dyed and undyed magnesite can be found carved into small fetishes, or animal shapes, and used as beads and focal points in many necklaces and bracelets.
Do You Know Where It Was Mined?
Your dealer may be able to tell you exactly where the turquoise was mined. That will often be part of the advertisement, since some people prize the stones from one mine over others for their unique colors.
The Kingman mine, for example, is one of the most significant sources of natural turquoise with a bright blue color and deep black matrix. Turquoise from the Sleeping Beauty mine, on the other hand, is valued for its light, robin's egg or sky blue shade with little to no veining, and this turquoise is used in Zuni petit point work. If the dealer can offer you information about the source of the turquoise, that may give you more reassurance that it's the real thing.
In the end, the most important things that you can do are to be aware of the different possibilities out there that are mislabelled "turquoise" and buy only from a dealer you trust. Keep in mind that the substitutes for turquoise are generally less expensive, so price may be an indicator that you aren't buying actual turquoise. Make sure you check the dealer's return policy in case you decide to have the stones verified as the real deal by an independent jeweler.