06 Dec. 2010
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Did you know that

turquoise is an opaque, blue-to-green mineral that is a hydrous phosphate of copper and aluminium, with the chemical formula CuAl6(PO4)4(OH)84H2O. 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, like most other opaque gems, has been devalued by the introduction of treatments, imitations, and synthetics onto the market.

I didn't either, and I also didn't know that the Wikipedia article on turquoise was written by someone who spells "aluminum" "aluminium."  I wonder if that's the subject of a spelling war.  Another thing I didn't know about turquoise:

Being a phosphate mineral, turquoise is inherently fragile and sensitive to solvents; perfume and other cosmetics will attack the finish and may alter the colour of turquoise gems, as will skin oils, as will most commercial jewelry cleaning fluids. Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight may also discolour or dehydrate turquoise. Care should therefore be taken when wearing such jewels: cosmetics, including sunscreen and hair spray, should be applied before putting on turquoise jewellery, and they should not be worn to a beach or other sun-bathed environment.

If I had known all that I just read in the Wikipedia article before I conducted my experiment, I would have saved Trish Garland some turquoise chips, the swimming pool at the gymnasium a PLUCO full of water, and myself some time, effort, and worry.  And there might have been an entirely different blog for today, or, possibly none at all.

What Experiment?

This experiment:

Obtain two chips of turquoise from Garland's Indian Jewelry in Sedona, Arizona.  These are the subjects of the experiment.  Thank you, Trish Garland.

The left-hand chip is the subject, the one on the right the "control."

Fill two PLUCOs, one with ordinary tap water, the other with water from a chlorinated swmming pool.
Insert the turquoise chips in the PLUCOs.  Wait and observe.
2 Days after start, 3 days after start.
5 days after start, and then, after adding some detergent/bleach with sodium hypochlorite, another 3 days after that. 

The result:  It appears that there was no noticeable difference between the control turquoise chip and its companion experimental subject. 

The Remaining Question

That would be:  Why did I perform this experiment?  Although I have exhibited unabashed interest in the periodic table of the elements, and have spotted a large number of chemical names in the Wall Street Journal, I haven't been concerned with gems or precious stones, and certainly not obsessed to the extent of conducting experiments with them.  The answer is a simple one and is related to that most basic of human aversions:  pain. 

"Getting with the program" in Sedona, I bought a jewelry item of the "ring" persuasion.  I've never worn any jewelry, ever, and so this became a learning experience for me.  As I would have suspected had I ever spent a moment thinking about it, rings come in "sizes," just like clothing.  (Which I have and continue to wear, although I give it about the same amount of thought as I did jewelry.)  What I did not and could not have realized before my trip to Garland's, was this:

  • Rings of the correct size don't come off as easily as they go on.

  • Rings with turquoise allegedly suffer damage and discoloration in chlorinated water, to the extent that I was cautioned to remove the ring every time I went swimming. 

It took only minutes to convince me of the first.  Ow!  Ow!  Ow!  Ow!  I was not convinced of the second, since I know people with turquoise jewelry who swim, and I rarely hear a chorus of "Ow!"s emanating from the pool.  So I made a deal with the aforementioned Trish Garland:  She would send me a couple of chips of turquoise, and I would do the experiment detailed above.  Meanwhile, I had a 30-day return privilege on the ring if I found it too inconvenient or downright painful to remove almost daily. 

After performing my experiment and reading the Wikipedia article, I'm guessing that the misconception  about turquoise discoloration is related to its sensitivity to sunscreen and sunlightthe "beach environment" mentioned above.  I decided to keep the ring, which is really quite nice.  And today I'm going to wear it in the pool for the first time.  Hopefully my experimental results will translate to "real life."

"One Too Many Mornings"
The Association




A bit out of sequence, but I'm allowed:  Terry's friend Juan maintains aquaria.  Give him a call if you're a 973 person with an aquarium and don't have a lot of spare time or spare fish.

Richard Factor

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