Friday, June 7, 2024

How can you tell real turquoise from plastic?

Turquoise has long been valued for its vibrant blue-green hues and its rich cultural significance, adorning everything from ancient jewelry to modern accessories. However, the market is rife with imitations, making it crucial for buyers and collectors to distinguish between authentic turquoise and plastic counterfeits. This comprehensive guide will cover the physical properties, color and appearance, tests for authenticity, price considerations, expert verification, common imitations, care and maintenance, and ethical considerations related to turquoise.


Physical Properties

Understanding the physical properties of turquoise is fundamental to identifying real stones. Turquoise is a hydrous phosphate of copper and aluminum, characterized by its unique crystalline structure and specific gravity.



Real turquoise has a Mohs hardness of 5-6, making it relatively soft compared to other gemstones like diamonds or sapphires. This softness means it can be easily scratched with a knife or other sharp object. Plastic imitations, however, are generally softer and more susceptible to scratches.


Turquoise has a density of approximately 2.6-2.9 grams per cubic centimeter. This density contributes to its substantial feel. In contrast, plastic is much lighter, often giving it a less substantial, almost hollow feel.


Real turquoise is porous, meaning it can absorb liquids. This property is crucial for various tests that can be conducted to determine authenticity, such as the acetone test, which we will discuss later.

Color and Appearance

The color and appearance of turquoise are among its most distinguishing features. However, these characteristics can also be the most challenging to assess due to the wide range of natural variations and the presence of treated or dyed stones in the market.

Natural Variations

Authentic turquoise exhibits a range of colors from sky blue to greenish-blue, often with intricate veining or matrix patterns caused by the host rock. These patterns are irregular and unique to each piece, making each stone one of a kind.

Color Uniformity

Plastic imitations often have unnaturally uniform colors, lacking the natural variations and matrix patterns found in genuine turquoise. The colors of plastic turquoise can also appear overly vibrant or synthetic.

Tests for Authenticity

Several tests can help determine whether a piece of turquoise is real or plastic. While some can be performed at home, others may require professional equipment or expertise.

Visual Inspection

A thorough visual inspection can reveal a lot about a stone’s authenticity. Look for natural matrix patterns, color variations, and any signs of dye or paint.

Scratch Test

Since turquoise is relatively soft, you can perform a scratch test using a knife or a needle. Real turquoise will scratch but should not be excessively easy to damage. Plastic, on the other hand, will often show more significant and easier scratches.

Acetone Test

The acetone test is useful for detecting dyed stones. Soak a cotton swab in acetone and rub it on an inconspicuous part of the stone. If the color transfers to the swab, the stone is likely dyed or painted plastic.

Hot Needle Test

This test involves heating a needle until it is red-hot and then touching it to the stone. If the stone is plastic, it will melt or emit a chemical smell. Real turquoise will not react to the hot needle.

Specific Gravity Test

This test measures the density of the stone and can help distinguish real turquoise from lighter plastic imitations. While this test is more complex and requires a scale and water displacement method, it is highly accurate.

Price Considerations

The price of turquoise can be a good indicator of its authenticity. Real turquoise tends to be more expensive due to its rarity and the labor-intensive processes involved in mining and shaping it.

Market Prices

Authentic turquoise can vary significantly in price based on quality, color, and origin. High-quality turquoise from renowned locations like the Sleeping Beauty mine in Arizona can fetch premium prices. Conversely, plastic imitations are typically much cheaper.

Deal Awareness

If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Extremely low prices for turquoise jewelry often indicate that the stones are not genuine.

Expert Verification

When in doubt, consulting with a professional can provide peace of mind. Experts use advanced tools and have the experience to accurately assess the authenticity of turquoise.


Certified gemologists have the training and equipment needed to evaluate gemstones. They can provide detailed reports on the properties and authenticity of turquoise.

Reputable Dealers

Purchasing from reputable dealers and jewelers who provide certification and guarantees can reduce the risk of buying fake turquoise. These dealers often have return policies and authenticity guarantees.

Common Imitations

The market is flooded with various turquoise imitations, each requiring different identification methods.

Howlite and Magnesite

Howlite and magnesite are two common minerals dyed to resemble turquoise. They can be identified through their distinct veining patterns and the presence of dye in cracks and pores.


Plastic imitations are often the easiest to spot due to their uniformity and lightweight nature. They may also show signs of mold lines or have an unnatural sheen.

Stabilized Turquoise

Stabilized turquoise is real turquoise treated with resin to improve durability. While not inherently fake, it is less valuable than untreated turquoise. It can often be identified through its enhanced hardness and resistance to scratching.

Care and Maintenance

Proper care and maintenance of turquoise are essential to preserve its beauty and longevity.


Clean turquoise with a soft, damp cloth. Avoid harsh chemicals and ultrasonic cleaners, as turquoise is porous and can absorb these substances, leading to damage.


Store turquoise jewelry separately from harder gemstones to prevent scratching. Keeping it in a soft pouch or lined jewelry box is ideal.


Avoid exposing turquoise to extreme temperatures, direct sunlight, and cosmetics or perfumes, as these can damage the stone.

Ethical Considerations

Ethical considerations are increasingly important in the gemstone market, and turquoise is no exception.

Mining Practices

The mining of turquoise can have significant environmental impacts. Ethical sourcing involves ensuring that turquoise is mined responsibly, with minimal environmental damage and fair labor practices.

Fair Trade

Purchasing turquoise from fair trade sources helps support miners and artisans who receive fair compensation for their work. This practice promotes sustainability and ethical standards within the industry.

Cultural Significance

Turquoise has deep cultural significance in many indigenous cultures. Respecting the cultural heritage associated with turquoise means supporting artisans and communities that have traditionally crafted turquoise jewelry.


Distinguishing real turquoise from plastic imitations involves a combination of examining physical properties, performing various tests, considering price, and consulting experts. By understanding these factors, buyers can make informed decisions and ensure they are purchasing genuine, ethically sourced turquoise. Proper care and maintenance will help preserve the beauty and value of turquoise for years to come, allowing this captivating gemstone to continue enchanting admirers across generations.

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