As one of the world’s most photographed women, socialite and former Vogue editor Babe Paley couldn’t help but start some trends in her time. At President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inaugural ball in 1957, Paley attracted the attention of photographers about as much as Mr. Eisenhower himself. All eyes (and cameras) were on her when she showed up wearing an elaborate turquoise tassel necklace by French jeweler Jean Schlumberger.
As noted by the New York Times, turquoise is rarely seen as a luxury gemstone. Yet Paley still managed to catapult the semiprecious gem into the spotlight, starting a trend that went strong well into the ‘60s and ‘70s. Turquoise took on an allure that was desired by modern high-end jewelry circles. Recently, turquoise is resurfacing: Eva Mendes and Cameron Diaz are among actresses, models, and socialites who have been spotted wearing turquoise in high-end designer pieces.
Of course, throughout the centuries, turquoise has been valued for its bright beauty by cultures ranging from Middle Eastern royalty to Native American tribes of the Southwest. It had a brief moment of glory as a 1920s fashion craze, and artist Georgia O’Keefe adopted the Southwestern gem as her own. But only in the second half of the 20th century has turquoise come into its own as a gem suitable for high-end jewelry.
Turquoise has a complicated relationship with the fashion jewelry industry, in part due to the fact that turquoise is a bit on the rough side and not as rare as most high-end gems. It is considered semiprecious, though inexpensive. But over time, the merits of turquoise have become apparent: It complements many precious gems, is bright enough to stand out on its own, and has thousands of years worth of mythology behind it.
The color manifestations of turquoise include the recognizable bright blue, as well as other shades of light and medium blue and green. In the U.S., Arizona and Nevada are the largest producers of turquoise; Iran, Sinai, and some East Asian countries also have significant mining activity. For much of its known history, turquoise was considered to be holy by many cultures, including Ancient Egyptian and Persian empires that used it for protection against evil.
An echo from turquoise’s rich past has been heard by the modern jewelry world. Babe Paley’s foray with turquoise turned out to be a game-changing moment for the jewelry industry. Turquoise is now in the fashion jewelry trend cycle, but is it here for good? Designers may lose interest (as they did in the ‘80s and ‘90s), but of history is any indicator, turquoise will bounce back as it has before.