Turquoise versus Howlite

We’re not usually the betting kind, but we’re willing to step out of our comfort zone and bet that some of your turquoise pieces are actually dyed howlite. Believe us, its easy to see why, according to one source, a whopping 90% of what is called turquoise on the market is actually howlite[1].  It is so pervasive, that white howlite is marketed as “white turquoise” and the dyed howlite is sometimes called “turquenite.” Never mind that howlite is considered a respectable gemstone in its own right, using it as a substitute for the rarer turquoise expanded its marketing opportunities.

Howlite is easy to dye which makes it a natural to substitute for turquoise with its beautiful robin’s egg blue. That fact coupled with howlite’s natural webbing which looks very similar to turquoises makes it a sure bet. This practice is very common because howlite which costs less can be sold for the turquoise premium.

At Their Most Basic:

Turquoise is a combination of copper (which gives it its lovely blue hue), water, aluminum and phosphorus. Turquoise has a MOHS harness between 4.5 and 6. Turquoise represents wisdom, good fortune and hope.

Howlite, in contrast, is softer with a MOHS hardness of 3.5. It is a calcium-silicon borate with hydroxyl. Howlite is thought to focus the mind and considered an excellent stone for meditation.

Distinguishing Features

There are some ways to tell the difference, although you may not want to try them all.

  • Rub your fingernail over the webbing of the stone, if it snags, you may have natural turquoise.
  • If your turquoise scratches easily you may have howlite.
  • This next part, you may not want to do as it can be destructive, use a bit of acetone (nail polish remover) on a cotton swab on a small section that you want to check. If the cotton swab turns blue and the spot where you touched is lighter than its surroundings, you can be pretty confident you have dyed howlite.
  • If the color is uniform, that should raise questions, as turquoise is a natural stone and part of its beauty is the variations that can be found in it. 

Finally, howlite is not the only turquoise substitute and a few of the other possibilities include resin, dyed magnesite, reconstituted turquoise (ground up and mixed with resin and other minerals)

Given the challenges in identification of real turquoise (many experts struggle with its identification), if you like a piece of jewelry for its beauty, accept it regardless of what the stone. Howlite is a beautiful stone in its own right which is why it is so popular.

Because howlite is a soft stone, it needs special care as it can be easily scratched. Its calcium structure leaves it vulnerable to chemical cleaners and acidic substances so clean it with water (unless you have a dyed stone) store wrapped in a soft cloth.



[1] Sedawie, R. (18 January, 2016, edited, 31 January, 2023). Gem Rock Auctions. How to tell the difference between turquoise and dyed Howlite. https://www.gemrockauctions.com/learn/how-tos/how-to-tell-the-difference-between-turquoise-and-dyed-howlite

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