Is Turquoise a Blue or a Green? Exploring the Unique Color of Turquoise

Turquoise is a striking blue-green color that has inspired fascination and debate for centuries. With its piercing mix of cool blue and earthy green tones, turquoise occupies a unique place among colors. But is it more accurately described as a blue or a green? The answer lies in both its rich history and its optical properties.

Historically, turquoise was grouped with blue pigments and dyes. The name itself derives from the French phrase “pierre turquin”, meaning “Turkish stone”, referring to early trade routes that brought turquoise to Europe from Turkey. Most early languages had distinct names identifying turquoise as a shade of blue rather than green. However, in many cultures ranging from Persia to the Native Southwest, turquoise carried associations with nature, fertility and vegetation due to its green undertones.

Modern color science sheds some light on this debate as well. On the visible color spectrum, blue and green occupy distinct wavelength ranges, with blue at higher frequencies and green at lower. Turquoise arises when our eyes perceive a combination of wavelengths from both the blue and green regions. More specifically, wavelengths between about 480 to 510 nanometers stimulate both the blue and green retinal cone cells in our eyes. Our brains integrate these signals into the single perceived color of turquoise.

So which color dominates the perception of turquoise? Blue hues are associated with higher light frequencies and are more dominant colors that our eyes process first. For this reason, turquoise is perceptually slanted more toward blue than green, despite having strong components of both. Adding a touch of blue to a green paint will produce a turquoise with a dominant blue tone. Adding green to a blue yields a more subtle green shift.

While leaning blue, turquoise still possesses enough green character to contrast with “true” blues. Compare turquoise with a deep navy blue, cobalt or azure, and turquoise’s greenness becomes apparent. Turquoise artwork statewide of the color provides a harmonious bridge between blue and green elements. It is no coincidence that turquoise also fits aesthetically with earth tones from ochre to umber that share its muted, natural quality.

So in the debate between blue and green, the balancing act of turquoise becomes clear. It occupies a liminal space between spectral extremes, incorporating both cool and warm properties. For this reason, rigid classification as either blue or green remains elusive. Rather than strictly one or the other, turquoise is best appreciated as a distinct tertium quid, or “third thing”, that beautifully mingles properties of both. Through history, culture and optics, turquoise emerges as a visual embodiment of the coming together between blue and green.