November Birthstone - Topaz
Through much of history, all yellow gems were considered topaz and all topaz was thought to be yellow. Topaz is actually available in many colors, and it’s likely not even related to the stones that first donned its name. The name topaz derives from Topazios, the ancient Greek name for St. John’s Island in the Red Sea. Although the yellow stones famously mined there probably weren’t topaz, it soon became the name for most yellowish stones. Pure topaz is colorless, but it can become tinted by impurities to take on any color of the rainbow. Precious topaz, ranging in color from brownish orange to yellow, is often mistaken for “smoky quartz” or “citrine quartz,” respectively—although quartz and topaz are unrelated minerals. The most prized color is Imperial topaz, which features a vibrant orange hue with pink undertones. Blue topaz, although increasingly abundant in the market, very rarely occurs naturally and is often caused by irradiation treatment. The largest producer of quality topaz is Brazil. Other sources include Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Russia, Australia, Nigeria, Germany, Mexico and the U.S., mainly California, Utah and New Hampshire. Measuring 8 on the Mohs scale, topaz is a rather hard and durable gem. Its perfect cleavage can make it prone to chipping or cracking, but when cut correctly, topaz makes very wearable jewelry. Topaz is a soothing stone that has been said to calm tempers, cure madness and eliminate nightmares.
TOPAZ HISTORY Yellow gems have been called variations of the name topaz for thousands of years – long before mineralogists determined that topaz occurs in a range of colors, and that many yellowish stones actually belong to other mineral species.
Ancient texts from the Greek scholar Pliny to the King James Bible referenced topaz, but because of this longstanding confusion, they likely referred to other yellow stones instead.
During the Renaissance in Europe, people believed that topaz could break spells and quell anger. Hindus deemed topaz sacred, believing that a pendant could bring wisdom and longevity to one’s life. African shamans also treated the stone as sacred, using it in their healing rituals.
Russia’s Ural Mountains became a leading source of topaz in the 19th century. The prized pinkish orange gemstone mined there was named Imperial topaz to honor the Russian czar, and only royals were allowed to own it.
Since the discovery of large topaz deposits in Brazil in the mid-19th century, topaz has become much more affordable and widely available.
Processes were developed in the 1960s to turn common colorless topaz blue with irradiation treatment. This variety has since flooded the market, making it one of the least expensive gems available.
Light blue varieties of topaz can be found in Texas, though not commercially mined there. Blue topaz became an official gemstone of Texas in 1969—the same year Utah adopted topaz as its state gemstone.