Topaz — it is the November birthstone and one of the most surprising of the colored gemstone world. When many think of a topaz, what comes to mind is a brilliant blue stone not entirely unlike an aquamarine. However, this gem is found in a remarkable range of hues, from golden yellows to fiery oranges and pastel pinks to icy blues. This variety makes the topaz gemstone a highly versatile choice for jewelry designers, and examples of topaz jewelry can be found at nearly every price point. As with all gems, topaz ranges in value and rarity depending upon a number of factors — read on the learn more about this fascinating star of the gemstone world.
HistoryThe name topaz almost certainly derives from Topazios, the ancient Greek name for Zabargad, an island found in the Red Sea. Interestingly, topaz stone was never actually mined on this island, but peridot was produced there. Before the advent of modern technology that allowed for the precise identification of minerals, peridot was often mistaken for topaz, leading to the naming confusion. Other scholars, however, believe the origins of the name can be traced back to the Sanskrit word topas, meaning “fire.”
Regardless of the origins of the name, the gemstone has been remarkably popular since ancient times. The ancient Greeks coveted the stone because they believed that it gave them strength. During the Renaissance age, it was thought that topaz could guard against magic spells or even ward off one’s anger. In India, on the other hand, the gem was believed to give one long life and intelligence, and it was often worn near the heart.
A Rainbow of Hues
Today, the stone is beloved for other reasons, particularly the wide range of colors in which it can be found. Aside from browns and blues, topaz can occur in any range of greens, yellows, oranges, reds, pinks and purple. Many of these hues — particularly its deep purples and pinks — can rival the saturation and beauty of even fancy colored sapphires. Colorless, or white, topaz is also quite plentiful, but because it lacks the sparkle of diamonds, these stones are generally treated so that they take on a blue tone.
The cause of topaz color, like many colored gemstones, is the presence of impure elements or defects in its internal structure. Pink topaz are formed thanks to the inclusion of the element chromium, while different atomic imperfections can lead to a yellow, brown or blue topaz.
The availability of these different varieties of topaz varies based on their rarity. While blue and brown topaz is relatively plentiful, some colors are far more difficult to find. Red is the scarcest and most valuable of the topaz color varieties — it represents less than one-half of 1 percent of facet-grade topaz found. Imperial topaz, which displays a reddish-orange hue, is one of the most coveted colors of these stones, and these are particularly favored in Japan and Germany. Pink topaz are also remarkably popular and command a high price in Japan, so much so that they can be difficult to find in Western markets. Some topaz are even pleochroic, meaning that they display different color hues depending on the angle that one views them.
In addition to its variety of color, topaz has a number of other physical attributes that make it well-suited for use in jewelry. For one, topaz forms in some of the world’s largest crystals, making large gemstones weighing over 5 and even 10 carats relatively easy to find, especially blue stones. It is also almost always eye clean and free from inclusions, so those large stones with their impressive color are generally unmarred to the naked eye. For this reason, topaz varieties are particularly popular in cocktail rings and large suites of jewelry that are meant to make a maximum impact.
The gemstones can be found in a full range of shapes, though oval or pear cuts are the most common. This is because topaz naturally forms in elongated columns, and thus more lengthened cuts produce a greater yield for cutters. The emerald cut is also a common choice, as it naturally enhances the color of a stone, particularly in the case of highly saturated stones.
Topaz registers an 8 on the Mohs hardness scale, meaning that it is just one step below corundum (sapphires and rubies). However, this stone is prone to cleavage, and its lack of toughness means that it is not ideal for daily wear. For this reason, one should never clean their topaz in an ultrasonic or steam cleaner — it is best to stick with soap and water for this gemstone.
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