This gemstone is the birthstone of November. And to be honest, that fact was a long time the only certainty we had when we talk about the gemstone topaz. It is such a confusing gemstone, that in history people never know what the topaz really was. And still, this gemstone is not what you think it is.
This gemstone has a confusing history
This gemstone is known in the Western World for more than 2000 years. The Egyptians in the age of the pharaohs thought that the golden hue of the topaz came from the sun god Ra. In ancient references, they were talking or writing about it as a greenish-colored gemstone, but most likely they meant peridot or chrysolite. The latter literally meant ‘the golden stone’.
For thousands of years, all yellow gemstones were called topaz or regarded as a variation of this gemstone. An example of this is to be read in ancient texts, written by the Greek scholar Pliny. In the King James Bible, he mentioned this gem, but it seems that he refers to all the yellow gemstones.
And then it is also good to know that it can have a yellowish or golden color, but it occurs also in the color blue! But in those days they did not know!
In the Bible, it says that this gem was one of the gemstones set in the breastplate of Aaron. But it’s difficult to say, whether that is true or not. When you look at the general confusion about the names of gemstones and what gemstone they actually meant using a certain gemstone name, it’s most likely that the stones in the breastplate of Aaron and for that matter, the gemstones in my crowns or other famous pieces of jewelry too, is not the stone it was thought to be, but another one, that looked like it.
Even the origin of the name is confusing
The name ‘topaz’ gives a lot of confusion. In the Greek and Roman Times, they called all yellow-colored gemstones topaz. But also the gemstone peridot, which was found on the island Topasios was called topaz. In the Middle Ages, they gave it the right denotation, but even today sometime citrine (or more likely burned amethyst) is called topaz. Others believe that topaz is a word from the Middle Ages.
And the color is confusing too
Pure topaz is colorless and the colors occur when the pure variety is ‘polluted’, with iron or chromium. Then it can occur in many colors, like wine red or straw yellow, but it can be white, grey, green, blue, or orange as well. The stone is transparent and looks a bit like glass.
Mystic topaz is a topaz, which is coated. By heating and/or radiation the yellow-brown variety you get a pink or blue color. Heating other colors of topaz you will get a blue color too. But the blue one also occurs in nature, not threatened. One kind is called gold or imperial topaz. And it’s good to know that violet and red variety are extremely rare.
In Texas/USA you can find the light blue gem variety, but it is not commercially mined in this region. Despite this fact, the blue topaz is the official gemstone of Texas since 1969. And because of some reason also Utah/USA declared this gemstone as the official gemstone of the state.
Light blue varieties 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 it also as its state gemstone.
It is hard to find out what stone is the real gemstone
It is really hard to recognize topaz. It is less hard than diamond, ruby, emerald, and sapphire (8 on the scale of Mohr). This gem has excellent cleavage in comparison with other gemstones. And you can recognize it when you can see different shades of color from a different angle. Due to the treatment of heating and radiation of a lot of them, it gets even harder to determine this gemstone. So be careful, that you don’t buy glass or Swarovski when you want topaz.
Nice facts and legends
- People think or thought that this gemstone makes men attractive and intelligent and women happy and fertile. It’s a rather old-fashioned way to describe the ideal relationship between men and women, but this is what it was in those days
- It should protect you against depression, anxiety, poisoning, and a sudden death
- The old Greeks and Romans thought this gem was the stone of Zeus and Jupiter and that the one who wore it could get strength and better eyesight. The Egyptians used this gemstone in an amulet to prevent injury. And in the Middle Ages people thought that topaz could heal any mental and physical disorder and prevent death.
- In the time of the Renaissance in Europe, this beautiful gem was used by the people to break spells (most of them done by witches) or suppress anger moods.
- In India, this gem was regarded as sacred by the Hindus. They believed that if you wore a pendant or necklace with a topaz, that gemstone will bring you wisdom and long life. Also in Africa, the topaz was a sacred gemstone, used by the shamans in their healing processes or rituals.
- In the 19th century, the most topaz was found in the Ural Mountains in Russia. They mined the amazing pinkish to orange variation of the topaz, which was called the imperial topaz, to honor the Tsar of Russia. And he claimed that only the royal family was allowed to own this gem.
In the 13th century in the book of Raziel, called ‘the book of wings’ it was written that carved gemstones were created by nature. And he writes that a figure of a falcon in a topaz will acquire the goodwill of princes, kings, and other powerful people. St Hildegard recommended in the 13th century this gem as a cure for eye problems and other sources mention the ‘fact’ that when you put one under your pillow it prevents nightmares.
- The gold-colored variety was thought to attract gold and worn on the left arm it could protect from magic, greed, and pain and you could accomplish a weight loss and attract love.
- It is the birthstone of November, but the blue one is the birthstone of December. The blue variety is the gem for the 4th anniversary and Imperial topaz for the 23rd anniversary.
- It is one of the nine stones of the Thais decoration system
- The Pope owns a crown (Mitra Preciosa), that is decorated with gold, pearls, and topaz.
- According to the Bible, the seventh pillar of the new Jerusalem will be decorated with this gemstone. But one thinks that it is more likely to be chrysolite.
And the gemstone is fooling us around
In 1740 the miners of the Ouro Preto mine in Brasil thought they had found the biggest diamond on earth; it was 1640 carats and was called ‘Braganza’ diamond. The Portuguese royalty loved that big diamond and it was set in the Portuguese crown. There was only a little minor point and that is that this diamond was never confirmed to be a diamond and now it is believed that is it a colorless topaz and no diamond.
The rich people in the Victorian Age loved the pink variety, which was very rare. So they used heat-treated golden topaz from Brasil for their pieces of jewelry.
Big, bigger, biggest
This gemstone has enormous crystals, and faceted topaz can occur as one of the largest gemstones in the world. One crystal can be more than 3 feet long and weigh hundreds of pounds or kilos. A very large one has 20.000 carats, comes from Brasil, weighs 600 lbs and you can see this one in the Museum of Natural History in New York.
But there is even one larger and that one is called the ‘Brazilian Princess’. It is pale blue, weighs 21.327 carats, and comes from the Teofilo Otoni Mine in Brasil. You can see that one in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.
How to take care of
Due to sunlight, this gem can change in color, so keep it out of strong direct sunlight. It has to be protected from exposure to rapid temperature changes or acids. You can clean it best with warm water with a little hand soap.
Topaz is a beautiful gemstone with a lot of qualities, but… it is hard to recognize whether you have a real non-threatened variety or a heat threatened or radiated one. Or even worse you buy a piece of glass or Swarovski instead of this beauty. So be careful and some advise and guarantee could be used here.
‘FlorenceJewelshop published a PDF with a lot of information about birthstones and other interesting gemstones. It is free of charge and a great pamphlet to read. Just let me know to whom I can send it.
Hug Florence of FlorenceJewelshop