The gemstone topaz 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 topaz. It is such a confusing gemstone, that in history people never know what it really was. And still, this gem is not what you think it is.
It has a confusing history
The topaz is known in the Western World for more than 2000 years. The Egyptians in the age of the pharaohs think that the golden hue of the gemstone comes from the sun god Ra. In ancient references, they talk or write about the gem as a greenish-colored gemstone, but most likely they mean peridot or chrysolite. The latter literally means ‘the golden stone’.
In the Bible, it says that it is 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 it’s most likely that the stones in the breastplate of Aaron and for that matter, the gemstones in crowns or other famous pieces of jewelry too, is not the stone it was thought to be, but another one, that looks like it.
The origin of the name ‘topaz’ is confusing
The name ‘topaz’ gives a lot of confusion. In the Greek and Roman Times, they call all yellow-colored gemstones topaz. But also the gemstone peridot, that is found on the island Topasios is called topaz. In the Middle Ages, they give it the right denotation, but even today sometimes citrine (or more likely burned amethyst) is called topaz.
Even the color is confusing
Pure topaz is colorless and the colors occur when the pure gem 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 this gemstone you will get a blue color too. But the blue variation also occurs in nature, not threatened. One kind is called gold topaz or imperial topaz. And it’s good to know that violet and red variation are extremely rare.
What stone is the real gemstone topaz?
It is really hard to recognize this gemstone. It’s is less hard than diamond, ruby, emerald, and sapphire (8 on the scale of Mohr). It has excellent cleavage in comparison with other gemstones. And you can recognize the stone 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 legends about this gem
- 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 sudden death.
- The old Greeks and Romans thought it was the stone of Zeus and Jupiter and the one who wore it could get strength and better eyesight. The Egyptians used the gem in an amulet to prevent injury. And in the Middle Ages people thought this gem could heal any mental and physical disorder and prevent death.
- The gold-colored topaz is thought to attract gold and worn on the left arm it could protect from magic, greed, pain and you could accomplish a weight loss and attract love.
- According to the Bible, the seventh pillar of the new Jerusalem will be decorated by this gemstone. But one thinks that it is more likely to be chrysolite.
and some facts
- Topaz is the birthstone of November, but blue topaz is the birthstone of December. The blue variation 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.
- In the Middle Ages, a wine-yellow colored topaz was mined at Schneckenstein/Germany. Between 1737 and 1800 you had to go very deep to find it, which made it pricy and rare.
And the gemstone is fooling us around
In 1740 the miners of the Ouro Preto mine in Brasil think they find the biggest diamond on earth; it was 1640 carats and called ‘Braganza’ diamond. The Portuguese royalty loves that big diamond and it is set in the Portuguese crown. There is only a little minor point and that is that this diamond is 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 love the pink variation, which is very rare. So they use a heat-treated golden variety 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 stone has 20.000 carats, comes from Brasil, weighs 600 lbs and you see this one in the Museum of Natural History in New York. But there is even one topaz 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 your precious stone
Due to sunlight, this gemstone 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.
This is a beautiful gemstone with a lot of qualities, but… it is hard to recognize whether you have a real non-threatened one or a heat-threatened or radiated gem. Or even worse you buy a piece of glass or Swarovski instead of topaz. So be careful and some advise and guarantee could be used here.
If you are interested in gemstones and jewelry, you might like my e-book about birthstones. It is full of information and fun facts about these gemstones. And it makes a great gift for a friend together with a piece of jewelry. It is free of charge. Just let me know where I can send it to.
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