As­so­ciat ed wit h strength and pro­tecti on agai nst one’s en­e­mies, topaz is ad­mired for it s beauty and splen­dour.

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Birth­stones for Novem­ber and De­cem­ber

The birth­stone for the month of Novem­ber, topaz, oc­curs in a va­ri­ety of colours. The Egyp­tians be­lieved that topaz got its colour from the Sun God,

while oth­ers be­lieved that the gem­stone changed colour in the pres­ence of poi­sonous sub­stances. In the 19th cen­tury, only the Czar, his fam­ily, and those whom the Czar gifted were al­lowed to own pink topaz in Rus­sia. Said to strengthen in­tel­lect and drive away

sad­ness, In­di­ans be­lieve topaz as­sures long life and beauty.

Tan­zan­ite, a vari­ant of the min­eral zoisite, was dis­cov­ered by a Ma­sai tribesman look­ing for sap­phires in the 1960s. The ex­otic blue gem, chris­tened tan­zan­ite by Tif­fany & Co., has fast be­come a sen­sa­tion in the gem world and has joined the list of cov­eted gems.

So much so that the Amer­i­can Gem Trade As­so­ci­a­tion added tan­zan­ite to the list of birth­stones for De­cem­ber in 2002 – a first since the list was last changed in 1912. Legend has it that the land was struck by a bolt of light­ning which trans­formed

brown stones to a shim­mer­ing vi­o­let-blue. Read on as the Ge­mo­log­i­cal In­sti­tute of Amer­ica (GIA), the world’s fore­most au­thor­ity in gem­mol­ogy, un­cov­ers the facts and leg­ends that sur­round th­ese al­lur­ing gems in our

con­clud­ing part of the birth­stones se­ries.

Did You Know?

Many con­sumers know topaz sim­ply as an in­ex­pen­sive blue gem, but you might be sur­prised to learn that its blue colour is rarely nat­u­ral – it’s almost al­ways colour­less topaz that’s been treated to give it a blue colour.

You might also be sur­prised to learn that topaz comes in a va­ri­ety of colours, in­clud­ing pinks and pur­ples that ri­val the finest fancy sap­phires. In fact, topaz has an ex­cep­tion­ally wide colour range that, be­sides brown, in­cludes var­i­ous tones and sat­u­ra­tions of blue, green, yel­low, orange, red, pink and pur­ple.

Topaz is al­lochro­matic, which means that its colour is caused by im­pu­rity el­e­ments or de­fects in its crys­tal struc­ture rather than by an el­e­ment of its ba­sic chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion. The el­e­ment chromium causes nat­u­ral pink, red and vi­o­let-to-pur­ple colours in topaz. Im­per­fec­tions at the atomic level in a topaz crys­tal struc­ture can cause yel­low, brown and blue colour. Brown is a common topaz colour, and the gem is some­times mis­tak­enly called “smoky quartz”.

The colour va­ri­eties are of­ten iden­ti­fied sim­ply by its hue – blue topaz, pink topaz, and so forth – but there are also a cou­ple of spe­cial trade names. Im­pe­rial topaz is medium red­dish orange to orange-red. This is one of the gem’s most ex­pen­sive colours.

His­tory and Lore

Most au­thor­i­ties agree that the name topaz comes from Topazios, the old Greek name for a small is­land in the Red Sea, now called Zabar­gad. The is­land never pro­duced topaz, but it was once a source of peri­dot, which was con­fused with topaz be­fore the de­vel­op­ment of mod­ern min­er­al­ogy. Some schol­ars trace the ori­gin back to San­skrit and the word topas or ta­paz, mean­ing ‘fire’.

The an­cient Greeks be­lieved topaz gave them strength. Re­nais­sance Euro­peans be­lieved topaz could break magic spells and dis­pel anger. For cen­turies, many peo­ple in In­dia have be­lieved topaz when worn above the heart as­sured long life, beauty and in­tel­li­gence.

The 4Cs: Clar­ity, Colour, Cut and Carat Weight

COLOUR Red is one of the most sought-after topaz colours and rep­re­sents less than one-

half of 1% of facet-grade ma­te­rial found. Medium red­dish orange to orange-red topaz, which the trade calls im­pe­rial topaz, is highly prized and very rare.

Some say that pink topaz, of­ten called rose topaz, re­sem­bles a pink di­a­mond or a bright pink sap­phire. Pink topaz has cer­tain ad­van­tages over th­ese two gems. It’s much less ex­pen­sive than pink di­a­mond, and it’s of­ten avail­able in larger sizes than ei­ther di­a­mond or sap­phire.

Deal­ers of­ten use the trade term “sherry topaz” for yel­low­ish brown or brown­ish yel­low to orange topaz. Golden or yel­low topaz lacks the prized red over­tones of im­pe­rial topaz. It’s also much more abun­dant and there­fore less valu­able. Although brown topaz is also less valu­able, it has been used in strik­ing pieces of jew­ellery and or­na­men­tal art.

In na­ture, topaz is most com­monly colour­less, and nat­u­rally strong blue gems are ex­tremely rare. In the mar­ket­place, how­ever, strong blue shades are plen­ti­ful be­cause colour­less topaz is treated with a com­bi­na­tion of ra­di­a­tion and heat.

A fash­ioned topaz that dis­plays a com­bi­na­tion of two colours is called bi­colour topaz. The most val­ued topaz colours are orange-red to red. Blue gems are widely avail­able.


Fash­ioned topaz gems are of­ten free of vis­i­ble in­clu­sions or flaws. This is es­pe­cially true of blue, colour­less and yel­low topaz. Other rare colours like im­pe­rial and pink may show in­clu­sions more of­ten and still be valu­able due to the colour’s rar­ity.


Be­cause topaz crys­tals are usu­ally elon­gated or colum­nar, they’re of­ten cut as long oval or pear shapes to im­prove yield. If the rough is strongly coloured, the cut­ter of­ten chooses the emer­ald cut be­cause that cut­ting style max­imises colour and re­tains the most weight.


Topaz can of­ten form as large crys­tals that yield size­able cut gems.

Spe­cial Notes

Topaz is pleochroic, of­ten dis­play­ing dif­fer­ent colours in dif­fer­ent crys­tal di­rec­tions.


Topaz, which is an eight on the Mohs scale of min­eral hard­ness, re­quires spe­cial care dur­ing cut­ting, pol­ish­ing and mount­ing. Be­cause it is not very tough, a hard blow might split it, and ex­treme pres­sure or sharp tem­per­a­ture changes might cause it to break. Jew­ellers pre­fer to set valu­able topaz gems in pro­tec­tive mount­ings or use it in pieces that aren’t ex­posed to too much wear, like pen­dants and pins.

Pho­tographed from GIA’s Dr. Ed­ward J. Gü­be­lin Col­lec­tion. (Left to right) 14.33-carat golden orange cush­ion-cut topaz from Brazil; 14.32-carat rose-red cush­ion-cut topaz from Rus­sia; 7.61carat rose-red fancy-cut topaz from Rus­sia and 12.54-carat...

This 12.25-carat un­treated topaz from Brazil flanked by di­a­monds is set in plat­inum. The ring de­signed by Maria Canale, is cour­tesy of Richard Kre­mentz Gem­stones. Photo by Robert Wel­don © GIA

Dan­hov Per Lei’s dou­ble-shank oval blush topaz plat­inum en­gage­ment ring set with 0.70 carat of di­a­monds. Photo: PGI-USA

Pho­tographed from GIA’s Dr. Ed­ward J. Gü­be­lin Col­lec­tion. (Left to right) 9.21carat colour­less oc­tagon topaz from Nige­ria; 15.01-carat light blue oc­tagon topaz from Brazil; 18.41-carat rose red oc­tagon topaz from Pak­istan; and 12.54-carat orange red...

Plat­inum, di­a­mond and blue topaz fringe ear­rings by Erica Court­ney. Photo: PGI-USA

This 8x6 mm oval checker­board-cut blue topaz is sur­rounded with 70 di­a­monds weigh­ing 0.35 carat set in 18-karat white gold. © GIA

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