Greece. Home to blue skies and even bluer waters. Gorgeous islands and, theoretically at least, those epic Greek Gods we all learned about in middle school. Turns out the Greeks had their hands in a lot of things back in ancient times. Not the least of which was naming newly identified jewels. What do you do when you find a sunny yellow gemstone? Name it after the island on which it was found, of course. And when your island is named Topazos, Topaz seems like a good option.
Topaz – It’s All Greek To Me
Which is all well and good. Except several hundred years later, it turns out things have been a bit confused and that which the Greeks called Topaz was really either Citrine or Quartz and our stone today (what has come to truly be recognized today as Topaz), wasn’t even found on the lovely island of present day Zagbargad. Details, details. It really matters not, as today, that which we recognize as topaz is often, sunny and yellow, but like so many gemstones, comes in myriad colors in reality.
You see, Topaz, a silicate mineral consisting of aluminum and fluorine, in its pure state is colorless. However, good old mama nature likes to mix things up (literally) from time to time and she adds in come “contaminates” and whizzo presto – we get a rainbow of colors from one stone. It can be found in many hues – blue (the most common commercially), pink (rare), red, lavender (rare), yellow (very common), brown and orange. And now for the where. Hint: it’s not Greece. But it is South America, Russia, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Czech Republic, Germany, Norway, Pakistan, Italy, Sweden, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, Nigeria and the good ol’ USA (mostly in Utah).
The Big, Strong and The Colorful
Topaz was a hot stone in the Retro Modern Era. It was readily accessible and there were large stones to be had (which was nice, since so many things were rationed or unavailable. A girl’s got to have her jewels, even during war-time, you know.). And these days, the rare stones, those that are known as Imperial Topaz – typically from Russia and thus aptly named – are sought after by collectors. Their color is something to see. It’s often described as saturated golden sherry or quince jelly with yellow or pink undertones. No matter how you describe them, they’re stunning.
But the stone thought by the Greeks to offer strength, the Indians to offer a long life and the Europeans of the Renaissance to break magic spells and dispel anger isn’t just for jewelry or collectors. It’s also a key component in bronze and thus was popular in Europe in the 18th and early 19th centuries (when bronze was all the rage), after a large Brazilian mine was discovered. It was also popular in jewelry at the time, and regularly found set closed-back (with foil behind) to help intensify the color. And for our Victorian friends that loved jewelry that carried a secret, it was popular in what was known as “regard” jewelry, where each stone stood for a letter in a word the piece spelled out (representing “T”, obviously).
‘Twas The Month Before Christmas
Today it’s most commonly thought of us November’s birthstone (along with Citrine) and the most popular color is blue. Many of the stones on the market have undergone irradiation to intensify their color of which there are three stages for the blues: sky blue (lighter), swiss blue (medium) and London blue (darker).
As always, we like to provide you with some extra reading material, should you be looking for additional information. A great resource is Topaz Gemstones – A Collection of Historical Articles on the Origins, Structure and Properties of Topaz. If you’re interested in learning about minerals as gemstones in general, we’d recommend Handbook of Rocks, Minerals, and Gemstones.
Tell us about your topaz. Are you a November baby? Did you just love getting lost in the depths a swiss blue? Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.