Along with Citrine, Topaz is the birthstone for November. It is also a suggested wedding gift for both the 4th and 23rd anniversary. That said, its gorgeous brilliance and crystal clarity makes it a wonderful gift for all occasions.
It is unclear how the gem was first named. What we do know is that the small island in the Red Sea which is today known as Zabargad, was once named “Topazios”. Pliny the Elder, author of the Natural History in the first century AD, links the gem to the island and states that the island’s name was derived from the Greek word “topazos”, “to seek”. Although the island was the source of Peridot for Cleopatra, Topaz was not mined there at that time. That said, throughout history the two gemstones have been repeatedly confused with one another, both of which can be found with vibrant golden greenish hues. Others believe that the gem’s name originates from the Sanskrit word “tapaz”, which means fire.
There is possibly more folklore and legend surrounding Topaz than any other gem. It has been known as a powerful magnetic stone throughout the ages that attracts love and fortune. It has been mentioned in the Bible and is one of the gemstones adorning the twelve holy gates of Jerusalem.
Having been discovered over 2500 years ago, Topaz gems are also called apocalyptic stones. They are known to protect against enemies and are used as a symbol of splendour and love. It is even suggested that if you wear Blue Topaz along with Moonstone it may help encourage the right mindset and willpower for weight loss.
It is said that Topaz holds the distinction of being the gemstone with the widest range of curative properties. The Greeks felt that it gave them strength, as well as supposedly relieving insomnia, and restoring sanity; it was even said to be able to detect poisons. Furthermore, they thought it had supernatural powers and could even make its owner invisible!
The Egyptians believed the stone received its colour from the golden glow of the Sun God - Ra. This made Topaz a talisman of power that protected its owners from harm.
In the 1100’s a large Golden Topaz was said to have been donated to a monastery by Lady Hildegarde (wife of Theodoric, Count of Holland), which was so luminous that it was used at night to light the inside of the chapel. Its glow was so bright that the congregation were able to read their prayers without the use of lamps. In Europe during the Renaissance (1300 – 1600) Topaz was believed to break evil spells and dispel anger. In India it was worn as a pendant, just above the heart to ensure long life, beauty and intelligence.
Topaz is its own species and comes in a wide variety of colours. It can be found in yellow, brownish yellow, brown, green, blue, light blue, red, pink and colourless. The Portuguese call the colourless type “pingos D’agoa” which means “Drops of Water”. How wonderful to imagine you can capture a drop of water in a piece of jewellery! Most colours of Topaz on the market today, with the exception of colourless, light blue and yellow, derive their colour from either irradiation or heat treatment (if you heat yellow Topaz from the Ouro Preto region of Brazil, it is possible to turn it pinkish). The irradiation process used to turn colourless Topaz blue replicates the natural irradiation process found in the state of Minas Gerias in Brazil, where Mother Nature naturally used irradiation to turn Topaz blue (natural Blue Topaz has also been found in Russia). Today Topaz is sometimes coated, resulting in glorious multi-coloured Mystic Topaz.
When we refer to the term “Precious Topaz”, we are talking about stones of a golden yellow to a peachy orange colour. Prior to the 1950’s, these hues accounted for virtually all Topaz which had been discovered thus far. Throughout history this gem was available in multiple shades of oranges, yellows and golden browns, hence prior to the last century it was often mistaken for certain gems of similar shades, such as Citrine and Smokey Quartz. The confusion was heightened by the Brazilian word “Topazio”, which means yellow gem.
Topaz is a fantastic gem to use in jewellery, not only for its stunning colours but also because of its durability. Reaching 8 on the Mohs hardness scale only Diamonds, Sapphire and Ruby are harder. It is a pleochroic gemstone, which means that different colours can be seen from different angles as you move the gem in the light. For example, a Red Topaz may show dark reds, yellows and pinkish reds. Although Topaz is very strong, it does have perfect cleavage, which - although reliable once faceted and set into jewellery - often creates challenges for Lapidarists when cutting the gem.
Topaz is found in several mining locations around the world, with the most important areas being Minas Gerais, Brazil, the Ural Mountains of Russia, Madagascar and Nigeria. Samples of the gem have also been discovered at various locations in the UK: St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall; the isle of Lundy near Devon; Northern Ireland; and Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland.