Topaz is a fascinating gemstone that I love working with as a lapidarist. With its stunning array of natural colors, from pale blues to vivid oranges, topaz provides endless possibilities for creating unique jewelry designs. The most coveted variety is the rare imperial topaz, which exhibits a vibrant orange-red hue. This distinctive gem commands high prices due to its beauty and rarity.
While natural topaz can be found in many colors, blue is the most popular shade for jewelry on the market today. Most blue topaz is coated or irradiated to achieve the desired tones, which range from pale sky blue to deep London blue. As a lapidarist, I appreciate that topaz can be modified to produce different colors and effects. This allows me to tailor pieces to my clients’ preferences.
Beyond its use in jewelry, topaz has many additional applications that I find intriguing. For instance, its high heat resistance makes it useful for manufacturing refractory materials and ceramics. Topaz also has special optical properties that allow it to polarize light. With its combination of brilliance, durability, and versatility, it’s no wonder that topaz is the birthstone for November and the state gem for Utah and Texas. I look forward to continuing to showcase this marvelous mineral in my work.
Topaz is a popular gemstone known for its wide variety of colors and applications. It is the birthstone for November and the state gemstone for Utah and Texas. Topaz is an aluminum silicate mineral with the chemical formula Al2SiO4(F,OH)2. It forms crystal structures in the orthorhombic system and has a Mohs hardness of 8, making it suitable for use in jewelry. In its natural state, topaz is generally colorless, but trace impurities give it various tints from pale blue to yellow, brown, orange, pink, and red. Some of the most popular topaz varieties include imperial topaz and blue topaz. Topaz has uses beyond jewelry as a refractory material due to its high heat resistance and other industrial applications.
The chemical composition of topaz is Al2SiO4(F,OH)2. This means it contains aluminum, silicon, and oxygen with fluorine and/or hydroxyl groups. The hydroxyl groups make topaz prone to cleavage along basal planes and rhombohedral fractures.
Topaz crystallizes in the orthorhombic crystal system with prismatic, orthorhombic dipyramidal habits. The crystals are typically long and prismatic terminated by pyramids at both ends. Twinning is common in topaz.
On the Mohs scale, topaz has a hardness of 8. This makes it suitable for use in jewelry and resistant to scratching. However, topaz has perfect cleavage along its basal plane which makes it prone to splitting or chipping if struck.
The specific gravity of topaz ranges from 3.49-3.57. This means topaz sinks in water and weighs more than other common minerals like quartz.
Topaz is singly refractive and has a relatively high refractive index of 1.607-1.644. It also displays pleochroism, meaning it can display different colors when viewed from different angles.
Sources and Formation
Where Topaz is Mined
Some of the most significant sources of topaz are:
- Brazil – Minas Gerais is a top producer of imperial topaz. Other deposits are in Goiás and Bahia.
- Russia – The Ural Mountains contain major topaz deposits including reddish and pink varieties.
- Africa – Significant topaz mining in Namibia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Mali and Madagascar.
- United States – Notable deposits in San Diego County, California and the Thomas Range in Utah.
- Australia – Produces blue topaz. Deposits found in New South Wales and Queensland.
Topaz mainly forms through two geological processes:
- Igneous – Topaz can crystallize from cooling magmas and pegmatites. Occurs with minerals like tourmaline and beryl.
- Hydrothermal – Heated aqueous solutions deposit topaz in cavities and fractures in rocks. Associated minerals include cassiterite and fluorite.
Some minerals found alongside topaz deposits include: quartz, fluorite, apatite, tourmaline, beryl, mica, cassiterite, and wolframite.
- Yellowish brown – Most common natural color, ranging from golden honey tones to reddish brown.
- Clear – Colorless and transparent. Prolonged light exposure can bleach impurities and turn colored topaz clear.
- Blue – Rare pale blue variety caused by fluorine or hydroxyl content replacing each other in the crystal structure.
- Pink – Rose to pinkish red tones due to trace chromium. More common in topaz from Pakistan and Russia.
- Blue – Most blue topaz is irradiated and heated to produce blue colors unattainable naturally. Resulting blue hues include sky, Swiss, and London blue topaz.
- Red – Reddish-orange topaz produced by treatment. Not as vibrant as natural imperial topaz.
- Pink – Treatment can enhance pink shades in topaz.
- Imperial – Natural orange to reddish-orange topaz. Very rare and expensive. Main source is Brazil.
- Mystic – Multicolored topaz displaying rainbow iridescence. Created through vapor deposition coating.
Comparison Table of Topaz and Other Gemstones
|Topaz||8||3.49-3.57||1.607-1.644||Blue, yellow, pink, brown, clear|
|Diamond||10||3.5-3.53||2.417||Colorless, yellow, brown, blue, green, pink, black, purple, red|
|Ruby||9||4.0||1.762-1.770||Red, pink, purplish-red|
|Sapphire||9||3.9-4.1||1.757-1.779||Blue, yellow, pink, green, colorless|
|Amethyst||7||2.65||1.544-1.553||Purple, violet, reddish purple|
|Citrine||7||2.63-2.69||1.544-1.553||Yellow, gold, brownish orange|
|Garnet||6.5-7.5||3.5-4.3||1.712-1.888||Red, orange, yellow, green, purple, brown, black|
Industrial and Metaphysical Uses
Gemstones and Jewelry
The primary use of topaz is for gemstones and jewelry. Blue topaz is one of the most popular jewelry stones on the market. Topaz is also used for birthstone jewelry as the November birthstone. Its hardness makes it durable for settings like rings, earrings, pendants, and bracelets.
Refractories and Ceramics
Topaz retains strength at high temperatures so it is used to manufacture refractory materials for furnaces, kilns, and glass manufacturing. Its mineral composition is also utilized to produce ceramics and glass.
Topaz has specialized optical properties due to its high refractive index and pleochroism. This allows it to manipulate and polarize light which has uses in optical instruments.
In crystal healing, topaz is believed to promote creativity, individuality, confidence, and truth. Imperial topaz is associated with stimulating emotions and manifestation. Blue topaz is thought to aid communication andintonation.
Notable Topaz Examples
Some of the most famous topaz gems and jewelry include:
- A massive 22,892 carat modified pear brilliant cut yellow topaz.
- One of the largest faceted gems in the world.
- Discovered in Minas Gerais, Brazil and cut by Leon Agee over a period of two years in the late 1980s.
- Donated to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. where it is displayed.
- The largest faceted colorless topaz at 31,000 carats (6.2 lbs).
- Originally thought to be a diamond crystal when discovered in the 1750s in Colombia.
- Cut in Amsterdam over a period of two years and acquired by the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada in 1972.
- An imperial topaz weighing 1,640 carats originally discovered in the 18th century Ouro Preto mines of Brazil.
- Mounted in gold and gifted to Portuguese royalty, eventually becoming part of the Russian Imperial Treasures.
- Currently housed in the Kremlin Diamond Fund in Moscow as part of the Russian crown jewels.
Taj Mahal Necklace
- A 274.40 carat blue topaz mined in Brazil and cut into a cushion shape with 66 facets.
- Set in a platinum necklace by premier jewelers Boucheron for the Maharaja of Nawanagar in the 1920s.
- Sold at auction in 2009 for $3.5 million to a private collector.
Care and Cleaning
Caring for topaz jewelry properly is important to maintain its appearance and value. Here are some best practices:
- Clean topaz with warm water, mild soap, and a very soft brush or cloth. Avoid abrasive cleaners or brushes that can scratch the surface.
- Ultrasonic and steam cleaners should not be used on topaz. The intense vibrations and heat can damage the gemstone.
- Avoid exposing topaz to chemicals like chlorine, bleach, acid, or solvents like acetone. These substances can erode, discolor, or fracture topaz.
- Store topaz jewelry separately from other gems in a protective pouch to prevent scratches. Diamonds and other hard stones can scratch softer topaz.
- Take off topaz jewelry before physical activities like exercising, gardening, or cleaning to prevent impacts that can chip or crack the gem.
- Avoid extended exposure to sunlight or heat sources. Prolonged light and heat can cause the color of topaz to fade significantly over time.
With proper care, topaz can remain beautiful and retain its value for many years. Be especially cautious with treated blue topaz which is more prone to color fading. See a jeweler promptly for any chips, cracks, or scratches in topaz stones.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between precious topaz and mystic topaz?
Precious topaz is natural topaz that is mined from the earth. Mystic topaz is colorless topaz that has been artificially coated to produce rainbow colors and iridescence.
Does topaz last forever or can it become damaged?
While topaz is very durable, it can become damaged over time, especially if not properly cared for. Chipping, cracking, and scratching are possible. Avoiding impacts, heat, and chemicals can help preserve topaz.
What jewelry metal best complements topaz?
Topaz looks beautiful set in both yellow and white metals. For a vintage look, rose or yellow gold pair nicely with orange, yellow or brown topaz. For a modern style, white metals like platinum and sterling silver complement blue topaz.
How can you tell if topaz is real?
Real topaz is identified by testing properties like specific gravity, refractive index, cleavage planes, and reaction to polarization. The presence of identifiable inclusions can also indicate natural topaz.
Does topaz have any mystical healing properties?
In crystal healing lore, topaz is believed to aid creativity, communication, confidence, mood, and truthfulness. Imperial topaz is thought to help stimulate emotions and desires. But there is no scientific evidence for these metaphysical powers.
Where are the best places to buy topaz jewelry?
Reputable jewelers, gem shows, antique stores, and ethical mines/dealers are great places to find quality topaz jewelry. Online retailers can offer affordable options but less chance to inspect stones.
Is topaz a rare gemstone?
Not particularly. Topaz is relatively abundant compared to gems like diamonds and rubies. But rare color varieties like natural reddish-orange imperial topaz are scarce and valuable.
What is a topaz anniversary?
A topaz anniversary marks important milestones in a marriage or relationship. The 4th, 13th, and 23rd anniversaries are traditionally the topaz anniversaries.
With its stunning range of color varieties, robust physical properties, and multitude of uses, topaz has cemented itself as an important gemstone. It will continue to be highly utilized in the jewelry industry while also serving key roles in manufacturing and tech. The unique metaphysical attributes of topaz also contribute to its popularity. Topaz’s future looks bright as suppliers unearth new sources of this versatile mineral and lapidaries discover innovative techniques for enhancing its natural beauty. There is still much to learn about and admire in the November birthstone.