History of the topaz

Many millions of years ago when the earth was still an amount of gas, that gas started to cool down and became rock; igneous rock. In this stage the hot gasses reacted under high pressure with the rock and you can find topaz in the hollows of that igneous rock, like you can find also garnet and rhyolite in these types of hollows.

The gemstone topaz is known in the Western World for more than 2000 years. The Egyptians in the age of the farao’s thought that the golden hue of the topaz came from the sun god Ra. In ancient references they were talking or writing about the topaz as a greenish colored gemstone, but most likely they meant peridot or chrysolite. The latter literally meant ‘the golden stone’.

In the Bible it says that topaz was 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 and what gemstone they actually meant using a certain gemstone name, it’s most likely that the stones in the breastplate of Aaron and for that matter the gemstones in my crowns or other famous pieces of jewelry too, is not the stone it was thought to be, but another one, that looked like it.

Non faceted topaz in many colors

Non faceted topaz in many colors

Where does the name comes from?

The name occured for the first time in the Greec language. A great Greec historian , Pliny the Elder, thought that the name ‘topaz’ came from an island in the Red Sea called Topasios. But this is a questionable explanation and even the historians don’t know whether the kind of gemstones they found there is topaz. The island is called Zabargad or St Johns island now and one thinks that the gemstone that people found there is chrysolite, rather than topaz. Then there is another explanation that says that the name topaz comes from the Sanskrit word ‘tapas’, what means fire. The denotation ‘topaz’ got its present meaning in the Middle Ages.

The name ‘topaz’ gives a lot of confusion. In the Greec and Roman Times they called all yellow colored gemstones topaz. But also the gemstone peridot, that was found on the island Topasios was called topaz. In the Middle Ages they gave topaz the right denotation, but even today sometime citrine (or more likely burned amethist) is called topaz. Others believe that topaz is a word from the Middle Ages. In the Middle English language there is a word, that was acquired from the Old French language, ‘topace’ and in Latin the word is ‘Topazus’. To make it more complicated: sometimes they call ‘yellow korund‘ the ‘yellow topaz’ and there is a gemstone ‘Topazoliet’, that actually is a yellow green variety of garnet.

The colors of the topaz

Pure topaz is colorless and the colors occurs when the pure topaz 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, bleu or orange as well. The stone is transperant and looks a bit like glass. Mystic topaz is a topaz, which is coated. By heating and / or radiation the yellow brown variety of topaz you get a pink of blue color. Heating other colors of topaz you will get a blue color too. But the blue topaz also occurs in  nature, not threatened. One kind of topaz is called goldtopaz or imperial topaz. And it’s good to know that violet and red topaz are extremely rare.

Golden topaz: the biggest faceted topaz in the world and the biggest ring with golden topaz.

Golden topaz: the biggest faceted topaz in the world and the biggest ring with golden topaz.

What type of gemstone is the topaz?

Topaz is a fairly inexpensive and common gemstone, that is found in huge crystals and it can be faceted into enormous gemstones that weigh hunderds and thousands of carats. But topaz is a hard gemstone and not easy to be faceted. When you look at different angles to a faceted topaz, you can see different color intensities.

It is really hard to recognize topaz. It’s is less hard than diamond, ruby, emerald and sapphire (8 on the scale of Mohr). Topaz has an excellent cleavage in comparison with other gemstones. And you can recognize the topaz when you can see different shade of the color with a different angle. Due to the treatment of heating and radiation of a lot of topaz. it gets even harder to determine this gemstone. So be carefull, that you don’t buy glass or swarovski when you want topaz.

Where to find topaz?

In the 18th century most of the topaz was found in Saxonia (Germany); especially the yellow topaz was found here and the ‘mountain’ Schneckenstein (a rock of 23 meters high) was digged up for that reason.  First they gathered pieces of topaz by ‘accident’, but between 1737 and 1800 they used deep mining to get to the topaz layer. In medieval times topaz was an expensive gemstone, becasue it was rare, but when they discovered large deposits in Minas Gerais in Brasil, topaz became more affordable and more popular.  In the 19th century they discovered pink topaz in Russia. The pink topaz was so rare and coveted that the Czar decided that only he and his family were allowed to wear a topaz.

In our century there are many places where you can find – only small amounts- of topaz. A larger quantaty of this gemstone is found in Minas Gerais (Brasil), where the orange yellow and orange brown colored topaz comes from. But also the real (not heated) blue topaz is found here. In Pakistan there is a layer of high quality of pink topaz and in Sri Lanka you will find light colored blue, green and transparent gemstones. But also in Australia, Russia (Oeral), Myanmar (Burma), Mexico and Nigeria you can try your luck digging up topaz.

Mine in Schneckenstein (Germany) with topaz mined there.

Mine in Schneckenstein (Germany) with topaz mined there.

Nice facts and legends

  • People think or thought that topaz makes men attractive and intelligent and women happy and fertile. It’s a rather oldfashioned way to describe the ideal relationship between men and women, but this is what is was in those days
  • Topaz should protect you against depression, anxiety, poisoning and a sudden death
  • The old Greec and Romans thought the topaz was the stone of Zeus and Jupiter and the one who wore the topaz could get strength and a better eyesight. The Egyptionas used the topaz in a amulet to prevent injury. And in the Middle Ages people thought that topaz could heal any mental and physical disorder and prevent death. In the 13th century in the book of Ragiel, called ‘the book of wings’ it was written that carved gemstones were created by nature. And he writes that a figure of a falcon in a topaz will acquire the goodwill of princes, kings and other powerfull people. St Hildegard recommended in the 13th century the topaz as a cure for eye problems and other sources mention the ‘fact’ that when you put a topaz under your pillow it prevents nightmares.
  • The gold colored topaz was thought to attract gold and worn on the left arm the topaz could protect from magic, greed, pain and you could accomplish a weight loss and attract love.
  • Topaz is the birthstone of november, but blue topaz is the birthstone of december. Blue topaz is the gem for the 4th anniversary and Imperial topaz for the 23th anniversary.
  • Topaz 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.
  • According to the Bible the seventh pillar of the new Jerusalem will be decorated by topaz. But one thinks that it is more likely to be chrysolite.
The Pope with his Mitra preciosa and a topaz: non radiated and a small piece radiated topaz

The Pope with his Mitra preciosa and a topaz: non radiated and a small piece radiated topaz

In 1740 the miners of the Ouro Preto mine in Brasil thought they had found the biggest diamond on earth; it was 1640 carats and was called ‘Braganza’ diamond. The Portugese royalty loved that big diamond and it was set in the Portugese crown. There was only a little minor point and that is that this diamond was 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 loved the pink topaz, which was very rare. So they used heat treated golden topaz from Brasil for their pieces of jewelry.

I already mentioned that topaz 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 hunderds of pounds or kilo’s. A very large topaz has 20.000 carats, comes from Brasil, weighs 600 lbs and you can 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.

Blue topaz

Blue topaz

How to take care of your topaz

Due to sunlight topaz can change in color, so keep it out strong direct sunlight. Topaz has to be protected from exposure to rapid temperature changes or acids. You can clean topaz best with warm water with a little handsoap.

Conclusion:

Topaz is a beautiful gemstone with a lot of qualities, but… it is hard to recognize whether you have a real non treatened topaz or a heat treatened or radiated topaz. Or even worse you buy a piece of glass or swarovski instead of topaz. So be careful and some advise and garantee could be used here.

Hug,

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