Name may come from Sanskrit topas meaning fire. For most of history, all yellow gems were called topaz. Scientific identification was first made in the early 1700s.
To the ancient Egyptians, the yellow color of topaz represented the sun god Ra and life-sustaining energy. The Greeks believed this gem gives its wearer strength, and in later centuries topaz was credited with the poser to overcome evil magic.
All colors of topaz are birthstones for November. Blue topaz is the gem for the 4th wedding anniversary and was a December birthstone until 2002 when it was replaced by Tanzanite. Imperial topaz is the 23rd anniversary gem.
Color: Many shades of blue, yellow, brown, orange, red, and pink. Most expensive are intense reds and pinks.
Clarity: Often almost inclusion-free.
Cut: Faceted in many shapes and styles. Sometimes carved or fantasy cut.
Carat Weight: Most colors are normally available in a very wide size range (up to 50 carats or more). But red and pink are relatively rare over 10 or 15 carats, especially in fine quality. One of the world’s biggest transparent faceted gems is a yellow topaz that weighs 22.982 carats – or a little more than 10 pounds.
Red and pink topaz is commonly heat-treated to create or improve color. Almost all blue topaz is produced by a two-step process that involves irradiation followed by heating. These methods duplicate conditions that can occur naturally in the earth. Their effects are normally permanent, and they create no added special care requirements. Except in very rare cases, irradiation treatment leaves no significant radioactivity. Government agencies, industry organizations, and individual firms take effective steps to ensure that material which might pose a potential health concern never reaches jewelry stores.
Classified as a mineral species. Composition is somewhat variable and includes aluminum, fluorine, hydrogen, oxygen, and silicon. Blues, yellows, and browns are caused by slight irregularities in crystal structure. Reds and pinks are colored by trace amounts of chromium (the same element that colors emerald and ruby). Oranges result from a combination of structure irregularities and chromium.
Trade terms for topaz include:
Golden topaz – Yellow to yellowish orange
Sherry topaz – Orange to yellow-brown
Imperial topaz – Deep pink to orange-red.
Precious topaz – Often used to distinguish topaz from citrine and smoky quartz
Topaz needs gentle wear and care. Protective setting recommended.
Hardness: High scratch resistance. Rates 8 on the Mohs Hardness Scale.
Toughness: Low resistance to chipping and breaking because of cleavage (a tendency to split in certain directions due to crystal structure patterns).
Stability: No routine concerns for gem owners
Cleaning: Liquid cleaner; or detergent and water. NEVER USE AN ULTRASONIC.