Autumn is magical. Think only of the glowing reds, amber yellows and rusty oranges of fallen leaves and you’ll know why. Indeed, the bright November birthstone, Orange Topaz (or ‘rare Topaz’), reflects the season’s brilliance perfectly, making it an excellent choice of jewel for this time of year.
Not just for autumn
Yet neither is topaz a stone to fall in-and-out of fashion, as seasons change or as centuries pass. It has been celebrated and used in jewellery for around 2,000 years; beginning with the ancient Egyptians who believed the stone received its golden hue from the sun-god, Ra.
The Egyptians weren’t the only ones to connect the stone with fire. Perhaps it is the burning brilliance of Orange Topaz that led to its name, traced by some to the Sanskrit word ‘tapas’, meaning fire. (Others follow the etymology back to Topazios, the old Greek name for a small island in the Red Sea, now known as Zabargad. Though the island never produced topaz, it was once a source of the yellow gemstone, Peridot, with which topaz was frequently confused.)
A stone of many colours
But topaz is by no means limited to oranges and yellows. In fact, it is one of the few gemstones to exhibit pleochromism: the appearance of several colours in a single stone depending on the angle from which you view it. The rarest and most pure form of Topaz is actually colourless and transparent.
Naturally, it is the presence of impurities that lends the stone its rainbow variety of shades and tints, from cyclamen pink (mined in Pakistan) to icy blue (Texas, USA). Topaz is also often heat-treated, irradiated or given an artificial coating to produce the most desirable colour. Be careful however, as this effect can sometimes fade after periods of extended exposure to sunlight.
By the kilo
Topaz comes in some of the gem world’s largest crystals: often measured in kilos, as well as carats. Clear topaz mined in Brazil can even reach boulder size, resulting in pieces such as the giant 1680-carat Braganza crystal that sits within the Portuguese crown (once thought to be a diamond), or the more recent American Golden Topaz, sized at 22,892 carats (4.5785 kg). This gem was cut from an 11.8 kg piece, and is the largest-cut yellow Topaz in the world (roughly the size of a dinner plate). It took two years to cut, and features a total of 172-facets.
A slippery stone
Faceted topaz takes such a high polish that it can be slippery to the touch. Like diamond, it has perfect cleavage, which means it can be cut into an almost limitless variety of intricate designs and used within almost any type of jewellery. However, this means that just a single blow or hard knock could cause a topaz to split. A protected bezel rather than pronged setting is recommended for topaz rings worn everyday.
The good news is that the stone’s hardness (8 on the Mohs scale) makes it durable and means that it does not scratch easily. To clean a topaz, simply use soapy water and a soft cloth. Be sure to rinse well to remove soapy residue. As with most gemstones, ultrasonic cleaners and steamers are not recommended.
When to give a topaz
As well as being the November birthstone, topaz is also the gemstone that commemorates the 23rd wedding anniversary.
In 2011, British jewelers Dower&Hall launched a silver and white topaz Marry Me ring – a version of the proposal ring; used to preserve an element of ‘proposal surprise’, whilst allowing the bride-to-be a choice in selecting her actual engagement ring. At £150, this serves as a great stand-in option. However, when gifting more expensive pieces, such as a topaz engagement ring, for example, be sure to arrange an appropriate level of insurance cover.