Blue Topaz

Topaz is one of the more popular colored gemstones among retail jewelers and consumers. All colors of topaz are accepted as the birthstone for the month of November, but yellow (or yellow-orange) topaz is the most traditional and preferred. Thus, many jewelers feel that blue topaz can be a substitute for blue zircon in December. Blue topaz is, therefore, a gem for Scorpio, Sagittarius, and—in a way—Capricorn.

Although topaz comes in a variety of colors, blue is by far the most popular, perhaps because of its abundance and affordability.

Most topaz comes from Brazil, but it also is found in fairly good quantities in the United States, Mexico, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Pakistan, Russia, China, and Australia.

History and romance. The name “topaz” may have originated from the Greek topazos, meaning “to seek,” possibly a vague reference to the hidden-in-the-fog Isle of Zebargad in the Red Sea. It was on Zebargad (also known as the Serpent Isle) and St. John’s Isle that chrysolite (now identified as peridot) was first mined. According to George Kunz’s Curious Lore of Precious Stones, the first-century Roman historian Pliny wrote that topaz derived its name “from the Island of Topazos, in the Red Sea.” If that’s so, then gem lovers over the centuries called peridot by the name topaz. Perhaps, as others have written, topaz—that is, real topaz—gets its name from the Sanskrit word tapas, meaning “yellow fire,” probably a reference to one of topaz’s imperial reddish-yellow colors.

St. Hildegard used topaz in the 12th century to cure “dimness of vision.” The procedure involved soaking the stone in wine and then rubbing it over the eyes. Drinking the wine was also suggested, but only within a five-day period following the treatment. In other references, the topaz was actually ground up and then added to the wine. Blue topaz is said to help aid natural creativity.

Qualities. Topaz is commonly eye-clean, having few inclusions that one can see without magnification. It can occur in very large sizes, and good numbers of large topazes are exhibited in museums around the world. A few years ago, 21,000 carats was the benchmark for faceting the largest blue topaz. However, the record books now list faceted topazes of 40,000-plus carats, far surpassing those in fourth and fifth place.

Color variations. Topaz can be colorless, light blue, yellow, golden-yellow, orange-yellow, beige, brown, honey-brown (dark sherry), orange, orange-red, red, light green, and pink. Blue is the most popular color, and the orange-red imperial color is the most valuable.

Enhancement. What makes blue topaz even more abundant is that certain colorless topazes can be irradiated and heated to produce shades of blue. There are numerous levels of enhancement that correlate with the amount of blue saturation. Lightly colored blue topaz is called Swiss blue; moderately saturated blues are referred to as American, royal, or sky blue; and the deep saturated blue topazes are called London blue. Because there is such great demand for blue topaz, you could assume that if the topaz is still colorless, it was probably one that could not be irradiated. These are sometimes referred to as “silver topaz.”

Pricing. According to The Guide, fine to extra- fine-quality blue topaz is relatively inexpensive. For example, 1-ct. to 5-ct. stones can be priced between $3 and $8 per carat. Under 20 carats, prices can top out at $12 per carat. Above 20 carats, prices tend to fall off, back down to $3 to $8 per carat, and above 50 carats, the price falls again to a range of $2 to $5 per carat. Blue is the least expensive colored topaz; colorless topaz is the least expensive of all varieties.

Care and cleaning. Topaz is the indicator stone for the hardness measurement of 8. This means that it can withstand scratching more than most gems, including the beryls and quartzes. But its toughness (i.e., resistance to breaking) has always concerned gemologists and mineralogists, because topaz exhibits “perfect” cleavage—that is, parallel to the base of the crystal structure.

However, according to Richard Homer, expert gem cutter in Ohio and owner of Gems by Design, blue topaz is tougher than most people think. True, one should consider a native-cut blue stone (or an imperial topaz) that might have the cleavage plane running in a more critical direction (perpendicular to the table). But if a professional gem cutter cuts the stone (with the cleavage plane at approximately 15 degrees off from the table), there isn’t much one can do when wearing the jewel to damage it.

Bench precautions. Knowing the cleavage direction can be critical for the gem setter: Pressure down the basal plane can cleave the stone. Most cutters place the cleavage plane at a 10° to 15° angle off the table. Bench jewelers should let that measurement be their guide to safe setting pressure. (This does not hold true for imperial topaz, which is commonly cut for color rather than for crystal orientation.)

Recommended reading. For more information, see G. F. Kunz, The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, 1989 reprint (1913 Lippincott Press).