Most authorities agree that the name topaz comes from Topazios, the old Greek name for a small island in the Red Sea, now called Zabargad. (The island never produced topaz, but it was once a source of peridot, which was confused with topaz before the development of modern mineralogy.) Some scholars trace the origin back to Sanskrit (an ancient language of India) and the word topas or tapaz, meaning “fire.”
The ancient Greeks believed that topaz gave them strength. In Europe during the Renaissance (the period from the 1300s to the 1600s) people thought that topaz could break magic spells and dispel anger. For centuries, many people in India have believed that topaz worn above the heart assures long life, beauty, and intelligence.
The name for imperial topaz originated in nineteenth-century Russia. At the time, the Ural Mountains were topaz’s leading source, and the pink gemstone mined there was named to honor the Russian czar. Ownership of the gem was restricted to the royal family.
Today, topaz is one of the US birthstones for November. The other is citrine quartz.
Many consumers know topaz as simply an inexpensive blue gem. They’re surprised to learn that its blue color is hardly ever natural: It’s almost always caused by treatment. They might also be surprised to know that topaz has so many more colors to offer gem lovers, including pinks and purples that rival the finest fancy sapphires.
Topaz is allochromatic, which means that its color is caused by impurity elements or defects in its crystal structure rather than by an element of its basic chemical composition. The element chromium causes natural pink, red, and violet-to-purple colors in topaz. Imperfections at the atomic level in topaz crystal structure can cause yellow, brown, and blue color. Brown is a common topaz color, and the gem is sometimes mistakenly called “smoky quartz.”
The royal court in Portugal celebrates the discovery of Imperial topaz in 1768.
A transparent topaz crystal discovered in Minas Gerais, Brazil weighs an astounding 596 pounds.
Irradiating colorless topaz with electrons at energy of 10 million electron volts creates a sky blue color.
COLOR: Yellow, orange, brown, pink to red to purple red, blue , light green and colorless
REFRACTIVE INDEX: 1.619 to 1.627
BIREFRINGENCE: 0.008 to 0.010
SPECIFIC GRAVITY: 3.53
MOHS HARDNESS: 8