Rough irradiated topaz from Pakistan. Photo by Hafiz Gemstones and Minerals. http://www.hafizgemstones.com/
Now that the internet is working again, and per a reader request, I present a gemstone that rises to any occasion. As a November child, I used to dislike my birthstone because I thought it only came in brown. Now that I am older, I appreciate that golden color of autumn, but I also have a multitude of flavors to enjoy.
Topaz is a fluorine aluminum silicate, and is clear and colorless in its purest state. Treatments and impurities give rise to a rainbow of yellows, greens, reds, and blues. I like to think of topaz as a clean canvas, ready for color, and we humans love to dabble. Hit topaz with electrons and heat in a linear accelerator and you get a beautiful aqua hue. Place the gem in a nuclear reactor and after a little neutron bombardment and heat, you get a deeper London blue. I was amazed to learn the latter technique leaves some residual radiation, meaning the stones have to rest for a year before they can be used. This involved and regulated process makes the London stones more expensive, and harder to come by. The popular Mystic topaz owes its iridescent sheen to an applied film, like oil on water, and it can be easily scratched if unprotected.
London Blue Topaz. Photo by Joseph and Lillian Stachura at http://www.stachurawholesalegemstones.com/
Topaz occurs naturally worldwide, but the gem material mined today comes mainly from Mexico, Brazil, the U.S., and Sri Lanka. Topaz is popular in jewelry because it has a high refractive index and is pretty hard at 8 Mohs, though it can chip or break if struck in the right place. Because the natural stone is abundant, it is rarely synthesized or imitated.
Topaz seems to have been an all-purpose healing stone for the body and mind since the Middle Ages (though back then “topaz” referred to any yellow stone). It was believed to bring relaxation, clear thinking, happiness, and balance. The Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians all gave the jewel powerful attributes, such as increased strength, keener sight, and protection from harm. A favorite of every economic class, you can find topazes in Italian, Russian, Swedish, and English royal jewelry, just to name a few. A gift of a yellow topaz symbolizes friendship.
Russian pink topaz demi-parure, owned by the Swedish royal family. Image from http://theroyaluniverse.com/topaz-royal-jewels-november/