About the Gemstone Topaz and Where to Prospect for It

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About different types of topaz. The history of the name topaz and where in the world they are mined.

Topaz could possibly be described as the charlatan of the gemstone world. Colorless topazes have in the past been mistaken for diamonds. As was the case in 1740 when a colorless topaz was set in the Portuguese crown. Yellow topaz is also sometimes confused with the rarest of quartz gems citrine, because it is often found in the same quartz veins. And the common practice of heat treatment turns the more common yellow topaz into pink topaz, which is rarer and more desirable.

Topaz is formed in a type of igneous rock known as pegmatite. Other gemstones such as tourmaline, beryl and citrine can also be found in pegmatite, hydrothermal sources. However what distinguishes topaz and makes it easy to identify is its brilliance of sheen and excellent cleavage. The colors of topaz are sky blue, soft delicate pinks to yellow,pale green, sherry brown and crimson red. A dark orange topaz is known as hyacinth, and there is also colorless topaz.

Colorless topaz

The origin of the name topaz and its controversial beginning: Topaz is certainly an enticing sounding name for this exquisite gemstone. The name topaz is mentioned in the Bible and there are a number of theories as to its origin. One theory is that topaz was named after an island in the red sea called Topazos( St John’s Island) by the Roman philosopher and naval commander Pliny the Elder. Pliny the Elder claimed that topaz was found on the island during the reign of the Roman emperor Vespasian. However since his description was of a green jewel with a touch of gold, it is more likely that Pliny the Elder had discovered peridot: a green gemstone that has since been mined on Topazos. No topaz has ever been found on the island as far as we know. To add to the confusion the ancient name for peridot is topazian. So as far as we know the topaz mentioned in the bible was probably peridot. This is understandable because before the 18th century gemstones were identified solely by color.

Hyacinth topaz

Where are topazes mined? Without a doubt the best quality and largest topazes come from the state of Minas Gerais and the Ouro Preto district in Brazil. Minas Gerais produces the highly sought after and most valuable imperial topaz. It also produces the gemstone aquamarine.Topaz was extremely rare and unobtainable for most people until large deposits were found in Brazil. Other colorful varieties are found in the Urals in Russia: Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the USA. Colorless and the less prized brown stones are found in Queensland and Tasmania, Australia.

Natural pink topez is rare.

In the USA colored and colorless topazes are mined in San Diego, California; Juab County, Utah; Lords Hill in Main; Connecticut, Virginia and Texas. See links below for mines open to the public. 

Oceanview Mine; Pale mining district, San Diego county, California; www.digforgems.com

Stoneham, Oxford county, Maine; homepage.mac.com/rasprague/PegShop/minlist/lord.html

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