November has two birthstones: topaz and citrine
It’s extremely difficult to differentiate between cut citrine and yellow topaz with the naked eye, but they differ in hardness. Both have a long and rich history, going back to before Roman times. Both are associated with mystical properties. And both are stunningly beautiful gemstones that have been adored by celebrities and royalty alike.
One other important quality they share is that they are both very affordable gem stones. Although high quality topaz is more expensive than citrine.
Citrine has been loved throughout the ages
But although citrine tends to be less expensive than topaz it’s certainly no less desirable.
This stunning gemstone has enjoyed immense popularity throughout history. The Egyptians were among the first to discover this yellow stone and used the gems as talismans. The ancient Greeks loved its bright colours and they carved images into the stones, and Roman priests turned citrine into rings. And around 300 to 150 BC they were used on the handles of swords and daggers in Scotland.
Jump forward to the 19th and 20th centuries and you’ll find that the British Royalty are among citrine’s biggest fans. Queen Victoria loved this gemstone and made it popular. Cartier created a citrine and diamond tiara for the coronation of King George VI in 1937 with a 62.35 carat emerald-cut citrine centre stone. It’s not just British monarchy who adore citrine either. Royalty around the globe are enamoured by its charms: Queen Sirikit of Thailand owns a diamond and citrine tiara, Queen Sonja of Norway received a modern, metallic, citrine tiara for her 60th birthday and the Luxembourg Royal Family boasts a collection of citrine-adorned jewellery.
The celebs choice of jewellery
Of course it’s not just royalty who are fans of citrine. It was very popular in the early 20th century in the Art Deco era. Hollywood stars embraced it, and movie icons like Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford were frequently seen wearing large, elaborately designed citrine-adorned jewellery.
In the 1940’s Cartier were renowned for making some fabulous pieces with dark and light citrines – chic, iconic and still valued today.
Fast forward to the present and you’ll see modern celebrities like Emma Watson, Naomie Harris, Kate Winslet, and Tara Reid wearing beautiful citrine jewellery at red-carpet events. And Angelina Jolie donated a large citrine necklace to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Gem Collection.
So what exactly is citrine? And where does it come from?
Citrine, made up of silicon and oxygen, is a type of quartz, one of the most abundant minerals to be found on the Earth’s crust. It normally forms in igneous rocks as magma cools – the slower the process the larger the crystals.
Its name comes from the word “citron”, French for yellow, the colour most frequently associated with this gemstone.
Chemically its very similar to amethyst (a violet colour of quartz, and the birthstone for February), with the only difference the rate of oxidization of their iron impurities.
Yellow is better than brown
The yellow colour of citrine is caused by ferric impurities that turn it anything from pale yellow to brown, with the most prized gemstones a warm yellow or fiery orange. It originates from countries like Brazil, Africa and Spain, although today we know it occurs all around the globe. However yellow citrine very rarely occurs naturally, and it is often heat treated.
What does citrine represent?
Citrine is associated with fortune and luck. It’s sometimes called the ‘Success Stone’ or the ‘Merchant’s Stone’ because of its supposed connections to success and prosperity. Citrine is also believed by many to enhance vitality and health – and some use it as a healing crystal. It’s claimed to improve the circulatory system, and cleanse the blood, kidneys and vital organs. In Feng Shui citrine is said to help generosity and wealth. Whether there’s any truth or not in these claims, one thing is beyond dispute – it’s a beautiful and affordable stone.
Hard but brittle
Citrine is a relatively hard with a Mohs rating of 7 – a scale of mineral hardness based on the ability of one mineral to visibly scratch another mineral, with diamond scoring a maximum 10, and talcum powder the minimum 1. Although it is relatively brittle and particularly sensitive to sudden changes in temperature. Similarly, prolonged exposure to light can cause its colour to fade.
Inclusions not included
Citrine is usually found with very few inclusions, and the best quality gemstones should have no inclusions to the naked eye. If it’s natural it will be the same colour all the way through, with only slight colour variations. On the other hand, if it’s been heat treated from amethyst there will often be an opaque white in it, usually at the base.
Is it a cut above the rest?
You’ve probably heard of the 4Cs (colour, cut, clarity and carat weight), used by jewellers to establish the value of a precious or semi-precious stone.
You might be less aware that the Cs have more relevance depending on which stone is being evaluated. For example, with a diamond or sapphire the carat weight is hugely important in determining the cost of the stone. Whereas with citrine, the cut becomes one of the more important indicators of value. And with many of the more intricately carved gems most of the value is created by the quality of the cut.
The colour of money
Colour is an important indicator of value too. The most precious citrine stones are ones with the most saturated yellow, orange, and reddish tones. The less intense the colour, the less valuable the gem.
Size doesn’t matter as much
Unlike the precious stones such as sapphires and diamonds, there isn’t an exponential leap in value as citrine increases in carat size. In other words, the value per carat remains constant. Large citrine stones aren’t rare, so it won’t cost a phenomenal amount if you decide you want to purchase a big gem.
Topaz can look similar to citrine – but it’s a different price
It’s no surprise that topaz is November’s other gemstone, because it’s frequently confused with citrine. But if you’re buying topaz it’s important to make sure it isn’t citrine, because topaz tends to be the more valuable of the two stones.
What a gas!
Like citrine, topaz is created in igneous rock. However, it’s one of the last minerals to be formed as the rock cools and fluorine-bearing vapours become more concentrated. These gasses enrich fluids in the rock and over time – perhaps millions of years – topaz begins to form.
Topaz? Or not topaz?
Although there can’t be certainty, it’s thought that the gemstone which modern mineralogists label ‘topaz’ was unknown by the oldest civilisations.
Today it’s believed that a stone they referred to as “topaloz” was in fact a different mineral – perhaps chrysolite or peridot. But whether it was topaz or an imposter, the ancient Egyptians believed it was created by the sun god Ra because of its golden hues, and as a result it had magical healing properties. The Romans thought the stone could protect them from poison – the legend went that the gem would change colour if it was near poisoned food or drink.
There are references to “topaz” in the Old Testament too, but they too may have been referring to chrysolite, rather than modern day topaz.
Topaz hits the big time
The first yellow crystals that can confidently be recognised as modern-day topaz stones were discovered in Germany, in 1737.
Just three years later in 1740, a massive 1,680 carat topaz gem was found in Brazil. But even then it was mistaken for another gem, at the time it was believed to be the largest diamond ever found. And it was impressive enough to be given a prominent place on the Portuguese crown. Even when it was identified as a topaz it kept its place, proudly displayed there to this present day.
The heavyweight of gemstones
Many topaz stones are too large to be worn as jewellery, but instead you’ll find them exhibited in various museums around the world. In London’s National Museum of History of London, you can see the Ostra Topaz, a of 9,381 carat blue topaz, and in the Spanish, Programa Royal Collection there are many enormous gemstones, like the 8,225 carat Marbella Topaz. The “El–Dorado” rough topaz discovered in Minas Gerais, Brazil in 1984, and was 36 kilo / 79 pounds when it was weighed. After cutting 6.2 kilos or nearly 14 pounds was left., making it the largest faceted topaz and gemstone in the world.
Topaz is well known for its abundant use in Georgian jeweller around the early 1800s. It was extremely popular for its use in the delicate, feminine gold jewellery in fashion at the time.
The colours of topaz
In nature, topaz is often colourless which causes it to be confused with diamonds. It can come in other colours though, most often a golden brown to yellow that tends to be stable, and is generally unaffected by chemicals. A variety of impurities and treatments may also make topaz wine red, pale grey, reddish-orange, pale green, or pink (rare), and opaque to translucent or transparent. The pink and red varieties come from chromium replacing aluminium in its crystalline structure.
Everyone loves the blues
Nowadays it is perhaps most famous for its blue colour. And because blue topaz comes in large crystals, is extremely popular in cocktail rings and other large items of jewellery. Unlike many other gems, the colour in natural topaz isn’t caused by elements like iron or chromium but rather by defects in its crystal structure. But blue topaz is extremely rare in nature, nearly all blue topaz is created by first irradiation and then heat treatment, with the two favourite variations a lightly coloured ‘Swiss Blue’ and a much darker ‘London Blue’. As a rule of thumb, the darker the blue the higher the price. Pink topaz is also a colour change achieved by heating yellow topaz.
Topaz is found all over the world
What’s beyond dispute is that tourmaline displays the widest spectrum of colour of any gemstone, because of the presence of elements such as The finest British examples are in the Cairngorm Mountains in the Central Highlands. Germany boasts pale yellow topaz rock of the Schneckenstein. It’s also in several localities in the Urals and in Siberia. Brazil, renowned for fine topaz stones, is where most of modern-day mining occurs and it’s been discovered near Pikes Peak, Colorado, and in San Diego county, California.
Imperial topaz – rarest and most precious of all
The rarest topaz is a variety called Imperial topaz, occasionally referred to as Precious topaz.
Never treated and considered to be the colour of the setting sun, it’s the most sought-after, natural topaz. The name comes from the Russian tsars of the 17th century, because the tsars claimed exclusive rights to the pink topaz gemstones that were mined in Russia.
It’s all in the colour
However there is no official standard for Imperial topaz and the term is primarily chosen because of its colours which give this gemstone its value, reaching prices in excess of $1,000 a carat for large stones of over 10 carats or more, in contrast to some blue topaz at the bottom of the market which can cost just a couple of dollars per carat.
From Russia with love
Today the primary source of Imperial topaz is no longer Russia but the mines of Minas Gerais in Brazil.
Imperial topaz was traditionally considered to be orange with something called red dichroism (which means that when you tilt it the topaz appears red or orange) but nowadays is more widely defined as yellow, pink, red, lavender-pink or peach-pink.
Careful how you pick it up
Traditionally open pit mines are also used to extract topaz, but because it is very easy to crack, water cannons are used to clear out debris during the process. Topaz is then carefully extracted by hand-picked from the shattered rocks.
It’s hard, but it cracks very easily
Topaz crystals have something called “perfect cleavage”. That means it tends to break in a certain way, along a specific plain, and is why it is often found in sections rather than whole crystals. It’s also quite fragile, even though it is one of the hardest gems with a register of 8 on the Mohs scale. Because of this fragility jewellery designers avoid placing topaz in rings unless it’s in a protective mounting with lots of metal. Instead they prefer to place pieces that are less likely to avoid impact. Such as pedants and pins.
Citrine? Topaz? Or why not both?
If you now know a little more about citrine and topaz is it easier to decide which one is right for you or to give as a gift? They are both beautiful stones, but they are also both very affordable. So if you’re in a dilemma, why not consider a piece that is made from both gemstones? They work beautifully together in a pedant or a combination necklace.
Turn to a traditional jeweller
Whether you’re interested in citrine, topaz, or any kind of gem or attractive stone, it’s always safer to seek the advice of a traditional jeweller like John Lloyd Morgan for guidance.