In antiquity, all yellow and brown gemstones (and even some green ones) were called “topaz”. Topaz was used as far back as Egyptian times. The Sun God, Ra, was thought to have been responsible for giving topaz its golden colors. In reality, topaz occurs in transparent yellow, yellow to orange brown, light to medium red, light blue, and very light green and pink. The term “smoky topaz” is a common misnomer for transparent brown stones which are actually smoky quartz.
When pink topaz was first discovered in Russia in the 19th century, ownership was restricted to the czar and his family; hence, it became known as “Imperial” topaz. This refers to sherry-red, deep pink or reddish-orange stones. These are the most prized and expensive colors of topaz. Some flesh and salmon colored topaz (which comes only from Brazil) can be heated to a deep, permanent pink. This is a rare color and is priced accordingly.
Next in value are the less intense (but still beautiful) shades of peach, orange and deep golden topaz. These stones are referred to as “precious” topaz. As the color becomes yellower and browner, the price drops.
Blue topaz has become one of the top two or three selling non-traditional colored stones. It actually starts out colorless and the blue is achieved by irradiating the stone. This gamma and electron treatment does not make the stones radioactive; the color is then made stable through heating. In contrast, stones which have been reactor treated do become radioactive, but U.S. law requires they be quarantined until the radioactive readings are negligible. There are only two U.S. facilities licensed to treat topaz. The treatment process is a lengthy one with the minimum turnaround time generally about six months.
Topaz is relatively hard at 8 on the Mohs scale, but its toughness is poor and should be handled with care. The prime source of topaz is Brazil, but it is also found in Mexico (lower quality brownish-yellow), Sri Lanka, South Africa (blue), and Russia.
All in all, topaz gives those with a November birthday some truly lovely colors to choose from for their birthstone!