Topaz is a silicate mineral of aluminum and fluorine. Topaz crystallizes in the orthorhombic system, and its crystals are mostly prismatic terminated by pyramidal and other faces. It is one of the hardest naturally occurring minerals and is the hardest of any silicate (i.e., silicon-based) mineral. This hardness combined with its usual transparency and variety of colors means that it has acquired wide use in jewelry as a cut gemstone as well as for intaglios and other gemstone carvings.
Hardness of 8 on the Mohs scale
Yellow gems have been called variations of the name topaz for thousands of years – long before mineralogists determined that topaz occurs in a range of colors, and that many yellowish stones belong to other mineral species.
Ancient texts from the Greek scholar Pliny to the King James Bible referenced topaz, but because of this longstanding confusion, they likely referred to other yellow stones instead.
During the Renaissance in Europe, people believed that topaz could break spells and quell anger. Hindus deemed topaz sacred, believing that a pendant could bring wisdom and longevity to one’s life. African shamans also treated the stone as sacred, using it in their healing rituals.
Russia’s Ural Mountains became a leading source of topaz in the 19th century. The prized pinkish orange gemstone mined there was named Imperial topaz to honor the Russian czar, and only royals were allowed to own it.
Since the discovery of large topaz deposits in Brazil in the mid-19th century, topaz has become much more affordable and widely available.
Processes were developed in the 1960s to turn common colorless topaz blue with irradiation treatment. This variety has since flooded the market, making it one of the least expensive gems available.
Light blue varieties of topaz can be found in Texas, though not commercially mined there. Blue topaz became an official gemstone of Texas in 1969—the same year Utah adopted topaz as its state gemstone.
Citrine is a variety of quartz whose color ranges from a pale yellow to brown due to ferric impurities. Natural citrines are rare; most commercial citrines are heat-treated amethysts or smoky quartzes. However, a heat-treated amethyst will have small lines in the crystal, as opposed to a natural citrine’s cloudy or smokey appearance. It is nearly impossible to differentiate between cut citrine and yellow topaz visually, but they differ in hardness. Brazil is the leading producer of citrine, with much of its production coming from the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The name is derived from the Latin word citrina which means “yellow” and is also the origin of the word “citron”.
Hardness of 7 on the Mohs scale
Sometimes citrine and amethyst can be found together in the same crystal, which is then referred to as ametrine. Citrine has been referred to as the “merchant’s stone” or “money stone”, due to a superstition that it would bring prosperity.
Citrine quartz has been adored since ancient times. The name citrine was used to refer to yellow gems as early as 1385, when the word was first recorded in English. However, since the gem’s color closely resembled topaz, these two November birthstones shared a history of mistaken identities.
Quartz and topaz are actually unrelated mineral species. But before these differences were clear, many cultures called citrine (the yellow variety of quartz) by other names like gold topaz, Madeira, or Spanish topaz—contributing to the confusion.
Throughout history, people believed that citrine carried the same powers as topaz, including the ability to calm tempers, soothe anger and manifest desires, especially prosperity. To leverage these powers, Egyptians used citrine gems as talismans, the ancient Greeks carved iconic images into them, and Roman priests fashioned them into rings.
A key discovery gave citrine a boost of popularity in the mid-18th century. Mineralogists realized that amethyst and smoky quartz could be heat treated to produce lemony and golden honey hues of citrine, contributing to an abundance of affordable enhanced gems on the market.
Once citrine was distinguished from topaz, it quickly became popular in women’s jewelry as well as men’s cufflinks and rings. Today, it remains one of the most affordable and frequently purchased yellow gemstones.