December 2015 Ariella McManus

Hello again, and welcome back to "All That Glitters"! While my interest in fashion certainly drew me into the world of gems, there's so much more then just glitter and shine to these beauties. They have also been used for medicine, magic, and all things in between. This month, we're going to discuss topaz.

Topaz comes in so many lovely colors, but it is actually traditionally colorless in its pure form. It's the impurities that gives this stone its variety of shades. Typically, topaz comes in warm colors, such as reds, yellows, oranges, and browns, but it also comes in cool colors, like grey and blue-brown. But it can come in so many more! Most of the time, the color is naturally there (the impurities, remember?), but there are ways to improve or even add color, as in the case of mystic topaz, which is rainbow-colored, thanks to an artificial coating. For some people, this might matter a lot, but to me, as long as it shines, it's perfect, and this stone can be cut in so many ways to really sparkle. One warning, though: Topaz doesn't like prolonged sunlight, especially if it's an Imperial topaz. Too much sunlight and it can fade, so be careful with your storage options. Also, don't bang this stone around. Even though topaz is hard (8 on the Mohs scale), it can break from a single blow.

Topaz has been around for a long time, for 2000 years, at least. In fact, there's conflict over whether the word "topaz" came from the Sanskrit pitdah or, more likely in my book, from the Greek topazios or topazaion. As for topaz's history, it's a bit muddy, until you get into the Classical era. It very well may be part of the famous gates to Jerusalem, but the usage of topaz in The Bible could mean any number of stones, so we can't put that on its resume. However, it definitely has a career in both mythical and royal usage. In fact, the Imperial topaz got its name because it was used as part of the Russian Czarinas' headdresses, especially during the 18th and 19th centuries. Another topaz had a case of mistaken identity. Because it was a colorless one, it was mistaken for a diamond and was named Braganza Diamond. It is 1680 carats and is part of the Portuguese crown jewels.

Besides being a lovely adornment for royalty, topaz also has mystical and medicinal purposes. If you ask the Romans, it could improve their eyesight, especially when applied to closed eyelids. Hasn't worked for me yet, but who knows? The Egyptians used it as an amulet of protection. The Greek army had a special love for it, as it was believe to increase strength and to even make you invisible. Their words, not mine. Even today, we ascribe to some of the same things (sorry, not the invisibility thing), and we also believe that topaz improves your communication and psychic abilities, as well as warms the body, eases arthritic pains, and calms the nerves. It's even supposed to help improve your intellect...and every college student is probably grabbing whatever piece of topaz they can find now.

As for associations, topaz is November's birth stone, particularly the yellow/orange topaz. Utah also claims it for its state stone, while Texas and December prefer blue topaz. In fact, there's a bit of a competition between the two shades. Blue is associated with Jupiter, Libra, and the element of Air, while the golden topaz goes along with the sun, Leo, and the element of Fire. So this gem has a bit of a duality complex, which is quite interesting, don't you think?

Beyond jewelry, topaz actually has industrial uses. It is ground down and used as an abrasive material. It can be found in anything to do with sharpening or cleaning, including every-day scour pads and knife sharpeners, as well as sanding and grinding equipment. But don't worry, that's only the lower quality stones, leaving plenty of shine to wear on our fingers or as a pendant.

So enjoy your topaz even more with this new knowledge! We'll be back next month with another stone, and this one is going to be a surprise!