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White Topaz

Topaz is a gem that has spent most of the last 30 years being everything but itself.

Tons of this material have been converted, via irradiation and heat, into the world's most affordable and abundant blue gem. More recently, the gem has served as a substrate for thin-film coatings in a multitude of colors. Now it is the recipient of baked-on hues as treaters apply diffusion-chemistry methods developed with corundum to produce rinds of a surprising number of colors.

In short, topaz has become the ultimate stand-in: a gem with a thousand faces, none of them its own. Most consumers today have never even seen precious topaz, the natural and valuable yellow to pink gem that once was its only gem form.

That is what makes the sudden popularity of all-natural colorless topaz such an unexpected and welcome event.

Happy Accidents

Curiously, the rediscovery of topaz as a gem in its own right seems to have been an accident, but an accident waiting to happen.

Philadelphia designer Steven Lagos is one of the first to have fallen in love with white topaz, "purely by chance," he adds. Ten or so years ago, while in his shipping room, he saw a parcel of untreated topaz received by mistake that was being readied for a return to sender. "Something about the material caught my eye," he recalls. "‘Hey, wait a moment,' I said. ‘This stuff looks great. Let's play with it.'"

Play quickly turned serious as Lagos realized the gem's peerless potential compared to short-supply white sapphire (some of it synthetic) and rock crystal quartz. Today, Lagos is perhaps the world's most ardent advocate of white topaz, credited by many with being the leader in its revival. No wonder it is, and has been for the past few years, the most popular gem in his collections.

Now other major movers in silver jewelry like John Hardy are likewise big users and advocates. "White gems never go out of fashion," Lagos says. "Except for far more expensive diamond, topaz is the best colorless gem I have found."

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