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Precious Topaz

Topaz is perhaps the most misused name in the gem world, often confused with a good many other yellow/golden/brown species, from golden sapphire to citrine. The confusion is deepest with citrine, a far more common and less expensive golden quartz whose finest color is a reddish-brown Madeira very reminiscent of some fine topaz. Very often, too, pale brownish-yellow stones called smoky quartz are sold as “smoky topaz.” Unfortunately, these confusions are perpetuated by many jewelers. A simple lesson in Portuguese, the language of Brazil, should be enough to end the confusion once and for all.

In Brazil, miners and dealers use the catch-all term topazio, meaning yellow, to describe almost any gem that is basically or strongly yellow. In most cases where the term topazio is used by itself, it is understood the gem being referred to is citrine or perhaps, a quartz family relative. Often dealers will specify a mining locality such as Rio Grande or Bahia to make it clear from which area the citrine comes. To distinguish more highly prized precious topaz from quartz, dealers use the phrase topazio imperiale. That’s why precious topaz is so often called “imperial topaz” in this country. It is quite simply a literal translation of the Portuguese phrase used to separate topaz from quartz.

Since the introduction of the phrase “imperial topaz” into this country, however, the term has become more precise, less broad, implying, as the word “imperial” can’t help but do, finer grades and greater cost. But just what are the finer grades of a gem that runs a wide color range from yellow and brown through orange, pink, red and even, occasionally, lavender and violet to blue? Some history may help to clarify the meaning of the term “imperial,” as opposed to “precious” topaz.

The original derivation of the term “imperial” stems from the discovery of pink topaz in Russia during the nineteenth century. The gem was instantly so coveted that ownership was restricted to the Czar, his family and those to whom he gave it as a gift. Hence the term “imperial.”

For many years after it was coined, the term became generic for all topaz. But gradually dealers confined its meaning to a certain range of rich colors and saturate color intensities.

Today it is conceded that the term “imperial” refers, among connoisseurs, to stones with sherry-red, deep pink and reddish-orange colors and generally excludes less intense but still beautiful peach-orange and medium golden hues. These latter colors are considered “precious.” As stones become progressively yellower and browner, they become mere topaz.

Precious Topaz