When the American list for monthly birthstones was first published in 1912, the birthstone for November was a topaz. It is worthwhile remembering that, prior to the 18th century, all yellow and gold gemstones were called topaz. The name ‘topaz’ was taken from the island of Topazos in the Red Sea (later called Zabargad, and now St James) where many yellow and green stones were mined.

Georgian gold foiled topaz earrings

Topaz was historically known for being a lovely gold-orange colour. But topaz comes in colours other than yellow. If you look at antique jewellery containing topaz, the colours you would normally see were yellow, gold-orange, pink and colourless. Sometimes, a light blue was used. A lot of the stones were foiled to accentuate their colour.

The blues that are so common now and which many people think of when they think of a topaz – ‘London Blue’, ‘Swiss Blue’ and ‘Sky Blue’- have all been derived from irradiation.

Modern topaz earrings, with London blue and Swss blue topaz

Another yellow gemstone, the citrine, was added as a November stone in 1952. The name ‘citrine’ comes from the French word for lemon which is ‘citron’. A member of the quartz family, it can range from a light lemon yellow to a gold yellow. As seen in the pendant below, it glows beautifully when set in gold.

Antique citrine and gold pendant (in Navette on Ruby Lane)