When the American National Retail Jeweler’s Association (now Jewelers of America (JA)) list of birthstones was published in 1912, topaz was listed as the only birthstone for November. Topaz occurs in a range of colours but historically was known for being a lovely gold-orange colour.  In fact, 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 topaz cannetille earrings

The discovery of Brazil in the early 1500s led to exportation of its gemstones back to Portugal and topaz were a treasured find. They came in colours such as yellow, orange, red-orange, pale blue and pink. Whilst the yellow and orange colours were most popular during the 17th century, the rarer pink sapphire were preferred at the end of the century and into the 19th century.

Vintage topaz necklace

In the 20th century, most topaz used in jewellery are blue. 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. They are usually clear, with few inclusions.

Antique citrine and seed pearl necklace

In 1952, the citrine, a member of the quartz family, was added to as a November birthstone. The name ‘citrine’ comes from the French word for lemon which is ‘citron’ and it ranges in colour from a light yellow to a goldy orange. Foiling of the stones was common up to the beginning of the 19th century and could result in them appearing darker.

Citrine is quite rare in nature and much of the citrine we see in jewellery is heat treated amethyst or smokey quartz.  The treatment is stable and permanent.