Red garnets have a long history, but modern gem buyers can pick from a rich palette of garnet colors: greens, oranges, pinkish oranges, deeply saturated purplish reds, and even some blues. Red garnet is one of the most common and widespread of gems. But not all garnets are as abundant as the red ones. A green garnet, tsavorite, is rarer and needs rarer rock chemistries and conditions to form.
Garnets are a set of closely related minerals that form a group, resulting in gemstones in almost every color. Red garnets have a long history, but modern gem buyers can pick from a rich palette of garnet colors: greens, oranges, pinkish oranges, deeply saturated purplish reds, and even some blues.
Red garnet is one of the most common and widespread of gems, found in metamorphic rocks (which are rocks altered by heat and pressure) on every continent. But not all garnets are as abundant as the red ones. A green garnet, tsavorite, also occurs in metamorphic rocks, but it’s rarer because it needs unusual rock chemistries and special conditions to form.
Demantoid is a rare and famous green garnet, spessartine (also called spessarite) is an orange garnet, and rhodolite is a beautiful purple-red garnet. Garnets can even exhibit the color-change phenomenon similar to the rare gemstone alexandrite.
All garnets have essentially the same crystal structure, but they vary in chemical composition. There are more than twenty garnet categories, called species, but only five are commercially important as gems. Those five are pyrope, almandine (also called almandite), spessartine, grossular (grossularite), and andradite. A sixth, uvarovite, is a green garnet that usually occurs as crystals too small to cut. It’s sometimes set as clusters in jewelry. Many garnets are chemical mixtures of two or more garnet species.
Thousands of years ago, red garnet necklaces adorned the necks of Egypt’s pharaohs, and were entombed with their mummified corpses as prized possessions for the afterlife. In ancient Rome, signet rings with carved garnets were used to stamp the wax that secured important documents.
The term carbuncle was often used in ancient times to refer to red garnets, although it was used for almost any red stone. Carbuncle was thought to be one of the four precious stones given to King Solomon by God.
Centuries later, in Roman scholar Pliny’s time (23 to 79 AD), red garnets were among the most widely traded gems. In the Middle Ages (about 475 to 1450 AD), red garnet was favored by clergy and nobility.
Red garnet’s availability increased with the discovery of the famous Bohemian garnet deposits in central Europe around 1500. This source became the nucleus of a regional jewelry industry that reached its peak in the late 1800s.
Shop our Blue Topaz Collection
Topaz actually has an exceptionally wide color range that, besides brown, includes various tones and saturations of blue, green, yellow, orange, red, pink, and purple. Colorless topaz is plentiful, and is often treated to give it a blue color. Topaz is also pleochroic, meaning that the gem can show different colors in different crystal directions.
Many consumers know topaz as simply an inexpensive blue gem. They’re surprised to learn that its blue color is hardly ever natural: It’s almost always caused by treatment. They might also be surprised to know that topaz has so many more colors to offer gem lovers, including pinks and purples that rival the finest fancy sapphires
Topaz is allochromatic, which means that its color is caused by impurity elements or defects in its crystal structure rather than by an element of its basic chemical composition. The element chromium causes natural pink, red, and violet-to-purple colors in topaz. Imperfections at the atomic level in topaz crystal structure can cause yellow, brown, and blue color. Brown is a common topaz color, and the gem is sometimes mistakenly called “smoky quartz.”
Topaz actually has an exceptionally wide color range that, besides brown, includes various tones and saturations of blue, green, yellow, orange, red, pink, and purple. Colorless topaz is plentiful, and is often treated to give it a blue color.
The color varieties are often identified simply by hue name—blue topaz, pink topaz, and so forth—but there are also a couple of special trade names. Imperial topaz is a medium reddish orange to orange-red. This is one of the gem’s most expensive colors. Sherry topaz—named after the sherry wine—is a yellowish brown or brownish yellow to orange. Stones in this color range are often called precious topaz to help distinguish them from the similarly colored but less expensive citrine and smoky quartz.
Topaz is also pleochroic, meaning that the gem can show different colors in different crystal directions.
Most authorities agree that the name topaz comes from Topazios, the old Greek name for a small island in the Red Sea, now called Zabargad. (The island never produced topaz, but it was once a source of peridot, which was confused with topaz before the development of modern mineralogy.) Some scholars trace the origin back to Sanskrit (an ancient language of India) and the word topas or tapaz, meaning “fire.”
The ancient Greeks believed that topaz gave them strength. In Europe during the Renaissance (the period from the 1300s to the 1600s) people thought that topaz could break magic spells and dispel anger. For centuries, many people in India have believed that topaz worn above the heart assures long life, beauty, and intelligence.
The name for imperial topaz originated in nineteenth-century Russia. At the time, the Ural Mountains were topaz’s leading source, and the pink gemstone mined there was named to honor the Russian czar. Ownership of the gem was restricted to the royal family.
Today, topaz is one of the US birthstones for November. The other is citrine quartz
Shop our Citrine Collection
Citrine is rare in nature. In the days before modern gemology, its tawny color caused it to be confused with topaz. Today, its attractive color, plus the durability and affordability it shares with most other quartzes, makes it the top-selling yellow-to-orange gem. In the contemporary market, citrine’s most popular shade is an earthy, deep, brownish or reddish orange.
Birthstones & Anniversaries
Along with topaz, citrine is a birthstone for November. It’s also recognized as the gem that commemorates the thirteenth anniversary.
History & Lore
People have used quartz in jewelry for thousands of years. Egyptians gathered ornately striped agates from the shore and used them as talismans, the ancient Greeks carved rock crystal ornaments that glistened like permafrost, and the hands of Roman pontiffs bore rings set with huge purple amethysts. Natural citrine is rare, and today most citrine quartz is the result of heat treatment of amethyst quartz. Even so, gems from the Victorian era have surfaced, and it’s not hard to imagine that citrine was treasured even in earlier times.