Birthstone of the Month: November

By: Morgan Garrison

November is kind of like Golden Hour - the time of day just before the sun sets when the world is bathed in orange and gold. The earth begins her melancholy transition from fall to winter as the days become shorter and sunshine becomes scarce. The last of the leaves cling desperately to the trees, holding on those last few moments before being forced to sleep for three months. It only makes sense that the November birthstones, Topaz and Citrine, would represent the colors of this time of year. Modern birthstone jewelry features citrine to represent November which makes sense because citrine is the most readily available and affordable yellow/orange gemstone. However, the yellowish orange variety of topaz is the traditional birthstone for November. Both stones have origin stories as rich as their golden color.

Topaz occurs naturally in an array of colors from colorless to yellow and orange, pink and violet, even brown. Red and blue topaz can be found naturally but they are very rare. In fact, most blue topaz is actually colorless topaz that has been irradiated or heat treated to make it blue. In addition to heat treatments, colorless topaz can also be coated with a thin, artificial coating to make the color-shifting “Mystic” topaz. The striking orangey-red-pink topaz called Imperial topaz was first discovered in Brazil in the 18th century. It was also discovered in the Russian Ural mountains. This variety was a favorite of the royal families of both countries. So much so, there’s even debate about where the name “Imperial Topaz” comes from.

When red and pink topaz was discovered in Russia, the Romanovs kept the finest samples for their exclusive use. In the late 19th century, Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil, paid a visit to a mining town where he was given a reddish topaz as a gift. Two imperial families, two locations, two theories. Where the name came from will probably continue to remain a mystery. Today, The vast majority of topaz on the market still comes from Brazil and Nigeria. But it can also be found in Madagascar, Mexico, and it’s even still found at some old Russian sites.

There’s even debate about where the name “Topaz” comes from. Some believe it comes from the Sanskrit word for fire, “tapas”. Others believe it comes from the Greek “topazos”. There is also an island off the coast of Egypt in the Red Sea formerly called Topazios but, you won’t find any topaz there though. You’d find peridot, the August birthstone. The first recorded topaz were yellow stones discovered in Ancient Egypt.. The Egyptians believed these stones were given their golden color by the sun god, Ra. This connection to sunlight could help explain some of the healing properties topaz was once believed to possess.

Ever notice how your mood improves on a sunny day? It’s not a coincidence, it’s vitamin d from the sun’s rays. Ancient cultures wouldn’t have known about vitamin d, but it’s probably safe to assume that they made a connection between the sun and happiness and improved mood. It’s possible that this connection, combined with the legendary origins of it’s sunny color led people to believe that topaz could help dispel sadness. The ancient Greeks believed topaz gave them strength. In Europe from the 12th to the 15th centuries people believed topaz could calm the wearer, dispel anger, and even block magic spells.

Even though the Ancient Greeks thought topaz could give them strength, the stone itself does have some weaknesses. Topaz has a Mohs hardness of 8 making it suitable for daily wear, but it has poor toughness meaning it can chip or crack upon impact. Heat and irradiation treatments used to make colorless topaz blue are permanent however, the coating used to create Mystic topaz can be damaged by the ingredients in jewelry cleaners and by high heat. It’s best to stick with warm water and mild soap for cleaning.

Topaz may be the traditional birthstone for November, but Citrine is arguably the more popular. Citrine ranges in color from transparent yellow to brownish orange with stops at yellow-orange, orange and orangey-red along the way. Citrine is actually one of the most readily available and affordable yellow gemstones. Yellow and orange citrine does occur naturally, but it’s rare. You’re probably thinking, how can citrine be so prevalent, but also rare? That’s because most of the citrine on the market today is actually heat treated Amethyst or Smoky Quartz. This practice is common, permanent, and has been done since the 18th century.
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The name Citrine, most likely comes from the French word for lemon, “citron”. It’s name may be French, but it’s Spain we have to thank for bringing citrine to Europe. Madeira, Spain is where heat treating different varieties of quartz to produce citrine was first discovered in the mid 1700s. Some argue that had the heat treating process not been discovered, citrine would not be nearly as popular as it is today. Though today its name refers more to the color than the origin, Madeira Citrine is known for its deep rich orange color. It might be hard to believe that jewelers have been heat treating citrine for over 3 centuries, but the gem’s history goes back even further than that.

One of the most historically significant citrine mines is in Bolivia. First discovered in the 1600s, the Anahi mine was given to a Spanish Conquistador as dowry when he married an indigenous princess, Anahi. The mine was lost to the jungle for over 300 years. It was rediscovered in the 1960s and continues to produce citrine, amethyst and ametrine, a bi-colored fashion stone that’s half amethyst, half citrine. Today, citrine is still mined in Bolivia. Other important sources include Brazil, Spain, Madagascar, Mexico and Uruguay.

Due to its similarity in color, citrine has been mistaken for topaz many times throughout history. Because of this, citrine was believed to have most of the same healing properties as topaz. Where the two differ, is that citrine was once believed to protect the wearer from snake venom. But you won’t find me testing that theory!

Citrine scores a 7 on the Mohs hardness scale and has good toughness so It’s durable enough to wear everyday. It’s strong enough to withstand the ultrasonic cleaner. You can steam clean citrine but do so with caution as high heat can cause your stone to crack. When in doubt, stick with warm soapy water and a soft brush.

When it comes to November birthstone jewelry, we have several options for you! First up, the ever popular “This is Us: Our Life, Our Story” collection. This collection features simulated gemstones set in sterling silver. All the pieces match making it easy to build the birthstone set of your dreams! This collection has necklaces, earrings, rings and now bangle bracelets!
If you’re looking for something a little more bold, check out this gorgeous pendant. Featuring a round cut 4.65 carat orange citrine and .06 carat total weight of diamonds on bail. It’s almost like wearing a drop of solid sunshine around your neck! Setting is sterling silver and it is $129.

So November Babes, I hope I’ve convinced you that your birthstone is much more beautiful than you previously thought. Just like emerald represents the rebirth of spring in May, topaz and citrine are the perfect representation of fall. 11 months down and one to go, I hope you enjoy the golden hour that is November!

Sources:
https://www.gia.edu/birthstones/november-birthstones 
https://www.gia.edu/citrine/gem-overview 
https://www.gia.edu/topaz 
November 18, 2021 — Brian Van Duyne