Topaz is a beloved gemstone that comes in a variety of colors, but perhaps none is more intriguing than smoky topaz. With it’s earthy tones and hints of mystique, smoky topaz has captivated jewelry wearers for centuries. In this article, we’ll explore the history, lore and unique beauty of smoky topaz.
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What Causes the Smoky Color?
Pure topaz is colorless, but trace impurities give this gemstone an array of hues, from pale blue to cherry red. In the case of smoky topaz, radiation exposure causes the stone’s color. Topaz deposits contain small amounts of aluminum, which interacts with natural radioactivity or artificial irradiation, resulting in smoky brown shades. The more intense the radiation, the darker the stone becomes. This process is similar to how some minerals like quartz form “smoky quartz.”
A Gemstone Steeped in History and Lore
References to topaz date back to ancient texts, from a Sanskrit legend about a magical island to the Hebrew Bible describing it in the garden of Eden. During medieval times, people believed topaz could ward off harm and heal physical ailments. Blue topaz was particularly prized, as it was thought to calm tempers, cure madness and eliminate nightmares.
Royalty also valued topaz, with many kings and queens owning topaz jewelry and ornaments. For instance, in 1750, a massive topaz known as the “Braganza” was set in the Portuguese crown jewels. Later, topaz became a traditional gift for 4th and 19th wedding anniversaries, due to an old tradition of associating gemstones with special meanings. While blue topaz symbolized love and affection, smoky topaz took on an air of mystery.
Types Of Smoky Topaz
|Light Smoky Topaz||Has very light gray or brown color, with subtle smoky tones. More affordable and common type of smoky topaz.|
|Medium Smoky Topaz||Exhibits medium-dark gray to brown color. Shows more distinct smokiness.|
|Dark Smoky Topaz||Deepest brown shades, nearly black in appearance. Very intense smoky color is prized. More rare and expensive.|
|Mystic Smoky Topaz||Has a very smooth, even color distribution rather than dark concentrated areas. Creates a mystical, foggy look.|
|Silver Smoky Topaz||Along with smoky tones, has hints of silver-gray or blue. Unique bicolor effect.|
|Natural Smoky Topaz||Developed smoky color naturally over time, without artificial irradiation. Extremely rare and priced higher.|
Where Does Smoky Topaz Come From?
The premier source of top-quality smoky topaz is Brazil. The Brazilian state of Minas Gerais offers ideal conditions for forming large and beautiful smoky topaz crystals. The abundant pegmatite deposits and quartz-rich schist in Minas Gerais provide the necessary aluminum-rich geology where smoky topaz develops. Other notable reserves exist in Brazil’s Bahia, Goiás, and Rio Grande do Norte regions.
Africa is another key source, especially Nigeria and Mozambique. Smoky topaz found here can exhibit distinct color zoning ranging from dark brown to near colorless areas. Significant deposits have been found in the granite pegmatites of Nigeria. Intense volcanic activity in Africa over millions of years provided favorable conditions for smoky topaz creation.
Mexico has become an important supplier in recent decades. Mexican smoky topaz displays excellent clarity and saturation of color. The San Luis Potosi state of central Mexico contains abundant topaz reserves.
China, Sri Lanka, and Ukraine hold additional supplies of smoky topaz. Deposits have been found embedded in granite and metamorphic schist. While many localities exist, low yields make large-scale mining uneconomical in these countries.
In the United States, Topaz Mountain in western Utah used to be a top producing site until the supply dwindled. Irradiating the abundant local blue topaz generated the coveted smoky variety. Other minor deposits are located in Texas, California, and New Hampshire.
While found across several continents, Brazil remains the premier source for both quality and quantity of natural smoky topaz crystals used in fine jewelry. Advanced cutting techniques transform these prized Brazilian stones into dazzling gems.
The Beauty of Smoky Topaz
What makes smoky topaz stand out from other gems? First, there’s it’s striking range of earthy brown colors. While some crystals are pale and misty gray, others exhibit rich tobacco hues. Within a single stone, color zoning creates beautiful patterns and textures. Smoky topaz also frequently contains inclusions like crystals and etched channels, adding depth and visual interest.
Jewelry lovers appreciate smoky topaz for it’s versatility and wearability. Unlike many fragile gemstones, topaz earns an 8 on the Mohs scale, making it suitable for everyday rings and bracelets. It’s neutral colors pair well with many outfits and skin tones. While affordable in small sizes, smoky topaz in larger carats can be valued at several hundred dollars per carat.
Unique Cutting Techniques for Smoky Topaz
Unlike transparent gemstones designed to maximize brilliance, the cutting style for smoky topaz aims to highlight its signature smoky color and intriguing inclusions. The most popular cuts are:
Emerald Cut: This rectangular cut with long, open facets is ideal for showing off flaws within the stone. The large, dramatic windows let you gaze deep into the smoky topaz interior. The emerald cut also elongates the stone for a glamorous look.
Cushion Cut: The rounded square shape and gentle curves of the cushion cut beautifully display the smoky topaz’s color variations. The faceting pattern amplifies its moody, earthy tone. This cut results in a stone with antique elegance.
Oval Cut: For smoky topaz, the oval cut allows the retention of more carat weight from the rough stone compared to other shapes. Ovals maximize the display of smoky color gradients in the gem.
Cabochon Cut: Smooth and domed without facets, cabochons fully accentuate the muted glow and hazy essence of smoky topaz. Reflections dance across the smooth surface.
Freeform Cut: If the rough stone has interesting natural shape, a freeform style can showcase the crystal in its organic beauty. Freeform exhibits the smoky topaz’s natural wonder.
When cutting smoky topaz, the faceter must orient the stone to highlight subtle veils, lines, and rainbow inclusions that give each gem a unique fingerprint. Proper cutting unlocks a smoky topaz’s full potential.
Smoky Topaz in Jewelry Design
From vintage to modern, smoky topaz adds tasteful elegance to all types of jewelry. Here are some winning ways to wear this stylish gem:
- Pendants: Showcase a large smoky topaz in a simple bezel or wire-wrapped setting.
- Cocktail rings: Make a dramatic fashion statement with an oversized smoky topaz cocktail ring.
- Earrings: For timeless sophistication, wear smoky topaz stud earrings.
- Layered necklaces: Add an earthy smoky topaz pendant to a layered look.
- Men’s rings: Rugged smoky topaz statement rings appeal to modern men.
- Smoky topaz pairs nicely with yellow gold, sterling silver, platinum and rose gold settings. Round brilliants and black diamonds make excellent accent stones.
The smoky color results from natural radiation or artificial irradiation interacting with the aluminum present in the topaz. This causes the quartz-like structure of topaz to darken.
Smoky topaz has a hardness of 8 on the Mohs scale, making it a durable gemstone. It has a vitreous luster and a conchoidal fracture. It’s specific gravity ranges from 3.49 to 3.57.
The premier source is Minas Gerais, Brazil, which has ideal conditions for producing high-quality smoky topaz crystals. Other sources include Africa, Sri Lanka, Mexico, China and parts of the United States.
Smoky topaz is very versatile. It looks beautiful in both modern and vintage styles. Popular settings include solitaire pendants, cocktail rings, bezel earrings and everyday rings. Pair it with yellow or rose gold for a warm, earthy look.
Natural stones over 2 carats can cost over $1,000 per carat. Irradiated stones are more affordable, starting around $50 per carat for lighter stones and $200-300 for darker ones over 5 carats.
Have a jeweler check for proper hardness, density and fluorescence under UV light. Simulated stones like smoky quartz have different properties than natural topaz. Advanced lab testing can confirm natural topaz composition.
Whether you’re seeking a bold jewelry piece or something more understated, smoky topaz never fails to intrigue. It’s rarity and striking appearance, set off by flawless cutting, gives this gemstone an unmistakable sense of beauty and mystery.
So if you find yourself drawn to the smokey allure of this remarkable gem, don’t fight it – embrace your attraction to the wonders of smoky topaz.