Citrine and Topaz: The Celebratory Stones of November

Rachael Burrow
·3-min read
Photo credit: DEA / G. CIGOLINI - Getty Images
Photo credit: DEA / G. CIGOLINI - Getty Images

From Veranda

In 1912, Jewelers of America chose birthstones—one for each month of the year. Some believe that the choosing of these 12 stones can be traced back to the 12 gemstones representing the tribes of Israel, while others believe they were linked to the zodiac signs. November claims two birthstones: citrine and topaz.

Citrine is a semiprecious gem that is actually a mineral quartz. It is typically seen as a yellow-golden color, with the deep orange-gold being the most valuable of citrine shades, and may even resemble topaz on occasion. Citrine was known as 'yellow quartz' until 1556 when German metallurgist Georg Bauer renamed it. Its new name is thought to have been taken from the French word "citron," as a reference to citrus fruits. Citrine is sourced in mines where amethysts can typically be found, such as in Brazil, Uruguay, Scotland, and North Carolina.

Egyptians were among the first of ancient civilizations to use citrine, while Romans associated the stone with the sun god Apollo. This gemstone was thought to bring success, individuality, and a love of life to the wearer. Citrine has also been used as ornament in Ancient Greece since the Hellenistic Age, and in the 17th century, it was used as ornamentation on the handles of the swords and daggers of the Scots.

Photo credit: National Galleries of Scotland - Getty Images
Photo credit: National Galleries of Scotland - Getty Images

Queen Victoria, whose reign saw many social and cultural changes during a time that was later dubbed "The Victorian Era," was known for her love of citrine. It was commonly used to adorn kilt pins and brooches during this period as well. Citrine soared again with renewed popularity during the Art Deco period, when architecture, jewelry, and clothing all took a turn for a more modern bent. Starlets and bon vivants were known to don large pieces of jewelry boasting the gemstone.

Topaz, a silicate mineral of fluorine and aluminum, comes in a variety of colors, with its name hailing from an island in the Red Sea once called Topazios (now Zabargad). Ancient explorers discovered peridot on the island, mistaking the green hue of the peridot for the translucent yellow of topaz. Topaz has also been found in the tombs of the Egyptians and the ruins of Rome, making it a centuries-old treasure.

Photo credit: DEA / G. CIGOLINI - Getty Images
Photo credit: DEA / G. CIGOLINI - Getty Images

Egyptians wore topaz to prevent injuries, and during the Middle Ages, topaz was believed to heal physical and mental disorders and ward off death. Ancient Greeks believed the gemstone made the wearer invisible to the eye and gave strength, while Romans maintained that it actually improved the owner's eyesight. In Renaissance Europe, topaz was used to supposedly dissipate anger. In India, wearers donned topaz above their hearts to redeem a promise of long life, intelligence, and beauty.

During the 19th century, imperial topaz was discovered in Russia in the Ural Mountains. A beautiful pink topaz was sourced for the Russian Czar, and the royal family was the only entity that was allowed to own the gemstone. Now, most of this hard stone is mined in Brazil, and it's known to produce large gemstones: there is one in particular that resides at the Smithsonian that weighs 156 pounds.

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