Topaz or Not Topaz? That is the Question!

November 15th, 2012 by James L. Sweaney, CGA, FGA. GG

One of the missions Robert M. Shipley defined when he created the Gemological Institute of America was to rectify incorrect practices in the jewelry and gem business. One of the most common of these is the use of trade names and misnomers for gemstones.

Before the development of the gemological sciences, it was common for gem traders to give gem materials what I call “booster” names, especially if the stone had a more valuable lookalike. Blue stones were called sapphire, red ones were called ruby, and yellow or orange gems were called topaz.

Usually the purpose was to give the gem a more romantic or exotic sounding name that was easier to market or that added perceived value to the stone.

Our photo shows two lookalikes- an Imperial Topaz and a Citrine Quartz. You can see how closely they resemble each other in general appearance, yet because of it’s beauty, rarity and durability, the Imperial Topaz is about 100 times as valuable as the Citrine. Which is which?– answer at the bottom!

The most obvious red flag for a misnomer is the use of a geographical or locale name along with the gem name— usually, these locale names refer to where the gem material was produced, rather than what it actually is. Knowing this, you can easily spot the impostors, as shown in the following list of common misnomers.

Madeira Topaz = Citrine Quartz

Rio Grande Topaz = Citrine Quartz

Smoky Topaz = Smoky Quartz

Balas Ruby = Spinel

Water Sapphire = Iolite/Cordierite

Herkimer Diamond = colorless Quartz crystals (from Herkimer County, NY)

Black Onyx= dyed black Chalcedony

Alaska Black Diamond = Hematite

Bohemian Ruby = Garnet

Australian Jade = Chrysoprase

Swiss Lapis = dyed blue Jasper

In the United States, it’s a violation of the Federal Trade Commission guidelines to use names of gemstones which mislead buyers as to the identity of what they are buying. Even with these clear rules, we often see some businesses using these outdated and incorrect terminologies– it’s very hard to change old habits and practices..

As members of the American Gem Society, the Rare Gemstone Specialists at Mardon are dedicated to the best practices of using correct gemological names and to educate and inform the consumer as to the true identity and quality of the gemstones we sell, appraise, and buy.

Answer— Imperial Topaz is the top ring, Citrine Quartz the bottom. The Topaz is more valuable for a number of reasons– it is much more rare than quartz, it’s harder so it takes a better polish and is more durable, it’s more transparent and sparkly, and the color is richer.

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