An ideal gem for jewelry, topaz fascinates an array of jewelry makers from mass manufacturers to bespoke designers. A good hardness, desirable colors, and relative availability make topaz one of today’s most popular gemstones.
Topaz is a transparent stone found in many colors: from commonly found colorless and the palest blue to orange, pink, peach, tan, beige, warm brown, and shades of yellow and green. Blue topaz is almost all enhanced.
Suppliers and manufacturers who work with topaz hail blue a favorite, but the trending “two-stone” looks have opened opportunities for complementing colors. Alix Gonsoulin, Stuller’s fine jewelry director, cites topaz most popular in pieces where a bigger look is desired. “It offers a bold, statement at a great price. Topaz typically is set in trendier designs with silver and 14K gold the metals of choice. It’s an anyone-kind-of-stone.”
Innovative designers like Kara Ross, Matthew Campbell Laurenza, Katie Rowland, and Isabella Lopes also favor topaz, a bright stone with beautiful color presentation, particularly for specialty cuts. “Topaz is an extremely exotic gemstone, an effortless elegance added to any piece,” describes New York designer Kara Ross.
Likewise, men’s jewelry and accessories brands like William Henry use white, red and blue Topaz to accent edgy silver designs. Topaz also has become popular to detail watches, particularly as accents along the bezel. “Cut like a diamond, topaz is bright and attractive, adding special brilliance to the watchcase while keeping prices affordable,” describes Alan Grunwald, president of the private watch label Belair Time.
Stuart Robertson, market analyst for The Gem Guide and research director Gemworld International, Glenview, Illinois says it’s not surprising white topaz has become an alternative to white sapphire, with prices that used to be $10-$20 a carat now hundreds. Priced out of the market it has opened the door for designers and manufacturers to consider colorless Topaz.
Blue Topaz is a bestseller in the U.S. market as a result of its competitive price points. Moreover, China’s appetite for clean, nice gems is growing as buyers are more accepting of a broader variety of stones, reports Jewellery News Asia. Jewelry demand has maintained a brisk pace recently, especially for designs set with gems beyond “precious” reports the Hong Kong Development Council.
“Rising costs of labor in China have created challenges for the manufacturing sector, but also have led to greater domestic consumption of luxury products, including jewelry,” says Gary Venable, gemstone product manager for Stuller. “Chinese consumers are becoming more knowledgeable about gems and jewelry, and more astute in their purchases. They have a keen sense of value and brand trust and are open to contemporary and Western designs and materials. Although the recent global economic crisis has affected domestic sales, China’s gem and jewelry industry shows great potential for future growth.”
The Chinese market is undergoing a price correction as a result of its slowdown, says Robertson. “Gemstones won’t stop selling in China, the market is accepting more alternatives.” He expects Topaz will benefit from this trend.
It wasn’t until the past century that blue Topaz became widespread on the market, with white or pale blue Topaz irradiated and heat-treated to create shades of deep sky blue (i.e. London and Swiss). The process also is used to create green and red hues, with light-colored natural yellow and orange Topaz occasionally irradiated to intensify color.
Venable says irradiation is still a topic with retailers and consumers, although the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulates the importation of blue Topaz, as the irradiation process can make the gems “slightly radioactive.” NRC licensed distributors are required to perform radiological surveys to ensure gems are below levels that pose a health risk before selling to the public. Robertson says the market is accepting of treatments, with the United States a huge consumer of treated gems. “The issue is not the treatment, but proper disclosure and education about it.”
There is a permanent and stable process that is radiation-free, and environmentally and consumer friendly: Thermal Color Fusion™ (TCF™). Swarovski uses this patented process for its topaz gems, which enhances the surface of the stone with a hard ceramic layer that’s resistant to production and cleaning methods. It also offers broader color variations than traditional radiation. TCF™ is not the same as “Mystic Topaz”, colorless Topaz coated on the pavilion with a layer of titanium, creating a rainbow color effect in the stone.
Guest blogger Deborah Yonick has been writing about trends and trendsetters in the jewelry industry for the past 25 years.