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Ruby Lane's Past Times Newsletter for November 2007
IN THIS ISSUE:
- November's Birthstone: A Choice of Two!
- November Editor's Pick: The Cunning Art of Writing
NOVEMBER'S BIRTHSTONE: A CHOICE OF TWO!
Those born in November are offered the choice of two gems as birthstones. Citrine and Topaz, while the colors may be similar, are two distinctly different minerals.
While there is no hard and fast rule about the matter, the yellow and orange shades of topaz are the most widely used as birthstones for November. In these color ranges, the golden shaded stones with overtones of pink or red, known as Imperial Topaz, are most desirable. These stones, along with natural pink or red Topaz, are the most expensive varieties of the gem.
The colors in this range are usually natural. Some of these colors of topaz are enhanced, to produce pink or red topaz. Colorless topaz may be treated to produce brown or brownish green topaz, but most of this material is further enhanced to a blue color. Blue topaz is not traditionally considered as a November birthstone, and is a relative new comer to the jewelry world. While pale blue topaz does occur in nature, it is rare. Most blue topaz used in jewelry is a product of irradiation and heating. These processes have made blue topaz widely available for the last 25 years, but the chance that you will encounter a piece much older then that are very slim. The darker shades of blue topaz are not known to occur in nature.
Until about 500 years ago, most yellow stones were referred to as Topaz. There was also some ancient confusion that caused Peridot to be referred to as Topaz.
In some shades of yellow, Topaz can be confused with Citrine. It is good to be able to differentiate the two, because some smaller standard sizes of yellow Topaz can cost 5-6 times a comparable color Citrine. Larger size Citrine stones are much more readily available and affordable than Topaz. Definitive tests to separate the two involve analyzing the refractive index and optic character of the material, and this is best left to trained professionals. A simple visual examination will not resolve the identification. Topaz may show a weak reaction to ultraviolet light, while Citrine is inert and shows no reaction.
Topaz should not be cleaned in an ultrasonic cleaning machine, as this may damage the stone. Its suitability for everyday wear is rated as fair to good, but it is not quite as durable as Citrine. It is usually safe to clean citrine with an ultrasonic cleaner.
There are some newer colors of topaz on the market today which are produced by a diffusion treatment. While we have seen no definitive information on this, we assume that the beauty of the stone may only be "skin deep", as some other gemstones that are diffusion treated may lose the thin area of color on the surface of the stone when damaged or repolished. In recent years, some topaz has been coated with titanium oxide vapors to produce special color effects, like iridescence. These stones, often sold as "Mystic Topaz", can have the coating damaged during normal wear. You will not find stones exhibiting these characteristics in vintage or antique pieces, unless they have been added after the fact to an existing piece.
Topaz is also associated with the natal sign of Sagittarius.
Citrine is the name applied to the yellow and orange varieties of quartz. The name, taken from the French "citron" indicates a lemon color, and most natural citrine is a pale lemon yellow. Most citrine is produced by heating amethyst and brown quartz (Smoky quartz).
Citrine has often been misrepresented as the more expensive Topaz, and names have been attached to Citrine that aid in this misrepresentation. Terms such as Topaz, Spanish Topaz, Madeira Topaz, Citrine Topaz, and Topaz Quartz are considered misnomers and should not be used to describe Citrine.
Citrine is considered to have good durability, as do the other varieties of quartz.
Smoky Quartz, while not normally used as a November birthstone, is possibly the most misrepresented gemstone of modern times. This widely available brownish variety of quartz is often misrepresented as Smoky Topaz. It is not Topaz, and the use of the term Smoky Topaz is not allowed on Ruby Lane. The stone identified as Cairngorm in some traditional Scottish jewelry pieces is Smoky Quartz, often locally produced.
Ametrine is a closely related stone, sometimes known as Bolivianite. This stone shows the colors of amethyst and citrine, both of which are varieties of quartz, in one stone. The naturally occurring variety has been known for hundreds of years, and it may also be produced by differential heat treatment of amethyst.
South America is the major source for Citrine and Topaz, with Africa being a secondary source. Smoky Quartz is also found in South America, Africa, and parts of Europe.
In addition to being confused with each other, the color range of Topaz and Citrine is duplicated in synthetic birthstones. Synthetic corundum, in the appropriate color range, is most widely used. Glass, in an appropriate color range is also used. Both these materials should be described as simulants. Natural gemstones that can have similar colors include Spessartite Garnet and Yellow Sapphire.
The choice of different stones for those born in November makes available a wide range of jewelry pieces, in both price and style.
NOVEMBER EDITOR'S PICK: THE CUNNING ART OF WRITING
Once upon a time, literate people who wanted to express their thoughts via the written word had to do so using an instrument guided by their hand. Every book, pamphlet, document, letter, proclamation or standing order, no matter its length, was written with a manual tool, not by tapping keys on a keyboard. By the time of the class-layered society of the 1700's mostly only individuals whose station in life might dictate a potential future need to write, would have been expected to master the skill. Unlike reading, writing simply wasn't something everyone needed to know how to do.
Those who did receive instruction found that their social status and gender dictated the cursive style they were taught and that they were expected to practice. This made it possible for content to be instantly recognizable as penned by a male or female hand, and whether by gentry, clerk or tradesman. By the late Victorian era, things were changing. Society was still stratified to a great degree and still gender defined, but good penmanship was by then taught in most public schools. A growing middle-class could both own and use a fine hand for writing, just as they could practice a better manner of speech and proper deportment in public. These niceties could suggest a position secure in a higher level of society, even if this was not actually true. Delightful figural inkwells and ornate ink stands were popular. Plenty of accessories and a well appointed desk were to be envied.
Those fine writing accoutrement's of the past are appreciated, even today, though cursive writing is gradually being practiced less and less. In an October 2006 article for the Washington Post, reporter Margaret Webb Pressler noted that of the almost 1.5 million students of the class of 2006 who were presented with the need to produce handwritten essays on their SAT exams, only 15 percent of them answered in cursive writing. Everyone else printed their responses in block letters.
But, recent studies show that higher grades are generated by good penmanship. When two like pieces of writing are presented, one with and one without flowing script, it is the former that always gets the better grade. This suggests that automatically deducing class and intelligence from style of writing might still be a practice that is alive and well, even as the art of penning words in ink disappears once more from the repertoire of skills owned by the common man.