Why Are Topaz and Citrine Gemstones Misidentified?


“Yellow Topaz Ring” by Mark Somma is licensed under CC By 2.0
“Yellow Topaz Ring” by Mark Somma is licensed under CC By 2.0

Question

Could you explain the difference between topaz and citrine gemstones? I recently had appraised what I believed to be a 1-carat topaz. When I bought the gem 18 years ago, the jeweler appraised it as a topaz. Now, the new appraisal says it’s a citrine. I questioned the appraiser and he said that topaz and citrine gemstones are basically the same and that citrines are more valuable. I was led to believe very differently when I purchased the stone. Then, it was appraised for $530 as a topaz. Now, it’s been appraised for $295 as a citrine. What’s going on?

Answer

Unfortunately, this is a common story. A little history will explain why. Before the 20th century, all gems in the brown, orange, and yellow color range were called topaz. Modern gemology was only recognized as a science in the 1930s. Now, we recognize topaz and yellow or brown quartz as separate species. However, many jewelers have continued to use the old names. For example, “smoky topaz” is much more likely to be smoky quartz than brown topaz. Citrine gemstones (yellow quartz) are less frequently confused with topaz gemstones, but it does happen.

Quartz and topaz are different gem species. They’re composed of different chemicals and have different physical and optical properties. They’re also valued very differently. The quartz family of gems is much more common than topaz. So even though they may appear similar, the more common quartz varieties are less valuable than topaz. Despite what your appraiser told you, topaz and citrine gemstones are definitely not “basically the same.” (See our List of False and Misleading Gemstone Names for more examples of quartz referred to commercially as varieties of topaz).

Some jewelers can perform accurate appraisals. Others cannot. Consumers need to be aware that there are no qualifications or regulations for writing a gemstone appraisal. To protect your investment, contact an independent gemology lab that specializes in identification and appraisal.

Donald Clark, CSM IMG

Traditionally, all yellow, brown, or orange gemstones were called topaz. Modern gemology has a stricter definition of topaz based on chemical and physical properties. Topaz gems can be found in red and blue as well as yellow, but the popular association with yellow remains strong. Citrine gemstones, a yellow variety of quartz, are sometimes erroneously identified, even in appraisals, as topaz. “Silver and Citrine Rings” by Mauro Cateb is licensed under CC By 2.0
Traditionally, all yellow, brown, or orange gemstones were called topaz. Modern gemology has a stricter definition of topaz based on chemical and physical properties. Topaz gems can be found in red and blue as well as yellow, but the popular association with yellow remains strong. Citrine gemstones, a yellow variety of quartz, are sometimes erroneously identified, even in appraisals, as topaz. “Silver and Citrine Rings” by Mauro Cateb is licensed under CC By 2.0