From the Vault
Pretty in Pink
An unusual hue of imperial topaz captured the hearts of
jewelry connoisseurs at the turn of each of the past two centuries
In 1735, a rich golden gem discovered near Ouro Preto, Minas
Gerais, Brazil, forever changed the image of topaz. Instead of
the known yellow, tan or pale blue gem, this "imperial"
topaz had highlights of rippling pink, orange and red. Not long
afterward, a Parisian jeweler named Dumelle found the topaz turned
a beautiful pink when heated. "Pinked" and imperial
topaz quickly became favorites in late-18th century jewelry.
Intricate floral and bow motifs were the predominant style
in formal jewelry at the time, and topazes were set in closed-back
silver and gold mountings lined with colored foil to even out
differences in the color.
Pink topaz became even more popular in the early 19th century,
when parures (complete suites of jewelry) set with the gem became
the vogue, especially in cannetille parures. Named for the lacy
embroidery it resembled, cannetille gold work was used for important
jewelry of the 1830s. Cannetille settings were hand-fabricated
using delicate coils and tendrils of gold wire on a filigree
base. They were further embellished with shells, leaves and florettes
of thin stamped gold and gold granules. Although labor-intensive,
cannetille made an ounce of gold go a long way and, because labor
was cheaper than materials at this time, it was cost-effective.
Accents of Blue and Green
Echoing the fashion of combining pink with light blue or pale
green, pink topaz in cannetille parures was often accented by
smaller turquoises, emeralds or "chrysolites," a term
applied to pale green chrysoberyls or peridots. Cannetille persisted
for only a few decades; by 1840, it had been replaced by repoussé,
a technique that saved material and labor.
The popularity of gemstones depends on prevailing taste, and
pink topaz faded from favor around 1850, giving way to jewelry
set with darker, more saturated gems such as garnet, coral and
black onyx in ornate gold mountings. Although imperial topaz
was used occasionally in jewelry of the late 19th century, pink
topaz is noticeably absent.
Around 1900, pink topaz made a comeback as Edwardian socialites
vied to display the finest, most expensive and most unusual jewels.
A few superb examples, such as the pink topaz pendant illustrated
here, demonstrate how lovely this gem can be. The revival was
short-lived, and pink topaz never rose to the level of demand
it had in the 1830s. Instead, it was relegated to the role of
collector's gem for most of the 20th century.
Prospects for the Future
It's easy to understand why there's so little pink topaz on
the market, given that it's been produced traditionally by heating
imperial topaz, which has a high market value itself.
Cost of material aside, there are significant risks. The trace
element chromium turns imperial topaz pink, but not all imperial
topaz contains chromium. Without this element, the topaz may
become colorless when heated. In addition, certain inclusions
may expand when heated, producing fractures and rendering the
gem less valuable.
On a hopeful note, a deposit of fine pink to purplish pink
topaz was found in Pakistan in the early 1970s. Although some
of this naturally occurring pink topaz has been brought to market,
it's still rare. Perhaps as more of it is recovered, we'll see
a new chapter in the history of pink topaz jewelry.
Set as a pendant, the vibrant hue of this flawless 29.16-ct.
cushion-cut pink topaz is dramatically enhanced by diamonds in
an open platinum mounting. The loosely tied lover's knots at
both sides are symbols of betrothal or marriage. Courtesy of
Michael M. Scott.
by Elise B. Misiorowski
Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.