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January 2000

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 Cannetille persisted for only a few decades; by 1840, it had been replaced by repoussé, a technique that saved material and labor.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.



 

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