• Rachael Sloan

Fall in Love with Your November Birthstone

How much do you actually know about November's birthstone?

  • Did you know that people have been wearing golden topaz as a November charm for 1500 years?

  • Or that citrine was added as an alternate November birthstone back in 1952 when jewelers figured out how to make it cheaply by heating amethyst?

  • How about the fact that there is an awfully strong argument suggesting that amethyst is the real original November birthstone?

If you were born in November and you don't already love your birthstone, I think you will after you read this article. There is quite a story involved. Plus, your birthstone might not actually be the gem you think it is.

What is the November Birthstone?

This sounds like a simple question, and it is... kind of. The short and sweet answer is topaz. Specifically golden topaz. People have worn golden topaz as a November charm for 1500 years. But there are also several other gems that have strong claims to the status of "November birthstone".

If you already know that you love topaz, skip ahead to the Imperial Topaz Buying Guide.

That section will tell you everything you want to know before you go shopping, including:

1. How to easily evaluate the quality of a topaz


2. Where to find amazing golden, pink and imperial topaz online

If you’re not already in love with topaz, hang around for a minute. There is so much more to this story.

It turns out topaz isn’t your only November birthstone option. Citrine is a widely accepted alternate, and some truly unlikely candidates have valid claims to the title as well, including amethyst, emerald, garnet and aquamarine.

If you’re reading this you already know how special birthstone jewelry is. It makes a great personalized gift, especially when you take a loose gem and have a custom piece of jewelry made. Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of people designing rings for a loved one that feature their children’s or grandchildren’s birthstones. How much sweeter can you get?

Maybe you’re designing jewelry for yourself, or perhaps you’re shopping for someone else. Either way, getting the gemstone right is awfully important.

Here’s the thing… topaz is an AMAZING gem. It comes in an array of colors ranging from yellow to orange to red to pink and even purple. But it isn’t your only option.

I’m going to lay out the history behind the November birthstone. You’ll see that you actually have quite a few choices, plus the story itself is wacky and fun to read. I’m also going to share a thorough buying guide to help you pick out topaz and citrine. We’ll cover everything from evaluating color, clarity and cut to potential treatments, durability factors and physical and energetic properties.

Finally, I’m going to tell you exactly where to go online to buy high quality, beautiful topaz, citrine and all the alternate November birthstones, both loose and set in jewelry.

That’s right. No more shopping around Etsy or Ebay, worrying about faked gemstones and unscrupulous dealers or jewelers. Just one solid list of reputable, reliable sources, so you can get on to the fun part - designing your jewelry or giving your gift.

Once you've read this guide, you will have every tool you need to find an amazing November birthstone for yourself or a loved one, PLUS you'll be well equipped to negotiate a killer deal on that stone. Let's jump on in.

What is the November birthstone?

Let’s go back about 3500 years...

Where do birthstones come from? They're associated with the zodiac, which originated in India. I always assumed that birthstones came along with the zodiac, or perhaps they had their origins in some pagan tradition which would account for the mystical powers ascribed to them as sources of protection and bringers of luck.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that the whole birthstone tradition actually comes out of the… bible? Yup. Straight from the Old Testament.

According to scripture, back in the 13th or 14th century BC God instructed Moses to make a holy breastplate for his brother, Aaron the Priest, first high priest of the Israelites. The breastplate was to be inlaid with 12 gemstones, each representing one of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Okay, so we have a cool breastplate in the Old Testament, but what do the twelve tribes of Israel have to do with the zodiac?

As far as the original religious scholars were concerned, not a whole lot. But then, in the first century AD, a Jewish priest and historian by the name of Flavius Josephus started to speculate. He actually picks apart every material that went into that breastplate, investing each thread with divine meaning. About the gems Flavius wrote,

“And for the twelve stones, whether we understand by them the months, or the twelve signs of what the Greeks call the zodiac, we shall not be mistaken in their meaning.”

Flavius started the trend, and lots of ecclesiastical writers after him carried it on. For most of modern history, the fashion was to own all twelve gemstones and wear a different one each month. People believed each month’s gem would offer them protection and bring good fortune. The tradition of wearing just one “birthstone” may have originated in 18th century Poland, though some scholars believe it started even earlier, in the 1500’s in Germany.

We've got twelve stones, twelve months, people are wearing them, it seems like we know what's what, right? Here’s the twist…

What were the twelve birthstones in Aaron’s breastplate?

The answer to this simple question has been hotly argued by nerdy historians, priests and even royalty since at least the time of Flavius. The debate still rages today, with the Jewelers of America feeding fuel to the fire by adding new birthstones to the modern list every couple of years.

Let's sift through the last two millennia of debate and see if we can't find...

The Real November Birthstone

This is a three (at least) sided debate. I am going to make three different cases for three distinct gemstones that could qualify as the "real" November birthstone. I'll also show you a few alternate November birthstones along the way.

First: Could amethyst be the original November birthstone?

The part of the old testament describing Aaron’s breastplate was originally written in Hebrew. Way back in the 2nd century BC, it was first translated into Greek. Based on this translation and what we know about gems from that era (if you want to know all the details, please read this footnote, the story is fascinating, and totally nerdy), here’s the original birthstones as recorded in the original Old Testament:

Doesn’t look very familiar does it? The months aren't even in the right order. That's because of a is a fun and little known fact: January didn't become the first month of the year until the 17th century.

Between the 6th and 10th century AD a whole slew of changes to the birthstone list were made by various writers, historians and even several members of various royal families. If you want a full history, a fellow calling himself Mornay of Anglesey, member of the Kingdom of Caid of the Society for Creative Anachronism (all I can say is look it up, it’s worth it) wrote a truly fascinating and thorough account. His research is impressive, and it brings us to the next gemstone that has a claim on the title "November birthstone".

Second: Topaz has been recognized as the November birthstone for over 1500 years.

Most of the other birthstones have changed repeatedly over the centuries, but the November birthstone only changed once. From roughly the 6th century on, topaz has appeared as the November birthstone on every list in the Western world.

How did we make the switch from amethyst to topaz?

I wish I had a more satisfactory answer here. Scholars aren’t certain if it was an error in copying, translation or an intentional edit, but at some point in the 800 years between the original Greek translation of the Old Testament and the birthstone list published by Isadore, Bishop of Seville in the late 6th century, topaz stole the title from amethyst.

One thing we can say for certain is that topaz held onto the title of November birthstone, despite a near constant shuffling of all the other birthstones.

Let’s fast forward to 1912, when the standardized birthstone list we use today was created by the National Association of Jewelers. They kept topaz on as the November birthstone. But over time, and fitting for our modern commercial world, they started to make a few edits to boost sales and profits. When a birthstone was too rare, expensive or difficult for jewelers to procure, they simply started adding alternates.

Third: Citrine is named as an alternate November birthstone in 1952.

In 1952 is jewelers and gem dealers figured out how to apply heat and pressure to amethyst artificially to create citrine.

Untreated natural citrine is quite rare, but amethyst is very common and inexpensive. By treating amethyst, suddenly jewelers had an ample supply of a pretty yellow stone for a low price.

Before you write off citrine as an “impostor birthstone” due to its late and commercially motivated addition to the list, please consider two factors that help validate its claim:

  1. A Case of Mistaken Identity: Until very recently we lacked the technology to reliably distinguish gemstones. Topaz was used to describe any yellow or golden gemstone for nearly 1000 years. It is quite certain that some of the “topaz” worn as a November birthstone charm throughout the ages was actually citrine.

  2. All Citrine was Once Amethyst- When quartz contains enough iron inclusions it displays the gorgeous purple of amethyst. When amethyst is exposed to heat and pressure the iron oxidizes and the stone displays the warm colors of citrine. Amethyst was the “original” November birthstone, and citrine comes from amethyst, so maybe that gives it an edge.

As much as I would like to disparage the Jeweler’s Association for altering the birthstones for commercial purposes, it turns out that citrine has a valid claim on the November slot, even if most of the material on the market today was colored by man, not nature.

And citrine isn’t the only gem that qualifies as an alternative to topaz for the November birthstone.

Mystic Traditions Give Us Numerous Alternate November Birthstones

Aquamarine or Garnet for Scorpios, Topaz or Emerald for Saggitarians

The Zodiac has its origins with the Babylonians of Mesopotamia as far back as 3000 BCE. According to the Zodiac, two signs share the month of November. Those born between October 24th and November 22nd fall under Scorpio, a sign associated with aquamarine. From November 23rd to December 21st Saggitartius rules the Zodiac. The gemstone of Sagittarius is topaz.

The Moorish Zodiac is a little different. This practice, passed down through the descendants of Arab traders dating back to the 6th century AD, assigns garnet as the gemstone representing Scorpio, and gives Saggitarians emerald.

If you'd like to learn more about the zodiac, check out Jessica Lanyadoo's Instagram. She is super cheeky, and gives a detailed and totally entertaining introduction to astrology.

Cat’s Eye Gemstones Represent November in the Hindu Zodiac

While the West was shuffling its birthstone lists, India already had a rich tradition surrounding symbolism and gemstones. In Hindu cosmology gems are powerful, acting as a physical seat into which a deity can descend.

The fifth century text Ratnapariksa describes the intricate relationships between gems, planets, deities, months and even days of the week.

The Hindu tradition lists “Cat’s Eye” as the November birthstone. An optical phenomenon, called chatoyance, Cat's Eye occurs in many different types of gemstones. Most commonly this band of reflected light, which makes the polished surface of a cabochon (an unfaceted gem with a flat bottom and a polished top) look like the eye of a cat, is seen in chrysoberyl and tiger’s eye, though it can occur in tourmaline, moonstone, quartz and even emerald or sapphire.

If you choose to follow Hindu tradition and take Cat’s Eye as your birthstone, you can choose from any one of the wide range of gemstones that display chatoyance. However, you may care to know that according to the Ratnapariksa Cat’s Eye, along with sapphire, coral and ruby is considered capable of carrying malefic energies.

Alternately, topaz is considered a source of beneficent energy along with emerald, pearl and diamond.

There is another mystical tradition we can turn to as we seek to define the birthstone for November. There are a number of healers and individuals who call upon specific Guardian Angels to help them through life’s challenges. There is an angel associated with each month, and each angel has a talismanic stone, a gems that is believed to be imbued with the angel’s blessings and protection.

Amethyst, arguably the “original” November birthstone, is also the talismanic stone of Adnachiel, November’s Guardian Angel.

There are a lot of good arguments for amethyst as the November birthstone. Between amethyst, emerald, garnet and cat’s eye gems you can choose nearly any color you like. However, it’s been my experience that most people do end up choosing the traditional colors associated with November.

Topaz or citrine are the only two November birthstones that have the warm golden and orange hues of fall.

So for the rest of this article I’m going to focus on these two gems.

I am about to tell you everything you need to know to pick out a topaz or citrine, how to negotiate an excellent price, and where to find reputable sellers.

I’ve included a list of reliable sources for the alternate November birthstones too. First, I’m going to give you the complete low-down on topaz. The tools I am about to give you to evaluate the quality of a topaz apply to other gemstones too, so it’s worth reading through this part even if you don’t think you want to buy topaz.

You can apply these tools and tips to any colored gemstone you are shopping for.

Here is Your Complete Topaz Buying Guide

You’ve probably seen blue topaz in every jewelry store you’ve ever entered. Blue, clear and white topaz is super common, but the warm colors you want in your November birthstone are as rare as blue topaz is prevalent.

You are looking for precious topaz (golden and orange-gold) or imperial topaz (red or reddish-orange). You could also choose a pink topaz. All three, especially in their natural, untreated state, are incredibly rare gems.

I’m about to give you all the tools you need to shop for these gemstones. These tools will work whether you are working directly with a custom jeweler, buying a piece of pre-made jewelry or shopping for a loose gemstone. When we’re done, you’ll be fully prepared. You’ll have the tools you need to evaluate the quality of a gem and negotiate a fair price.

If you are new to the colorful world of gemstones I strongly encourage you to read this entire guide. Having a thorough overview really will save you so much time and money when it comes time to shop.

That said, you are more than welcome to skip around and pick out the bits that are most useful to you. Here are the topics we’re going to cover next:

Topaz Buying Guide: Quick Navigation

  • Etymology/History

  • Colors of Topaz

  • Sources

  • The Four C’s: How to Evaluate the Quality of a Topaz Gemstone

  • Treatments

  • Physical Properties

  • Energetic/Healing Properties

  • Durability ad Daily Wear

  • Where to Buy Imperial Topaz

Etymology and History of Topaz

The internet will tell you that the word topaz comes either from the Sanskrit “tapas”, meaning fire, or from the island Topazius where topaz was originally mined. The first seems fitting, since topaz is known for its fiery glow, but the second is actually more likely. Except that most websites get the story wrong. Topaz was never mined on the island Topazius. So how did it end up with that name?

The Ancient Greeks called topaz “chrysolite” and chrysolite “topaz”.

There is an island in the Red Sea, Zabargad, that the Greeks called Topazius, meaning “to seek”. The tiny island was notoriously hard to find back in the day because it was often shrouded in fog. It’s really little, less than 2 square miles of rocky ground, located right where that red dot is on the map below.

Island Topazius where peridot was mined.
Ancient "Topazius", Modern Zabargad Island

The Greeks (and the Egyptians before them) did mine gems on this island, and they did name the gems “topaz” after the island. But the stones they mined were green, not yellow. The island was full of chrysolite (more commonly known as peridot), not topaz.

The same Greeks called the gems we know as topaz “chrysolite” meaning “golden stone”. The mysterious part is what happened next. How did we end up using “chrysolite” to describe green peridot, and “topaz” to describe a golden gem? That is a question I haven’t been able to answer yet, but when I figure it out I’ll let you know!

In the meantime, take a look at this awesome vintage Georgian pendant from Lang Antiques. It showcases pink topaz and peridot (the green stone). The color combination is beautiful, and knowing the intertwined history of the two gems makes it an especially cool piece, don’t you think?

What color is the November birthstone?

For most of modern history we’ve ascribed fall colors to November: yellow, orange and red, and these are the colors typically associated with the November birthstone. I mentioned earlier that clear and blue topaz are quite common, and that they don’t fit this autumn color scheme, so we’re going to drop them for the rest of this article.

If you want to learn more about blue topaz, gemologist Hobart King wrote an excellent resource describing how blue topaz is made, and the Diamond Store offers a clear, precise buying guide for blue topaz.

The rest of this buying guide will focus on precious, pink and imperial topaz.

Those names, precious, pink and imperial, are trade names, which means you won’t see them written on any gemological lab report (those will just say “topaz”). These terms are used a bit subjectively by jewelers and gem dealers, so if you are shopping for topaz you need to have a basic understanding of what each one means.

Here’s the breakdown:

There is (almost) only one place on Earth where precious and imperial topaz are found.

Imperial topaz used to come from Russia. That’s where it got the name "imperial". The 17th century Russian emperors were so infatuated with the fiery colors of imperial topaz that they banned anyone but royalty from possessing it. Some of the most intense, vibrant and truly red imperial topaz in the world today came out of Russian mines.

Unfortunately, the Russian source dried up many years ago. A few savvy investors still have some rough they are waiting to cut, and a few others have a stash of cut gems, but for the most part if you want Russian imperial topaz you will have to seek out vintage stones. Ruby Lane has a relatively large selection, and both Cynthia Findlay in Toronto and Levy’s Fine Jewelry in Alabama usually have a few nice pieces.

Today, the only place that topaz with the brilliant red and orange Imperial coloring is found is Ouro Preto, Brazil. That’s right, just one town up in the mountains a few hours from Rio.

Nowhere else on Earth has this material. Well, almost nowhere else.

Quite recently imperial and pink topaz has been seen from the Katlang mine in Pakistan. Some beautiful pale pink gems do come out of this region, and brighter reds are occasionally found.

You should know that both pink and imperial topaz from Katlang are often treated to improve their color.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy Katlang topaz. It does mean you should do your homework, find out if the gem you are looking at is treated and negotiate a fair price, which is significantly lower for treated material.

After I tell you how to evaluate a gemstone for quality, I’ll explain the different treatments that you might see in topaz, how to identify a treated stone and how to negotiate with the dealer if you choose to buy such a gem.

First, whether a stone is treated or not, you need to know a little bit about the “Four C’s” of grading colored gemstones. This information can save you a ton of money.

I’m going to give you a simple 3 Step System to easily and QUICKLY evaluate the quality of any colored gemstone.

Then I’ll share some more detailed tools to help you negotiate the best price for your stone. Once you know these simple tools, even the most gifted salesman won’t be able to get you to overpay for a mediocre gem.

How do you know if the gemstone in your shopping cart is worth the price tag?

The “Four C’s” dictate the value of any colored gemstone. They are: color, cut, clarity and carat. In just a moment we’ll dig into each of these and I’ll give you some simple tools to test any gemstone.

First, I want to share my simple, 3 Step System to easily and quickly evaluate the quality of any colored gemstone. Just ask yourself three simple questions:

Step 1

Are you absolutely, completely in LOVE with the color? Really, truly. Does it

make you grin when you look at it?

Step 2

Does the stone glow with internal fire and brilliance? Be strict here. Take the gem

into a dimly lit room - it should still dazzle.

Step 3

Does light move evenly through the stone or do you see dark spots or

“holes” where you can see through the gemstone? This is a simple way to evaluate the cut of the gem.

You can follow these three steps when you’re shopping for a gem online, but to really make a decision you need to see a stone in person. Any reputable online gem or jewelry dealer will offer you a free return for at least 7-30 days after you receive your stone for this very reason.

Do not buy a gem from an online dealer who does not offer free returns.

If the gemstone passes all three tests, congratulations! You’ve found a nice gemstone. If a stone doesn’t pass these tests, keep looking. There are a lot of gems out there. Don’t spend your money on a stone that isn’t amazing.

Okay, so your gem passes the 3 Step System. Now let’s go a little deeper and help you get a great price on that stone.

I’m going to walk you through each of the Four C’s and teach you how to evaluate the quality of any colored gemstone.

All the gems pictured in the examples below are real gems from my store, Lockwood & Sloan. I use them in the examples to show you how topaz really looks when you’re shopping online.

The First “C”: Color is King when it comes to assessing the value of a colored gemstone.

Unlike diamonds, where cut is the most important factor, when you are shopping for any colored gem, color trumps everything else. You must love the color of your gem. This is so important.

You also need to consider where that color you love falls in the value spectrum for that type of stone. You might fall in love with a gem that has an “inferior” color according to this guide, and that’s okay! In fact, it’s awesome. You get a gem you love for less money.

The most valuable hue of topaz is pink or purple.

When we’re looking at precious, imperial and pink topaz, the value increases as we move through the following hues:

Yellow - Orange - Red - Pink - Purple

Don’t worry too much about the nuances of evaluating color. Even experienced gem dealers will disagree over slight variations in hue. Is the gem slightly orangey - yellow or is it strongly yellowish - orange? You’ll go crazy if you try to pick it all apart.

Just remember, yellow is cheaper than orange is cheaper than pink. Yellow, orange, pink.

Take a look at the image below - can you rank the precious topaz in order from least valuable to most valuable?* That’s all you need to be able to do.

Tone and saturation also affect the color and value of topaz.

Tone refers to how light or dark the color is, while saturation refers to how intense the color is. In general, you want a medium tone, so the gem is not too light or too dark.

Look at these stones:

These three topaz gems show the same golden hue in light, medium and dark tones. The center stone is the most valuable tone.

Saturation describes the intensity of the color. The more intense the color, the more valuable the gemstone. This is true of topaz and all other colored gemstones.

The hue of these two imperial topazes are both “slightly orangey red”, but the one on the right is far more saturated. In this case, the price rises by nearly $1000/ct because of the difference in saturation.

The Second “C”: The brilliance of the gemstone reveals the quality of the cut.

A well cut gemstone reflects light evenly. When you look down at it from the top, straight on, the entire surface should shimmer and bounce light back with no holes or dark spots.

You should also look more closely, examining the individual facets. The facets should meet at single points, not be offset. The bottom of the gemstone should also come to a clean point or line, without bulges or rounded surfaces.

This topaz was precision cut by master gem cutter Wayne Emery.

You can see the clean, sharp lines and facets, and the dazzling brilliance of the stone.

The topaz below was commercially cut.

The lines are not as clean and there are some bulges on the pavilion facets (on the bottom of the gem). From the top you can see an “empty” spot, or window. This gem is very pretty and will make a lovely ring, but it cannot demand the same high price as the precision cut gem above.

Remember, the most important thing is that you love your gemstone. The second most important thing is that you know where that gem falls in the quality of its color, cut and clarity so that you can negotiate the best price possible.

If you can tell the difference between the two gems above, you are well on your way to negotiating a great price on the next gem you buy.

The Third “C”: Clarity. Some inclusions are expected in natural precious and imperial topaz.

Precious and imperial topaz actually get their beautiful colors from teeny tiny chromium inclusions. As the color intensifies, you usually see more eye visible inclusions. In general, yellow topaz can be found quite clean, while the more orange and red stones tend to have more inclusions.

Very small inclusions that are not readily visible to the naked eye do not affect the value of a topaz.

However, if inclusions are large enough to detract from the beauty of the gem, the price must decrease, even for an imperial topaz. Look carefully for fractures that reach the surface of the gemstone, as these can affect its durability.

Imperial topaz November birthstone
Inclusions in Imperial Topaz

The gem on the left has eye visible inclusions, which detract from its beauty and will bring the price down a bit, maybe 15-20%. It has awesome color (and color is king), so it is still worth a fair penny.

The gem on the right has a surface reaching fracture, which could affect its durability. This stone will be sold at bargain basement prices, and should be worn and cleaned with care.

Some inclusions can actually enhance the beauty of a gemstone.

Inclusions themselves can be beautiful, creating a pretty pattern or interesting texture in a gem. For many in the industry, inclusions are considered an important indication that the gem is natural. Many gemologists, jewelers and collectors seek out gemstones with unusual inclusions, as these are often more rare and unique than perfectly clean gems.

Pink, precious and imperial topaz with beautiful inclusions.
Beautiful Inclusions in Topaz

These three topaz gems show unique and compelling inclusions.

The Fourth “C”: Carat. As the size of pink, precious or imperial topaz increases, so does the per carat value.