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A gemstone that fosters healing, clear thought and creativity
Text Edward Jenkins
This is the first in a series on the many gemstones available to Namibian jewellery designers. While known for its diamond and mineral wealth, few people realise that Namibia is also a treasure trove of other gems. The arid climate and low population density make geological formations readily apparent, creating a paradise for geologists and rock hounds.
T opaz –‘the poor man’s diamond’ –is becoming a favourite among jewellery designers seeking to make their work more affordable.
The word ‘topaz’—which has its origins in Sanskrit or Greek—was originally used to describe yellow stones in general. While they have been known and used as gemstones for thousands of years, the crystal today recognised as ‘topaz’ was first described scientifically early in the 18th century.
In fact, the crown jewels of many royal houses of Europe had some early examples of gem-quality topaz misidentified as diamonds until recent years.
While yellow is the most typical variety found worldwide, Namibia is renowned for the colourless, or ‘silver’, stones found in central Namibia, at Klein Spitzkoppe and in the Erongo Mountains. Gem-quality silver topaz was first reported in Spitzkoppe around 1889, and has been collected there since. Other local colour varieties include yellow, pale blue and pale green.
An experiment in large-scale mining for topaz in Namibia ended years ago; the company irradiated silver topaz into blue topaz, when the blue stones were in great demand. However, most topaz-mining operations in Namibia are small in scale, with individuals digging up the stones under very harsh conditions and offering them for sale to tourists and local collectors. Old-timers report an exception to that rigorous form of mining in the late 1940s, when the road from Swakopmund to Henties Bay was under construction; as the graders moved down the road, shrewd prospectors were right behind them, picking up gemstones as quickly as they were uncovered.
For thousands of years, mystics have believed that topaz has healing and preventative powers. They are thought to defend against the common cold, help to soothe fear and rage, and alleviate depression. They are also believed to foster clear thinking and creativity.
Regardless of any mystical properties, the demand for gem-quality silver topaz is likely to grow. It is a hard, durable stone, with good brilliance, and in recent years, new cutting techniques have been developed which bring out a sparkle that approaches the sparkle of diamonds.
With continued innovations in cutting and design, and signs that the gemstone market may be turning towards more natural products, Namibian silver topaz is likely to increase in popularity, filling a need for budget-conscious jewellery lovers.
Acknowledgement to Hannes Brunner, of Pangolin Trading, who generously provided background information for this series.
This article was first published in the Flamingo September 2010 issue.