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Yellow Gemstones: Yellow Sapphires versus Yellow Topaz

Light to bright-yellow gemstones, yellow sapphires are a popular choice amongst precious gemstones and often used in fine jewelry for a pop of color. Yellow topaz, on the other hand, are a light yellow to rich yellow variety of the Topaz family, a category of semi precious stones available in other colors as well. While these two gemstones are similar in appearance, there are many differences between them. So what distinguishes these two yellow gemstones from each other?

The primary differences between yellow sapphires and yellow topaz

The first and foremost difference between yellow sapphires and yellow topaz is that they belong to different gemstone groups.Yellow sapphires come from the mineral group known as corundum. In its true form, corundum is colorless. Depending on which trace element is dominant in the specimen, sapphires might be differently colored. They are usually colored by traces of iron, titanium, vanadium and chromium. In contrast, yellow topaz are classified as a light to intense yellow version of topaz, a semi-precious stone that is far lower in value as compared to a yellow sapphire of the same size. 

Properties of yellow sapphires

unheated natural yellow sapphire
A 12.30 cushion cut natural, unheated yellow sapphire specimen. Oftentimes, unheated yellow sapphires fetch a high price per carat.

Yellow sapphires, like all corundum varieties, have a Mohs scale rating of 9. Yellow sapphires also have a greater density as compared to yellow topaz. While sapphires are generally sourced from regions such as Myanmar, Thailand, Mozambique with smaller deposits in India, Pakistan and Nepal along the Himalayan range, the best yellow sapphires are found from Sri Lanka, Japan, Tasmania and England.

Historically, yellow sapphires are believed to be auspicious gemstones, most popular in Indian mythology as an attractor of prosperity, happiness and luck. In modern times, they are often a popular choice for use in engagement and fine jewelry. With an increased demand of fancy diamonds in fine jewelry, yellow sapphires are often used as an alternative, with the most saturated, natural specimens fetching the highest price per carat. The most sought after variety of yellow sapphires is known as canary yellow, with an even and bright saturation. 

Oftentimes, yellow sapphires are heat treated to remove impurities and further treated to improve and at times, change the color. Unlike yellow topaz, yellow sapphires tend to be more transparent and heat treated sapphires often fade in color over time and hence are slightly less saturated.

Properties of yellow topaz

citrine ear studs
Quite often yellow topaz and citrine are misidentified and mixed together. Pictured above are citrine ear studs from our earrings collection.

Technically, topaz has a Mohs scale rating of 8, only slightly lower as compared to yellow sapphires, making it a durable stone in terms of hardness. Much like corundum, topaz is also colorless and gets its various colorations due to the presence of trace elements. Yellow Topaz is the most commonly found variant compared to white or colorless topaz. In fact, a lot of topaz gemstones are heat treated similar to yellow sapphires to either improve or produce a different color.

Historically, yellow topaz are used as a vedic stone associated with Indian mythology, more of an affordable counterpart to yellow sapphires. Often referred to as ‘pukhraj’ there is often a confusion as to which yellow gemstone the term refers to. In Sanskrit, the word is derived from the term tapas’ which translates to fire or heat. Topaz has been mentioned in the bible as one of the cardinal gemstones. The ancient Romans believed topaz to be a protective stone, whilst similar concepts were found in the Middle Ages about topaz being able to treat many ailments. 

Compared to yellow sapphires, the odds of finding a bright yellow topaz specimen are much higher. This is due to the abundance of topaz with mining locations all over the globe including Russia, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Mexico, USA, Pakistan,Japan,Australia and many parts of Europe to name a few. 

Conclusion

Both yellow sapphires and yellow topaz are revered for their bright yellow color. In fact, this makes both of these gemstones an ideal substitute for fancy yellow diamonds in fine jewelry, with the latter being an affordable alternative for both yellow diamonds and yellow sapphires.

Oftentimes another semi-precious stone known as citrine might be posed as a yellow topaz or sapphire. The light to bright yellow variety of the mineral quartz, citrines physically compare to both gemstones. However, some citrines are devoid of natural inclusions, therefore experienced gemologists and buyers would understand that it can not possibly be a yellow sapphire or a topaz, apart from other factors such as its hardness and density.

Both yellow sapphires and yellow topaz are subject to heat treatments, and so the ones with at least some minimal inclusions are preferred. Even though yellow topaz and yellow sapphires are used as alternative to precious diamonds, they stand out on their own as well and are used largely in fine jewelry all around the world.