Modified: April 2011
More than 450 years ago a German metallurgist by the name of Georg Bauer realized the value of a name in marketing and renamed yellow quartz “citrine”. Known to some as "the father of modern mineralogy” Bauer used the name citrine in his 1556 publication about gemstones and jewelry. The most likely root of the word citrine is from the old French word for yellow--citron--or the Latin word citrus for the color of citrus fruit. Madeira citrine is a darker, reddish-brown variety of quartz. Some say it gets its name from the Brazilian word for wood or wood-colored, while others say Madeira citrine is named after the fortified wine made in the Madeira Islands just off the coast of Portugal.
Several biblical scholars feel citrine fits the description of the tenth of twelve stones in Aaron's breastplate as found in the book of Exodus. The stone was referred to as chrysolitus (Greek for golden stone) in both the Roman Catholic and Latin versions of the Old Testament. (Of course the golden stone interpretation may have been one of two other golden gems--topaz or beryl). The King James Version of the Bible points to beryl as the tenth stone in Aaron’s breastplate. In that case, the golden stone may have been heliodor, which is found in several locations including Madagascar and the African country of Namibia.
Citrine has been used as an embellishment on tools and in the jewelry making industry for thousands of years. In ancient Greece, it gained popularity as a decorative gem during the Hellenistic Age, roughly between 300 and 150 B.C. In the 17th century, Scottish weapon makers placed citrine on dagger handles, sometimes using a single large citrine crystal as the handle itself.
Largely due to Queen Victoria’s fascination with the gem, citrine became a popular gemstone for traditional Scottish kilt pins and shoulder brooches. In 1852, the British Empire’s Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, began construction on a new summer residence within a hundred yards of the 15th century fortress in the Scottish Highlands known as Balmoral Castle. (The Castle still stands today in Aberdeenshire, Scotland and is a favorite private country retreat for the current royal family). Queen Victoria was so fond of Scotland and her new Balmoral home that she commanded guests to wear full Highland plaid attire. This gave her the perfect opportunity to share her love of gemstones found within her kingdom, of which the beautiful citrine was a favorite.
Citrine again rose to prominence during the Art Deco period that began in the early part of the 20th century. The international appeal of Art Deco design was seen in everything from jewelry, clothing, furniture and interior design to appliances and architecture.
Large faceted citrines were set into fine jewelry items, some highlighting the geometric crispness of the period. Fans of 1930s and 1940s Hollywood productions may see some great examples from the short-lived era. A few stars wore their own Art Deco inspired jewelry during filming for the silver screen.
Quartz is common worldwide and areas that produce amethyst will usually generate citrine. Brazil is the top producer of citrine and its neighbor Uruguay produces super fine quality rough. Bolivia, Madagascar, Russia, Scotland, Spain, Argentina, Myanmar, Namibia and the United States yield natural stones, too.
The southern tip of Brazil gives us some of best citrines. The state of Rio Grande do Sul, which means “large river of the south”, borders Uruguay and Argentina and displays sandy beaches along the Atlantic Ocean.
A citrine mining area is located in the Serra Gaúcha in the northeast Rio Grande do Sul. This region appears very European at first glance. Brazilians with German ancestry live in the lowlands and Italians reside in the higher altitudes. As a result, visitors will discover a unique blend of both German and Italian cultures.
Minas Gerais is Brazilian for general mines and that seems appropriate for a state known in the trade as a paradise of gems. A gold rush in the second half of the 16th century jump-started the mining business. European explorers lured by quick riches set sail for Brazil and boats laden with gold headed back across the Atlantic to Portugal and England.
By the end of the 17th century, the gold production had dropped significantly although some gold is still mined in the region
The magma from volcanic explosions imbedded many quality gemstones in the Minas Gerais countryside. The emeralds are valued for their lack of inclusions. A 243 pound aquamarine crystal, one of the largest on record, came out of Minas Gerais. Tourmaline, topaz, kunzite, chrysoberyl, apatite, fluorite, hematite, zircon, and diamond are a few of the gemstones found in Minas Gerais.
There are large scale international gem mining companies working the soil in Minas Gerais but much of the mining is done on a much smaller scale. Hundreds, if not thousands of the garimpeiros--or artisanal miners--uncover many of the gems using hand tools.
Diamantina is a colonial city in Minas Gerais that was the hub of diamond mining in the 18th and 19th centuries. The time worn cobblestone streets and buildings bear witness to the country's brush with the flash of diamonds and gold. The architecture, magnificently ornate, has a style all its own known as Barroco Mineiro (baroque miner). The diamond rush moved on to South Africa but left behind a picturesque charm.
Located in South America along the Atlantic coast, Uruguay sits like a wedge between southern Brazil and eastern Argentina. Artigas, the mining area for the high quality amethyst and citrine, is almost 400 miles directly north of Montevideo near the Brazilian border.
Nineteen miles south of Artigas is a prize egg in the world of rock hunting. A 62 square mile area holds some of the world’s finest quality amethysts and Madeira citrine geodes. Known as the Cantera Santa Ana, or Santa Ana Quarry, this area produces fiery, world-class stones. The mine, modern and environmentally friendly, produces about 10,000 kilograms per month. The “super fine” quality stones have great depth of color, tremendous fire and brilliance along with flashes of red visible in incandescent lighting.
Miners haul the geodes across the border into Brazil where some of the world’s most skilled cutters use the tried and true methods learned from German cutters. Once the hammering, performing and faceting work is complete, the stones make their way into the worldwide market.
The normal color range for citrine is more limited than most gemstones. Seen in various shades of yellow to reddish orange, citrine owes its lively color to the presence of iron. The iron is in a special state and is the same element that gives amethyst its color. The presence of this iron can cause three different colors in quartz—yellow, purple or a yellow and purple mix.
While many citrines on the market today are actually heated amethyst or smoky quartz, citrine does occur naturally in beautiful golden and brownish-orange hues. It is also possible that quartz crystals which grew naturally as amethyst or smoky quartz were turned into citrine by natural heat from magma from nearby volcanic activity. In any event, naturally occurring citrine is not readily available.
Demand for citrine began to rapidly increase in Europe in the 1930s. This “new” and popular gem was enjoying overdue respect thanks to several gem cutters who had moved from Idar-Oberstein in Germany to Brazil and Uruguay. They reveled in the beauty of citrine and shipped large quantities of it home for cutting and fashioning.
Creating masterpieces from the rough, the cutters sealed Idar-Oberstein’s reputation as a world-class cutting facility. The highly-skilled cutters fashioned the citrine stones using large, rotating sandstones just as they had done with other quartz gems for decades. The faceting was accomplished while the cutter held the rough stone in his hands.
Once the finished stones made their debut, the rest, as they say, is history. Citrine was well on its way to becoming the popular gem that we buy and sell today.
Citrine lends itself to a wide range of calibrated shapes and sizes. Finished stones may be faceted or cut en cabochon. Flower cuts or modified Portuguese cuts have become popular due to the brilliance added by the extra facets.
The majority of citrines available today are actually heat-treated amethysts from Minas Gerais in Brazil as a good deal of amethyst crystals turn golden brown when heated. It is not uncommon in Brazilian mining towns to see an array of brownish amethysts scattered on roofs to let the heat of the sun naturally alter their color. Only a trained gemologist can accurately evaluate signs of heat treatment. Heated stones will have fine stripes while naturally occurring stones tend to be cloudy in appearance.
The temperature used to heat-treat amethyst ranges from approximately 880°F to 1,050°F. A lower temperature produces lighter yellow gemstones. Heating amethyst in excess of 1,000°F intensifies the effect, producing deeper golden to reddish brown material.
Smoky quartz, when heated, generally produces light to medium yellows. The darker, richer reddish brown material created by heating amethyst is known as Madeira citrine in the trade.
While the color of citrine is considered stable, it can be reversed by irradiation. Subsequent heating can return it back to citrine. Heat experienced during normal wear is not enough to affect the stone. It does not become an issue unless a piece of jewelry needs repairs that require the application of a jeweler’s torch.
Transparent quartz is typically found in larger sizes and citrine is no exception. Large stones are readily available in the industry. While prices may decrease for stones weighing over 25 carats, stones weighing up to 100 carats are not uncommon.
The Gemological Institute of America (G.I.A.) reports the largest known transparent faceted gemstone is a citrine. It is slightly over 19,500 carats, which equals about 8.6 pounds.
Modified April 2011