Do you enjoy the bright and vibrant colours of summer? If so, you are not alone and perhaps you can sense the buzz of life outdoors within the city or in a more tranquil setting. With the endless season of rain behind us for now in Vancouver, one must take time to bask in the sun’s glow, our brightest star. It’s warmth reminds me of golden citrine, and I find it inevitable that I share a post on this humble gemstone. Wherever this finds you, I invite you to take a break with me as I put studio work on pause and reflect on citrine.
Once known as yellow quartz, citrine owes its name to Georgius Agricola (1494-1555), a German metallurgist. Known as the “father of mineralogy”, he cited citrine in his seminal text De re metallica (1556), a publication on mining metals and minerals. Citrine comes from the French word ‘citron’, referring to the fruit and yellow colour.
Citrine has been used for thousands of years to adorn objects and people. It became very fashionable in ancient Greece (the Hellenistic Age), though it is difficult to source an example for you. However, I was able to find this 1st century engraved citrine intaglio, by an unknown artist, from the Getty Museum’s comprehensive collection of ancient gems.
A fine Edwardian sgian dubh R & H B Kirkwood, Edinburgh 1904, the finely engraved foliate scrolled silver handle with large flared and domed faceted citrine handle, the leather covered scabbard with engraved and pierced floral scroll mounts. 19.8cm long. Image courtesy Pinterest.
From the 17th century onward, Scottish knives and dagger handles were often set with citrine, with some handles being carved entirely out of gemstone. This was due to Queen Victoria and her enchantment with citrine, giving rise to the gem being a popular choice to adorn kilt pins, shoulder brooches and small hand weapons. In 1852, Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, began building a summer palace near the 15th century fortress in the Scottish Highlands, what is now known as Balmoral Castle. Being so fond of Scotland and Balmoral Castle, Queen Victoria required her guests to be in proper Highland plaid attire, giving her the opportunity to display the gorgeous coloured gemstones mined within her empire, including citrine.
Balmoral Castle (Image: Chris Bacon/PA Wire)
The Art Deco style of the 1920s and 1930s spread internationally and influenced multiple genres, from fine art, architecture, interiors, everyday objects and jewellery. The Chrysler Building in New York City remains a quintessential icon from this period. During this time, citrine experienced another rise to prominence, as white diamonds contrasted with colourful gemstones became vogue, hand in hand with the classic black and white jewellery designs of the day. Landmark discoveries in history, like the tomb of Egyptian king Tutankhamun in 1922, influenced the art movement. This triggered an appetite for exotic imports from the Far and Middle East, creating a unique mix of ancient and modern designs. I cannot help but think that the sun-kissed citrine’s rise evolved from the Egyptian revival, a nod to desert nostalgia.
AN ART DECO CITRINE AND DIAMOND BRACELET, BY CARTIER
circa 1935, 16.7cm long. Image courtesy Christies.com.
Origin/what is it and where is it mined (brazil, uruguay)
Citrine is part of the large quartz family, which includes amethyst. Quartz can be found around the world, and places that yield amethyst will also produce citrine. Natural, untreated citrine is pale yellow to golden with smokey brown hues. In general, darker colours are more desirable than lighter lemon ones, due to the depth that the saturation offers. Citrine gets its colour due to the presence of iron impurities in quartz. Today, the majority of commercially sold citrine is actually heat treated amethyst (or smokey quartz), using temperatures above 530 degrees celsius (1000 degrees fahrenheit). This treatment is stable though the colour can be reversed through radiation exposure.
Brazil is the principal producer of citrine with its neighbour, Uruguay, offering high calibre rough. Other places that yield citrine are Bolivia, Madagascar, Russia, Scotland, Spain, Argentina, Myanmar, Namibia and the United States.
The southern part of Brazil provides superior citrines, along with a unique, deep rooted European mix of cultures. Brazilians of German and Italian ancestry have been living there for generations, the Germans bringing with them their knowledge of minerals and gem cutting. During the late 16th century, a gold rush in the ‘Minas Gerais’ (Portuguese for general mines), enticed European explorers to fill their boats with gold and gems to bring back to Europe. While large scale gem mining companies continue to work in Minas Gerais today, the majority of the mining is done on a smaller, artisanal scale, with people using hand tools to find gems.
The ultimate treasure trove in the world of gem hunting is Cantera Santa Ana (Santa Ann Quarry) located in Artigas, Uruguay. It is 160 square kilometres housing some of the superior quality amethysts and Madeira citrine geodes, which refers to a darker, reddish-brown quartz. For citrine, ‘excellent’ quality gems have exceptional fire and brilliance, with colour depth containing visible, red flashes. Many of these rough stones are brought across the border into Brazil, where some the best gem cutters found in the world use the proven methods passed down from Germans, who immigrated from Idar-Oberstein, world renowned for its gem mining history and gem cutting tradition.
Modern news: Largest citrine
In June 2010, the world’s largest cut citrine was unveiled. This magnificent citrine, of rare purity, depth of colour and transparency is named after its host city, Malaga.
Citrine is usually found in geodes, measuring a few centimetres. The quality is often lacking when found in larger sizes, so these specimens are set aside for decorative objects. The bonafide rough that became the ‘Malaga’, was mined in Minas Gerais, Brazil in the late 1980s. Only in 2009 did a group of veteran Brazilian gem cutters feel confident enough to take on the risky challenge of shaping and faceting the stone. When cutting a gemstone from a rough, one never knows what the interior will reveal- will it be full of cracks and inclusions, demeaning the value?
Cutting larger gems requires a much longer, thoughtful and complex process compared to standard, smaller gemstones for the jewellery industry. The ‘Malaga’ demanded expertise, special techniques and even custom built machinery, all of which put the precious gemstone at risk. In this instance, the ‘Malaga’ gave us an astonishing result.
Weighing 20,200 carats (or 8.8 pounds), the stunning, faceted oval citrine, measuring 20 x 15 x 10 cm, was added to the ‘Special Exhibition Gems’ collection at Art Natura, a natural science museum in Spain, home to one of the most comprehensible collections of coloured gemstones in the world.
World’s largest citrine, the ‘Malaga’. Photo courtesy Program Royal Collections