For years, citrine was to gems what muskrat still is to furs: so cheap and plentiful that no one took it seriously. A victim of its own commonness, this earth-toned quartz only seemed to stir interest when, as often happens, it was confused with more expensive gems such as topaz, golden sapphire or even something as exotic as golden beryl.

Consumers may find it hard to understand how a gem could be rewarded for abundance with neglect, but such was the case with citrine throughout the last few decades. Now, suddenly, the gem’s bargain price is no longer a handicap but an asset, as citrine has found favor with women looking to expand their work and leisure jewelry wardrobes with affordable but real jewelry in fashionable earth tones.

And when it comes to providing warm color on a budget, citrine has no real competition. Hues run the gamut from straw and sun yellow through clay orange to deep Madeira red. In the past, it was the somberly beautiful Madeira colors that were most prized. But with fashion colors tilted away from the hot and heavy to the light and lively, the action in citrine has moved to the vivid yellows and oranges that combine nicely with the aqua blue of topaz, the Life-Saver greens and pinks of tourmaline and the vibrant violet of amethyst.

Besides excelling at earth colors, citrine’s low cost also makes it an ideal candidate for unusual cuts and large sizes for one-of-a-kind and customized jewelry pieces. As these highly individual stones captivate more consumers, citrine is sure to benefit.

The bottom line: a full-scale renaissance for this gem.

Less Is Best

Periodically, there have been design revolutions or movements in the jewelry field during which lavish use was made of all-but-forgotten colored stones, citrine in particular. Its low price allowed for use of very large stones with zestful colors that were extravagant but not vulgar.

Large citrines were set in many prized pieces from the Art Deco period between World Wars I and II, including the massive and elaborate Deco-inspired jewelry made for Hollywood stars like Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford in the 1930s. Two decades later, citrines often appeared in David Webb’s brilliantly eclectic trend setting work.

Nowadays, however, the use of citrine has little to do with opulence and luxury. Working women, not what David Webb once called “million dollar ladies,” are the prime collectors of gemstone jewelry, at least the affordable kind. As a result, low cost is high chic. As part of the trend, jewelry makers are using big, bold budget gems- many cut in a strikingly Cubist manner- to give lots of splash for little cash. At first, irradiated blue topaz and amethyst were the principal gems used. But once the market was saturated with these stones, jewelry manufacturers looked for alternates.

From then on, the rediscovery of citrine was inevitable. In fact, ever since the market was flooded with heated golden sapphire in early 1981, the jewelry world has thirsted for a very inexpensive earth-color gem. But designers always overlooked the most obvious candidate, citrine, instead experimenting with unattractive, low-end yellow topaz or hoping the public would pay the hefty extra for yellow sapphire. Neither was necessary.

Citrine, which dealers claimed was far inferior to yellow sapphire in terms of color and brilliance, owed its reputation more to extrinsic than intrinsic factors. “Who’s going to go to the expense of cutting a citrine with the same tender loving care they would a sapphire?” asks a Beverly Hills dealer. Yet good cutting is as essential for citrine as sapphire.

Unfortunately, because of its price, citrine usually gets second-class treatment from cutters. “Even the Germans, who are known for fine cutting, cut citrine with abbreviated faceting, using sandstone instead of the customary wheel,” an expert in Brazilian stones concedes. “It’s far cheaper.”

In spite of cursory cutting, a lot of shapely citrines manage to find their way into the marketplace. And many of the best of them can still bring a hapless guess from jewelers that they are topaz, the other, far more coveted earth-color gem for which they have long been mistaken. Indeed, during the forties and fifties, citrine was routinely sold as topaz.

Made In Brazil

Citrine is the product of Brazil, both its mines and kilns. Essentially, citrines start life as either slightly smoky quartz or amethyst geodes. After heating, the smoky quartz turns clear and possesses a permanent color that is anywhere from light-yellow to medium-golden. Pop an amethyst geode in the same oven and the end result will be a brighter stone ranging in color from deep yellow to brownish red. Alas, these more prized amethyst citrines rarely come in sizes above 3 carats. “If you see an 8-carat citrine,” says one Brazilian gem expert, “it’s invariably heated smoky quartz.”

In the past, amethyst-derived citrine has been more favored. But with light yellow and golden colors more in fashion, smoky quartz citrine is easier to sell than formerly (as long as it isn’t anemic and washed out). Presently, citrine sales are most active in calibrated sizes from 18x13mm down to 8x6mm (3-15 carats) in both emerald and oval shapes. “Jewelry manufacturers want the golden colors, not the pale yellows,” a leading New York wholesaler notes. “They’re matching them with stones like amethyst and pink tourmaline.”

In any case, the once-prized wine-red Madeira color is “out,” so much so that fine citrine connoisseurs wonder why it was ever “in.” “The madeira is too dull, too brown, too overpriced,” one complains. “The orange-yellow stones have a lot more vitality.”

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