Topaz vs Aquamarine – The Similarities and Differences (With Photos)

By Dr. Keith Jackson - Geology PhD

| Updated

Topaz vs Aquamarine – The Similarities and Differences (With Photos)

By Dr. Keith Jackson - Geology PhD

Updated

Two of the most fascinating gems we often hear about are topaz and aquamarine. They’re both stunning in their own right, but when you start comparing them, it’s like uncovering a whole new layer of their beauty.

The differences between topaz and aquamarine are not just about color or sparkle. It’s like meeting two people with distinct personalities— both interesting, but in their own special ways.

In this article, we’ll embark on an exciting journey to discover these differences and similarities. We’ll explore their colors, learn about their different places of origin, and delve into their inner structures.

By the end of this article, you’ll find that there’s much more to aquamarine and topaz than meets the eye. You’ll not only appreciate their beauty but also understand the fascinating stories they hold within them. Let’s get started!

The Major Differences

Being two equally fascinating crystals, topaz and aquamarine still have more differences between them than similarities. Among their major distinctions are the following:

Color – Topaz has a wider range of colors.

A beautiful, golden-colored topaz on white albite
Golden topaz on albite photo provided by and available for purchase at HHGemsMinerals

The colors of topaz and aquamarine are like different boxes of crayons.

Imagine topaz as a box filled with a rainbow of colors. You can find it in so many different shades! There’s yellow topaz, which is like golden sunshine. Then there’s blue topaz, which can range from a pale sky blue to a deep ocean blue.

Some topaz even change color in different lights! You might also come across pink, red, peach, and even clear topaz.

On the other hand, aquamarine is like a box of crayons with shades of the sea. It’s famous for its beautiful blue colors. It’s usually a light blue, but it can also be a deeper blue-green.

Aquamarine gets its name from the Latin words for water and sea, which makes sense when you see its lovely blue hues.

Luster – Aquamarine has a softer and more subdued shine.

A raw piece of aquamarine with a light sky blue color
Raw aquamarine photo provided by and available for purchase at DesertHippieShop

Luster is the way a gemstone shines or sparkles. Topaz and aquamarine both have beautiful lusters, but they shine differently.

When you look at topaz, it’s like looking at a piece of shiny glass. It has what we call a vitreous luster, which means it’s really bright and reflective, kind of like glass or a mirror.

This shiny luster helps topaz catch the light in a way that makes it sparkle and stand out.

Aquamarine, on the other hand, also has a vitreous luster, but it’s a bit different. Think of its shine like the surface of a calm lake on a sunny day. It’s bright and sparkly, but in a softer, more gentle way.

Aquamarine’s luster gives it a serene and peaceful look, like watching the gentle waves of the ocean.

Crystal Structure – Topaz forms in the orthorhombic system.

Crystals of intense orange-red topaz perched on a matrix
Orange-red topaz on matrix photo provided by MarjoleinVRR

Have you ever wondered what makes topaz and aquamarine look so different? A big part of it is their crystal structure.

Topaz has a crystal structure that’s called orthorhombic. Think of it like building blocks lined up in straight rows and columns.

This structure makes its crystals form in long, slender shapes. They’re like little columns or prisms, sometimes with ridges running along their length.

Aquamarine has a different crystal structure called hexagonal. Its crystals often grow in long, hexagonal shapes. It’s like a six-sided shape.

They can look like pencil-like rods or even like columns. This structure gives aquamarine its own special look, different from topaz.

Composition – Aquamarine is a beryl variety.

Glassy crystal grouping of rich blue-green aquamarine
Raw aquamarine photo provided by Weinrich Minerals

Topaz is made up of a mix of elements like aluminum, silicon, oxygen, fluorine, and sometimes hydrogen. This combination is what gives it its structure and different colors.

Aluminum and silicon are the main parts of its composition, while fluorine and hydrogen add the colors. This mix of elements is why topaz can come in so many different colors, like yellow, blue, pink, and even clear.

Aquamarine, on the other hand, is a type of beryl, and its recipe is a bit different. It’s made mostly of beryllium, aluminum, silicon, and oxygen.

There’s no fluorine or hydrogen in it like there is in topaz. Instead, traces of iron are often what give aquamarine its beautiful blue color.

So, even though topaz and aquamarine might look similar, especially when they’re both blue, they’re actually quite different on the inside.

Formation – Topaz forms in igneous rocks in pegmatites.

A soft blue topaz crystal with smoky quartz attached to one side
Blue topaz with smoky quartz photo provided by Weinrich Minerals

Topaz forms in a very interesting way. It usually grows in igneous rocks that formed deep inside the Earth. It can form in places called pegmatites, which are like big veins of minerals running through these hot rocks.

Sometimes, topaz also forms in cracks or spaces in other types of rocks. These spaces fill up with hot fluids and gases that have all the right ingredients for it.

Aquamarine, meanwhile, forms in a slightly different way. It also likes to grow in pegmatites, just like topaz. But it can also be found in a different kind of rock called metamorphic rock.

The heat and pressure make the perfect conditions for aquamarine crystals to slowly form.

Sometimes, these crystals can even be found in the same places where topaz grows!

Density – Aquamarine feels lighter.

A large, sky-blue aquamarine on white matrix
Aquamarine on matrix photo provided by Collector’s Edge Minerals – @collectorsedgeminerals

The density of topaz and aquamarine is about how much stuff is packed inside them. It’s like comparing two backpacks.

Topaz is the heavy backpack. It’s denser, which means it has more material packed into the same amount of space.

If you were to hold a piece of topaz in one hand and a piece of aquamarine in the other hand, the topaz would feel heavier. It has a higher density, around 3.4 to 3.6 grams per cubic centimeter.

Aquamarine, on the other hand, is the lighter backpack. It’s less dense than topaz, so it feels lighter for the same size.

Its density is around 2.68 to 2.80 grams per cubic centimeter. This means that inside aquamarine, there’s a little more space between the particles that make it up.

Hardness – Topaz is typically harder.

A single Imperial topaz with amazing internal flames
Imperial topaz photo provided by @finemineralphotography

Hardness is a measure of how well a gemstone can resist getting scratched.

Topaz is known for being pretty tough. On a scale that measures hardness, called the Mohs scale, it scores an 8. This means it’s quite hard and doesn’t scratch easily.

This hardness makes topaz a great choice for jewelry that you wear a lot, like rings or bracelets, because it can handle being bumped or rubbed against things without getting all scratched up.

Aquamarine is also hard, but it’s just a tiny bit softer than topaz. It scores between 7.5 and 8 on the Mohs scale. It’s still very durable and can resist scratches, though.

Aquamarine is still great for jewelry, but you might want to be a bit more careful with it, especially if you’re doing something where it could get bumped a lot.

Cleavage – Aquamarine has indistinct cleavage.

A raw sky-blue aquamarine crystal with unique inclusions from Pakistan
Raw aquamarine photo provided by Mine to Market Extension (FAYYAZ AHMED)

Cleavage is about how a gemstone breaks or splits along certain lines.

Topaz has what we call perfect cleavage in one direction. It can split easily along one specific line. If you’re not careful with a piece of topaz jewelry, like if you drop it on a hard floor, it might split along that line.

So, when gem cutters work with it, they have to be super careful because of this perfect cleavage.

Aquamarine is a bit different. It has what’s called indistinct cleavage. It doesn’t have clear lines where it likes to split. It’s less likely to break if it’s cut or if it gets a knock.

It’s like having a piece of plastic that can bend a bit without breaking. This makes aquamarine a bit tougher in some ways and easier to shape into different forms.

Fluorescence – Topaz may exhibit weaker and more inconsistent fluorescence.

An etched topaz displaying two colors: peach and blue
Etched bi-color topaz photo provided by Saphira Minerals

When you shine ultraviolet light, like a black light, on some gemstones, they can glow or light up in different colors. This is called fluorescence.

Topaz sometimes has fluorescence, but it’s not super common or strong. When it does fluoresce, it can show different colors under UV light, like a soft glow.

The color of the fluorescence can vary, and sometimes you might not see much at all.

Aquamarine can also have fluorescence that’s often a bit stronger than in topaz. Under UV light, aquamarine can glow with a blue or yellow color.

To clarify, even though both topaz and aquamarine can have fluorescence, they show it in different ways. Topaz’s is more like a hidden, sometimes-there glow, while aquamarine’s is like a color waiting to show up.

Location – Aquamarine is found globally.

A stunning rich blue-green crystal of raw aquamarine
Raw aquamarine photo provided by Mineral Masterpiece

Each gemstone has its favorite spots where it likes to grow, and these places can be pretty far apart from each other.

Topaz is like a world traveler— it’s found in many different countries. One of the most famous places for it is Brazil, where some of the most beautiful topaz gems are found. But that’s not the only place.

You can also find topaz in Russia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and the USA. Here’s a helpful guide to the best places to find topaz for more information.

Aquamarine, on the other hand, also likes to travel, but it has some favorite spots, too. Brazil is a big one as well. It seems like Brazil is just great for gemstones!

Madagascar, Russia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Mozambique, and the USA also have aquamarine. For more details, here’s a guide to finding aquamarine.

Price – Topaz’s price is typically lower.

A gemmy terminated topaz set on a matrix
Topaz on matrix photo provided by ©️DFM

The color it comes in can affect the price of topaz. Some colors, like the really bright blue ones or the pink and red ones, can be more expensive. This is because they’re either rarer or more popular.

But other types of topaz, like the yellow or clear ones, are usually more affordable.

The rarest and most expensive topaz is called Imperial topaz. It has a special golden-orange-pink color that’s not very common.

Aquamarine is usually a bit more expensive than most topaz. This is because good quality ones, especially with a deep blue color, are harder to find. The deeper and more vivid the blue, the higher the price of aquamarine is.

But there are also specimens of this gem that are lighter in color and more affordable.

The Similarities

While there are more differences between topaz and aquamarine, these two fascinating gemstones also have a few similarities. We’ve discussed the major ones below:

Streak – Both aquamarine and topaz have colorless streaks.

A beautiful light blue aquamarine crystal surrounded by white albite
Aquamarine with albite photo provided by Saphira Minerals

Streak is the color of the powder that a gemstone leaves behind when it’s rubbed on something rough like a special tile called a streak plate.

Even though topaz and aquamarine can look different, they actually have something in common when it comes to their streak.

Both of them leave a colorless or white streak.

The colorless streak of these two is pretty useful for people who study rocks and minerals. It helps them figure out what a gemstone is, even if it’s been dyed or treated to look like a different gemstone.

If you have a gemstone that looks like topaz or aquamarine, but it leaves a colored streak, then it’s probably not the real thing.

Magnetism – Neither topaz nor aquamarine is magnetic.

A damage-free, terminated, honey-colored topaz crystal
Honey-colored topaz photo provided by Muhammad Majid

Magnetism is all about how these stones react (or don’t react) to magnets. When we think about magnetism, we usually picture things like fridge magnets sticking to metal.

But with gemstones, it’s a bit different. Aquamarine and topaz have something in common when it comes to magnetism: they’re both not magnetic.

This means that if you take a magnet and hold it close to topaz or aquamarine, nothing much will happen. The gemstones won’t stick to the magnet, and the magnet won’t pull on them.

Topaz and aquamarine are made up of minerals that don’t have the right kind of metal in them to react to a magnet.

Conductivity – Aquamarine and topaz are both poor conductors.

Crystals of blue-green aquamarine with white albite on the side
Aquamarine with albite photo provided by Weinrich Minerals

Conductivity is all about how well something can carry electricity.

Topaz and aquamarine are similar in this property in that they’re both not very good at conducting electricity.

If you tried to use either gemstone like a wire in an electric circuit, it wouldn’t work very well. The electricity wouldn’t flow through them like it does through metal.

Both topaz and aquamarine are made of materials that don’t let electricity pass through them easily.

This similarity in conductivity is pretty interesting because it’s something that topaz and aquamarine share, even though they can look and be used in different ways.

The Easiest Ways To Tell Them Apart

An orange topaz crystal on white cleavelandite
Topaz and cleavelandite photo provided by Mineral Masterpiece

Aside from getting familiar with the similarities and differences between topaz and aquamarine, it also helps to know about the practical tests you can do to tell them apart when you’re out in the field.

Don’t worry, these are easy-to-do tests that will only require your senses:

Observe its color

Topaz can be yellow, blue, pink, red, peach, and sometimes even clear. While its most common color is blue, it can be very bright and vibrant.

If you see a gemstone with a bright or unusual color, like a deep pink or a vibrant red, there’s a good chance it’s topaz.

Aquamarine, on the other hand, mostly comes in light blue or blue-green colors. It doesn’t usually have the wide range of colors that topaz has.

Check out its shine

Checking the shine of a gemstone is a helpful way to tell topaz and aquamarine apart.

Topaz has a bright and glassy luster. It’s like looking into a shiny mirror or a piece of sparkling glass. If you see a gemstone with a really bright and reflective shine, there’s a good chance it could be topaz.

Aquamarine is also glassy, but it’s softer and more subdued. If you find a gemstone with this kind of softer, more subtle shine, it’s more likely to be aquamarine.

Pay attention to its crystal shape

Paying attention to the crystal shape is a fantastic way to help you distinguish between topaz and aquamarine, especially when you’re out in the field.

Topaz crystals usually have a long, slender shape, kind of like long columns or pencils. They often have straight edges and can have ridges running along their length.

Aquamarines often look like long rods or columns too, but they have a six-sided shape, sort of like a pencil but with more edges.

About Dr. Keith Jackson - Geology PhD

Keith Jackson is an avid rockhound who is constantly exploring new sites to expand his collection. He has worked as a professional Geologist for over 20 years and holds a PhD in Geology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a Masters Degree in Geology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and a Bachelors Degree in Geology from the University of Connecticut.

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