A collection of gemstones on clear calcite on a black background
Texas gemstones on blocks of calcite. Photo by John Suhrstedt

State Gem

Texas Blue Topaz

Adopted: 1969

An illustration of a blue gemstone with a star cut in the center

Also includes the State Stone, Petrified Palmwood (adopted 1969) and Gemstone Cut, Lone Star Cut (adopted 1977)

The 61st Texas Legislature doubled up in 1969 to adopt both a gem and a stone as official state symbols in the same brief resolution. Gov. Preston Smith added his signature, thereby enshrining both Texas blue topaz and petrified palmwood, the remnant of tree trunks from 30 million years ago that turn to stone through fossilization.

Naturally occurring Texas topaz is found only in Mason County in the Hill Country in clear or colored fragments, the rarest being blue topaz. Blue topaz’s proponent was a state representative from Austin, Bob Armstrong, who later would serve as Texas Land Commissioner for a dozen years. Before the Legislature’s vote, samples of blue topaz and petrified palmwood, which Armstrong also promoted, were exhibited in the Capitol’s north hall.

Lapidarists are drawn to palmwood because of its hardened silica content, which can be polished, and its range of colors and patterns. It can be converted into distinctive slabs or jewelry, all because palm trees flourished in pre-historic tropical forests in what is now a broad belt of inland Texas terrain that was once the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico. The trees were enveloped by mud and clay before they decomposed, allowing their fossilization.

“All the organic material has been slowly replaced by inorganic materials, making it a stone, even though it may still have the exact same appearance of the original plant or tree,” says Dan Gerig, founder of Rock Seeker, a robust website for rock enthusiasts. “So, the petrified palmwood still looks as if you’re holding an actual piece of palmwood, when, in fact, you are holding a stone.”

Texas also has an official gemstone cut—the “Lone Star Cut”—the only state with such a designation. Featuring a five-pointed star that is carved into the “pavilion,” or bottom portion of a gem, the Lone Star Cut is a superb enhancement for Texas blue topaz, as the 1977 gemstone cut resolution pointed out.

Brothers Gary Worden, a science teacher and gem faceter, and Paul Worden Jr., a physicist, collaborated on the Lone Star design and chose not to copyright it. Thus, the legislature’s resolution describes the faceting process in minute detail, which any artisan with proper tools could follow. The brothers’ cousin, a Midland County commissioner and mineral buff, appeared before a legislative committee to tout the Wordens’ Lone Star Cut.

Learn • Go • Do

Read the resolution for the state gem, state stone, and Lone Star Cut. The story behind the creation of the Lone Star Cut is at Gary’s Gems website, which notes Gary Worden still facets gems, including Texas Blue topaz. Most “blue” topaz is artificially colored through irradiation, making native Texas blue topaz with the Lone Star Cut a special find.

 For Texas topaz experiences, Mason County hosts the Mason Square Museum featuring topaz exhibits; the two-story Mason Country Collectibles emporium, whose inventory includes a “prized grand azure topaz is 587 carats of Texas wonder;” and Lindsay Ranch, which invites public rock and mineral hunting. Read more about Mason County’s connection to Texas topaz.

Dallas’ Perot Museum of Nature and Science has a pale blue topaz specimen from Mason County’s Seaquist Ranch in its gem and mineral collection. The 923-carat Texas blue topaz that was displayed in the State Capitol during the 1969 legislative consideration of an official state gem is part of the Barron Collection at Austin’s Texas Memorial Museum, which reopens in fall 2023.

Houston Museum of Natural Science’s extensive mineral exhibit includes samples of petrified palmwood. Texas stores that specialize in minerals like the Rock Barrell in Richardson sell petrified palmwood. Local mineral clubs often have annual weekend shows and other events focused on Texas earth sciences that might include topaz and petrified palmwood. Check the South Central Federation of Mineral Societies for listings.

Two postings by Rock Seeker are tutorials on rock enthusiasts searching for Texas topaz and petrified wood, in which one section highlights East Texas as a palmwood source.

Topaz is the November birthstone. It also is the state gem of Utah, known for Topaz Mountain. Learn more about other Texas minerals on this chart.

Read More

Symbols of Texas

From the April 2023 issue

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