Aquamarine

It will come as no surprise to discover that Aquamarine, a gemstone whose very name signifies “seawater”, encapsulates all the beauty of the ocean. It is one of the most well-known gemstones, and has many outstanding qualities. It is almost as popular as the great classics – Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald. In fact, it is related to Emerald as they both belong to the Beryl family. However, the colour of Aquamarine is more uniform than that of Emerald. And it is almost free from inclusions, which occur much more frequently in its famous green cousin.

While Aquamarine and Emerald are members of the same family, they are surprisingly different. Both are silicates of beryllium and aluminium, yet the colour of Emerald is due to traces of chromium and/or vanadium, while that of Aquamarine comes from iron. Also, Emerald tends to be cloudy and is prone to inclusions while Aquamarine is usually transparent and exceptionally clear.

Aquamarine’s colour ranges from almost imperceptibly pale blue to saturated deep blue. The more intense this gemstone’s colour, the higher its value. Some Aquamarine gemstones emit a slightly green reflection and this is also a typical trait. However, Aquamarine is best characterised by pure, clear blue as it brings out its immaculate transparency and magnificent shine.

Aquamarine is a variant of Beryl, which is colourless in its pure state. Other varieties of Beryl which are all identical and differ from each other only in colour include Emerald (from green to blue green), morganite (pink), goshenite (colourless), maxixe (a very particular shade of dark blue), heliodore (from pale yellow to gold), green beryl (from pale green to yellow green) and the rarely found red or scarlet Beryl. Beryl is classified as allochromatic because its colour is the result of trace impurities that are not part of its basic chemical compound, but were trapped within its crystalline network, endowing it with a fascinating spectrum of colours.

Aquamarine is found in every degree of transparency, from ice-clear to opaque. As with all natural gemstones, Aquamarine crystals may carry inclusions; typically they are long, narrow rods that are sometimes filled with liquid and gas bubbles. Other crystals can also cause inclusions and when they are numerous they bring about the rare phenomena of chatoyancy (cat’s eye) or asterism. However, Aquamarine has a reputation for producing crystals of immaculate clarity.

The luminous blue of this noble Beryl is increasingly in demand. Its various shades have been given melodious-sounding names: the rare, intensely blue Aquamarine of the Santa Maria de Itabira mine in Brazil, which sets the pulses of all lovers of precious gemstones racing, is called “Santa Maria”. Similar shades are extracted in a few mines in Africa, particularly in Mozambique. To distinguish them from their Brazilian counterparts, these Aquamarine gemstones are named “Santa Maria Africana”. The “Espirito Santo” colour of Aquamarine that comes from the Brazilian region of the same name has a slightly less intense blue. Another colour was given the name of the 1954 Brazilian beauty queen, “Martha Rocha”.

In modern tradition, Aquamarine is the birthstone of people born in March. It is a symbol of faithfulness between newly-weds and is a beautiful gift that has is reputed to guarantee a happy marriage. It is the gemstone that commemorates 19th wedding anniversaries and is associated with the zodiac signs of Virgo and Scorpio.

Aquamarine History and Legends

The name Aquamarine is derived from the Latin words “aqua” and “marina” signifying “water” and “sea”. Anselmus Boëtius de Boodt was the first to use the term Aquamarine in his 1609 reference book about minerals and gemmology, Gemmarum et Lapidum Historia.

Aquamarine is steeped in myths and legends. It was given symbolic status by ancient Romans, Sumerians, Egyptians, Hebrews and later, by Christians. It was reputed to heal many ailments and afflictions and to have the power to invoke love, happiness and eternal youth. It was said that Aquamarine was sought-after by the Sirens and the ancient philosopher Pliny described this mystical gemstone in these words: “The lovely Aquamarine, which seems to have come from some mermaid's treasure house, in the depths of a summer sea, has charms.”

Aquamarine was one of the first gemstones to be used in jewellery: between 480 and 300 B.C., the Greeks were already using it. Later, at the time of the Roman Empire, the Romans adopted it when creating cameos, rings and earrings. Both the Greeks and the Romans believed amongst other things that Aquamarine protected sailors: they wore amulets of small, raw, opaque and translucent Aquamarine gemstones (but occasionally crystals of good quality, too), that were supposed to keep them safe when crossing the stormy seas and lead them safely to port.

Aquamarine Sources

Modern mining of Aquamarine began when major veins were discovered in Brazil in 1811. Gemstone quality Aquamarine, very fine and intense blue in colour, is currently extracted in the state of Minas Gerais and in other parts of Brazil, the world’s leading producer. Other important veins can be found in the Ural Mountains and in Siberia. Crystals with a colour similar to that of Ceylon Sapphires, and unlike any others, come from Madagascar. Aquamarine is also found in Pakistan, the United States, Mozambique, Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Australia, Burma, India and China.

Aquamarine crystals can reach spectacular sizes. The largest gemstone quality Aquamarine was extracted in 1910 from the Papamel mine in Marambaia in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. It weighed 110.5 kilos and measured 48.5 cm in length and 39.4 cm in diameter. This astonishing discovery, known as the “Papamel Aquamarine”, resulted in 200,000 carats of cut stones that kept the market supplied for several years.

The “Hirsch Aquamarine” is an incredible 109.92 carat stone in an emerald cut, with a rich ocean-blue colour and a striking shine. This natural gemstone did not undergo any treatment. It features prominently on a gold and diamond pendant created by the House of Louis XV. 

The “Dom Pedro” is the largest cut Aquamarine. Its name is taken from two Brazilian emperors, Dom Pedro Primeiro and Dom Pedro Segundo. This gemstone, weighing 26 kilos and measuring 59 cm in height, was sculpted by the artist and jeweller Bernd Munsteiner at Idar-Oberstein in Germany in 1992. His sculpture, entitled “Waves of the Sea”, is 35 cm tall and weighs 10.395 carats.

Aquamarine Value and Treatments

In order to estimate the value of Aquamarine, the main considerations are intensity of colour and clarity. Other criteria to take into account are the shades of the colour and the quality of the cut.

An Aquamarine gemstone is always a pastel blue, but the deeper the colour, the higher the value. Connoisseurs will choose a pure blue without hints of green or grey. However, softer and more subtle blues remain very popular.

More saturated colours are rare in small-sized gemstones: usually one will have to go for a larger size in order to get deeper shades. Pure, deep blue Aquamarine gemstones that are superbly cut and of exceptional clarity weigh at least 3 carats, and are obviously the most precious.

Better quality Aquamarine is clear and transparent, but certain gemstones may be included with long, narrow lines, a hallmark of the Beryl family. Aligned traces of outside minerals – a rare occurrence – create chatoyancy (cat’s eye effect) or a very bright, six-pointed star (asterism). Aquamarine stones with asterism or a cat’s eye effect that are cut into cabochon generally fetch high prices.

The darker shades of Aquamarine are often the result of heat treatment designed to heighten its colour. This treatment also eliminates any hints of green, yellow or brown. After being cut, the gemstones are heated at between 400° and 500°C, which makes them a livelier and more desirable blue, one that is permanent and remains stable. (Higher temperatures cause discoloration). This practice is tolerated in the jewellery and gemstone industries. Cut gemstones of the famous “Papamel Aquamarine” were the first to successfully undergo heat treatment.