Those born in March are lucky enough to have two birthstones: the beautiful blue of aquamarine and the mysterious red-spotted bloodstone. Here, we delve into the history and mystical properties of aquamarine and why this sky blue gem is said to be a talisman of good luck, fearlessness and protection.
The blue hues common to this popular stone are fitting considering the Latin translation of aquamarine is 'water of the sea'. Legends describe it as the mermaid's stone, bringing luck to sailors and protecting them from the perils of ocean travel.
In crystal healing, aquamarine is thought to have soothing energy that quells phobias or irrational fears. It is also associated with the throat chakra and is said to help boost the confidence of public speakers.
From a gemmological perspective, aquamarine is a member of the beryl family of gemstones, which also includes emerald, heliodor, morganite and goshenite. Aquamarine is distinguished from these gemstones by its pale blue to bright blue colour, caused by iron in its chemical composition.
Many aquamarines available on the market have been heat treated to enhance their colour. A yellowish, greenish or bluish-green beryl can be heat treated to produce a stable blue colour or irradiated to produce the yellow of heliodor.
Read more: Exploring the wonders of Myanmar
Aquamarine displays pleochroism, which means its presents multiple shades of colour at once. Untreated aquamarine can be pale blue, bright blue, green and colourless. It has a hardness of 7.5 on the Mohs scale.
Where is Aquamarine Found?
Aquamarine is mainly found in Africa and Brazil, however, the March birthstone can also be mined in Australia, China, Myanmar, Pakistan, Madagascar, Russia, USA and Sri Lanka. In the 1950s, a famous and historically-significant deposit of aquamarine was found in Minas Gerais, Brazil, and the gemstones recovered became known as Santa Maria Aquamarines. Many gemstones from this location are highly-prized for their unusually deep blue tone. Today, you may come across the term 'Santa Maria' used to describe a particularly lovely blue colour aquamarine.
Distinguishing Features of Aquamarine
Aquamarine often occurs as hexagonal-shaped long prismatic crystals, with striations and rectangular etch marks occasionally found on the prism surfaces.
Aquamarine's durability and plentiful supply makes it a popular choice among jewellery designers. It can also be fashioned into most cuts, making it a firm favourite with lapidaries.
Read more: Meet Renowned Gem Cutter John Dyer
Although many cut aquamarines are free of inclusions, two-phase inclusions (liquid and gas filled), spiky cavities, and tubes parallel to the length of the crystal that look like falling rain are common.
The Dom Pedro Aquamarine
Perhaps the most famous aquamarine specimen is the 10,363 ct Dom Pedro, which weighs an astonishing 26 kg. To this day, it holds the title of being the largest piece of aquamarine ever to be cut. It was specialists in Idar-Oberstein, Germany, who took on the challenge in 1992.
Discovered by three Brazilian miners in Pedra Azul, Minas Gerais in Brazil in the late 1980s, the original aquamarine was a metre-long. Accidentally dropped, the specimen fractured into three separate pieces - the Dom Pedro being the largest.
In 1991, Jürgen Henn from Idar-Oberstein visited the owner of this large aquamarine crystal. In 1992 the stone went on the market and Jürgen asked his colleague Bernd Munsteiner to assess at the stone. Bernd sent his son, Tom Munsteiner and Jürgen’s son, Axel Henn, to strike a deal in Brazil and bring the stone to Germany.
For a year Bernd worked on the stone, studying the crystal, drawing facet patterns, cutting, faceting and polishing, before transforming the rough stone into an incredible obelisk.
The Dom Pedro first went on public display in 1993 in Basel, Switzerland. Some years later, it was destined to be cut into many smaller stones, but it was rescued by Jane Mitchell, who generously donated the Dom Pedro to the Smithsonian National Museum of History in Washington DC, USA.
This awe-inspiring gemstone is in the permanent collection of the museum, housed in the National Gem Collection Gallery. ■
Interested in finding out more about gemmology? Sign-up to one of Gem-A's courses or workshops.
If you would like to subscribe to Gems&Jewellery and The Journal of Gemmology please visit Membership.
Cover image beryl aquamarine crystal. Photo credit Pat Daly.
The varied hues of spinel have been admired for hundreds of years, but this gemstone only recently found its place on the list of ‘alternative birthstones’. Here, Lily Faber FGA DGA EG explores the alternative birthstone for the month of August and some of its synthetic counterparts.
Those born in August have vibrant green peridot as their birthstone. Lily Faber FGA DGA EG delves into this zesty gemstone to find out more about its physical properties and fascinating history.
Do you have a passion for diamonds, gemstones and the science of gemmology but have no idea where to start? Take a look at our guide to the Gem-A Gemmology Foundation and the things you should consider before taking this highly respected beginner’s gemmology course.
Our series of discovery into the Gem-A Gemstone & Mineral Collection continues with the brilliantly eye-catching tanzanite. Gem-A assistant gemmology tutor, Charles Bexfield FGA, delves into the history and unique properties of tanzanite and explores what makes this relatively new gemmological find so special.
Are you fascinated by a career that utilises a gemmology skill set? Or perhaps you have completed your Gem-A Gemmology Diploma and want to know what’s next? Take a look at our guide to the opportunities open to gemmologists… you may be surprised!
Although all diamonds are special, there are some that are historically significant, spectacularly large and hugely important for gemmological research. Here, Rona Bierrum FGA DGA EG pinpoints the five diamonds that stand out from the crowd for gemmologists the world over.
The Mazarin diamonds were a collection of 18 diamonds left to Louis XIV and the French Crown Jewels by Cardinal Jules Mazarin. Discovering the story of this group of diamonds, the man who collected them and what happened to them is like an incredible work of fiction. Charlotte Pittel FGA DGA takes us through their fascinating history.
Queen Victoria famously shared a love of fine jewels and coloured gemstones with her beloved husband, Prince Albert. In fact, one of her most prized possessions - a sapphire and diamond coronet - was designed and commissioned by Prince Albert in 1840. Here, we delve into the story behind this beautiful piece of history.
After 10 years and 4.2 million visitors, The Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) has reopened its William and Judith Bollinger Gallery, home to its jewellery collection, after a three-month refurbishment with eighty new pieces joining the display.
Treasured the world over for their timeless elegance, lustre and iridescent, multi-tonal colours, pearls have for hundreds of years been a favourite of high-end jewellers and collectors alike. But how can you tell the difference between saltwater and freshwater pearls? And what should we look for when buying?