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Spectacular hues of crystalline azure, so limpid they border on transparency, make Aquamarine a stunning and sought after gem. Its gorgeous colours are reminiscent of the crystal clear waters of tropical atolls, a resemblance reflected in its evocative name: it comes from the Latin ‘acqua marinus’, meaning ‘water of the sea’. Thanks to its relative hardness, dazzling pigmentation and sparkling brilliance, Aquamarine is often used to adorn exquisite jewellery and thus a much favoured gem by jewellers and contemporary designers alike.
What is Aquamarine?
This fascinating gem is part of the Beryl family, a typically colourless mineral characterised by prismatic crystal formations which can measure up to 150cm (5 feet) in height and 15-20cm (6 inches) in diameter. These form following the cooling down of magma and are often found within granite rocks.
Though pure Beryl is colourless, it is frequently tinted due to alkaline minerals present in magmatic rocks: traces of iron will give it a blue/cyan hue (that of Aquamarine), chromium will render it green (Emeralds), oxidised uranium will produce a yellow/golden rock (Heliodor or Golden Beryl), traces of manganese are responsible for a pink gem (Morganite), and oxidised manganese will produce an intense red colouring (that of Red Beryl or Bixbite). The most sought after gems derived from such mixing are Emerald, Bixbite and Aquamarine.
Characteristics of Aquamarine
Aquamarine is characterised by a gorgeous vitreous, often translucent, lustre. Thanks to its relative hardness (measuring 7.5 – 8 on the Mohs Scale) this gem is particularly suitable for high precision cutting and carving and is thus perfect for adorning jewellery.
This is a gem with very high clarity: it is typically eye-clean, meaning it is clear of any visible inclusions when observed with a naked eye at a distance of 15cm (5.9in), and it is often clean even when magnified. Specimens of exceptional clarity and intense colouring are very sought after; these characteristics will also determine the market value of gems.
Types of Aquamarine
Different varieties of this stunning gem are classified according to the location of the deposits they are found in. Varieties from Brazil are especially exquisite: the
Santa Maria (from Santa Maria de Itabira mine), of an intense blue colour, is one of the rarer and in demand varieties; the Sao Domingos Aquamarine, with its pastel blue hue, which was accidentally discovered on a farm by the same name; the Santa Teresa variety with its very distinctive bright turquoise tint; the Boca Rica which spans from deep blue to turquoise; the stunning Pedra Azul of a deeper and darker shade of blue. Another particularly noteworthy variety is the Martha Rocha, named in 1954 after the gorgeous Brazilian Miss Universe of the same year.
The rarest and most sought after variety is without a doubt Cat’s Eye Aquamarine. It exhibits what is known as chatoyancy, a phenomenon which is generally rare in gems and even rarer in Aquamarine. This optical trait is due to the reflection of light on minute elongated inclusions in parallel arrangement within the stone. A related phenomenon is that of asterism, by which light reflects off the inclusions on gems cut en cabochon creating a luminous star-like shape: extraordinary Star-Aquamarines are extremely rare and precious.
The finest and most renowned Aquamarine piece is the Dom Pedro, cut in Germany in 1992 by the famous precious stone designer Bernd Munsteiner. With its 10,363 carats (approximately 2kg, or 4.5lbs) the Dom Pedro holds a world record. This incredible work of art was cut from a rough crystal of the Pedra Azul variety weighing an astounding 30kg (60lbs) and measuring 91cm (36in) extracted from the Minas Gerais deposit in Brazil.
The costs involved in producing man-made Aquamarine gems are high, therefore there is no real market for synthetic gems. Often though, specimens of lesser value are heat treated (at a temperature of 752°F or more, that is over 400°C) to intensify their colour, transparency and lustre and thus increase their market value. With such treatment the gems will appear of a deeper blue tint, while untreated stones will usually be of much lighter hues of pale blue to aqua green.
Where can Aquamarine be found?
The major producer of Aquamarine is Brazil, which is, as mentioned above, also noteworthy for its incredible variety of superb crystals. The principal deposit is found in Santa Maria de Itabira (from which the homonymous variety is mined).
Several deposits are also found in a number of countries on the African continent, namely in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Namibia, Madagascar, Nigeria and Mozambique. The ‘Santa Maria Afrique’ or ‘Santa Maria Africana’ is an outstanding variety found in Mozambique, which derives its name from the Santa Maria found in Brazil due to their similarity in colour.
Russia (east of the Urals), the United States (in California), Pakistan and India (in which the Karur district has recently become a significant supplier) also have sizeable deposits.
Properties of Aquamarine
The clarity and transparency of this gem, reminiscent of majestic seas and placid waves, transmits tranquility and comfort. Aquamarine is an indispensable crystal during difficult times as it cleanses the spirit by banishing fears, phobias and anxiety. Holding an Aquamarine gem for a couple of minutes is enough to benefit from the calming powers of this gem. Once used, the gem should then be placed in running water for a minute or two to recharge it and wash out any negative energies it may have accumulated.
It is considered a ‘cooling’ stone, so it is often utilised to treat a range of inflammatory diseases; it is particularly suitable to treat infections of the oral cavity such as laryngitis, sore throats or chronic allergies. Aquamarine is also thought to alleviate eye fatigue when placed over the eyelids for twenty minutes in the evening.
On an emotional level, when held, Aquamarine helps find tranquillity, instils trust and clarity and encourages us to use our own initiative and to persevere. This is a very supportive gem for those who are in the process of completing tasks or resolving major issues.
Aquamarine is a March birthstone, linked to the Pisces zodiac sign and to the element of Water. Just like a beautifully calm water surface, this gem is able to reflect the world around us, clarifying its hidden meanings and helping us discern truth from lies. It is much used and appreciated by prophets, shamans, healers and mystics as it allows the exploration of dark, hidden depths of our souls and of our existence.
This crystal is associated to the fifth chakra (Vishudda, Sanscrit for ‘purification’), the chakra of the Throat and is linked to our ability to communicate and to express our creativity.
It is a powerful aid for overcoming all types of fears, and is especially indicated for those wanting to conquer the fear of public speaking. For this reason, this is an ideal gem for teachers or for anyone coming into contact with the general public as it encourages greater awareness of one’s abilities and knowledge, helping to communicate with clarity and conviction. It also helps balance excesses of rage or fear, especially in children who are experiencing traumatic events which have caused them disassociation from their emotions. Furthermore, Aquamarine provides invaluable support during moments of transition, when decisions have to be made but we are paralysed by a fear of the unknown and of what will be.
Aquamarine is also an effective talisman for lovers. It makes an ideal gift to be exchanged on a wedding day as it is thought to bring happiness and stability to relationships and in particular to marriage.
Aquamarine in mythology
In ancient Roman lore, Aquamarine was believed to have the power to placate Neptune’s wrath. Thus, sailors would often wear it as a protective amulet against storms, shipwrecks and drowning, or would at times throw fragments of the gem at sea to propitiate a safe journey.
This fascinating gem was also thought to be the treasure of Sirens. Legend narrates of a shipwrecked sailor who fell into the sea due to an unbelievably violent storm. He managed to stay afloat by desperately holding onto a buoyant wooden beam but, after several hours, he let go exhausted. A siren witnessed this moment and, moved to pity by the young age of the sailor, rescued him and took him to shore. After a first moment of astonishment and confusion, the young man fell madly in love with the extraordinary creature, though when he went to kiss her she was already far out at sea again. She waved and pushed a small treasure chest towards him which the waves then washed ashore. Inside the chest was a mesmerising azure Aquamarine gem, given in gift to the sailor so that he could always carry a drop of the sea with him. The young man looked up towards the siren and in amazement saw that the tempestuous sea was now calm again.