Aquamarine: Jewel of the Sea
If you love the clear, sparkling, warm blue waves of the Caribbean Sea, aquamarine is the perfect gemstone for you. Aquamarine’s name reflects its magical appearance, taken from the Latin “aqua marina,” which means “water of the sea.”
It is actually a type of beryl, and is very popular in jewelry. Let’s dive deep into the history, properties, and uses of March’s beautiful birthstone!
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What is Aquamarine?
Aquamarine is the cyan variety of beryl, a mineral comprised of beryllium aluminium cyclosilicate, represented by the chemical formula Be3Al2Si6O18. Other well-known forms of beryl include emerald, morganite, and heliodor.
Aquamarine and other varieties of beryl take the form of hexagonal crystals. These crystals can be quite tiny, or they can range up to several meters long. They rarely terminate in a pyramid shape; generally the tops of beryl crystals are flat, like the tops of columns.
Beryl is actually colorless, but impurities in the stone can color it a variety of hues, including cyan blue. Aquamarine and other forms of beryl are instantly recognizable in their raw form by their glassy texture and startling clarity, along with their glossy, resinous luster.
A characteristic beryl crystal features a gradient of opacity. It is cloudy at the bottom, becoming gradually clearer toward the top. The effect is mesmerizing. If you get the chance to see a museum-grade crystal in person, you will have a hard time looking away!
On the Mohs scale of hardness, aquamarine rates a 7.5-8. This places it just about level with topaz, but lower on the scale than corundum (9) or diamond (10). This is relatively hard, but beryl is brittle, which means that it is still quite breakable. For this reason, extra care needs to be taken when wearing and storing aquamarine jewelry and loose stones.
Interestingly enough, however, aquamarine is actually stronger than emerald. It is far less likely to have inclusions, and is more resistant to fracturing.
As previously mentioned, beryl is a clear mineral. The different types of beryl contain trace elements which give them their unique colors. Emerald, for example, takes its color from traces of chromium. Aquamarine derives its sea-blue color from the presence of iron.
Like other colorful gemstones, aquamarine’s hues can range from very pale, nearly colorless hue, to deep, saturated blue. The deep blue variety has a special name, maxixe. Maxixe is most commonly excavated from Madagascar.
While maxixe is very valuable, medium blue stones can fetch a hefty price as well. In fact, the characteristic aquamarine is a warm medium-toned blue, and many buyers are seeking just this shade. This refreshing color immediately whisks you away to the tropics; staring into the depths of a warm blue aquamarine gemstone is like gazing into a cool, refreshing reflecting pool.
Beryl does have limited uses in industry; sometimes beryllium is used in the production of beryllium copper. This material is used in electrical components such as contacts and electrodes. The beryllium helps to boost the conductivity of the copper and nickel in the alloy, making the circuitry more effective.
Gem-quality aquamarine however is prized for its jewelry and artistic applications, and not for its industrial uses. With its sea-blue color and transparent depths, it is simply too beautiful to waste on industry.
Aquamarine is typically used in making jewelry—pendants, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and other beautiful items. Aquamarine is sometimes tumbled, but not too often, because this does not preserve the clarity of the stone. Instead, it emphasizes its cloudiness.
Raw aquamarine is actually quite striking, and can make an elegant, natural, and unique statement. Typically, aquamarine is cut and faceted, as this is a wonderful way to bring out its mesmerizing depth and sparkle.
Sometimes aquamarine is carved and sculpted. You may find carved jewelry pieces featuring animals, abstract patterns, and other whimsical designs. Aquamarine can be tricky to carve however because of its tendency to fracture along its cleavage.
The most famous aquamarine worldwide is without a doubt the Dom Pedro. This extraordinary sculpture is a masterpiece of faceting. As the world’s largest faceted aquamarine, the beryl obelisk stands 14 inches tall and measures 4 inches at the base. It weighs an astonishing 10,363 carats, and currently resides at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington D.C. This majestic sculpture may stand as one of the greatest gem-cutting masterpieces of all time. An image of can be seen further down this page.
Aquamarine Buying Guide
Aquamarine can range quite a bit in price. A variety of factors can affect its value, but like other colored gemstones, value can largely be gauged according to the four Cs: color, clarity, carat, and cut.
How much will you pay for aquamarine? The larger the stone, the more it will cost. Clear gemstones which are inclusion-free will also typically fetch a higher price (there are exceptions to this rule, more on that below). Cloudy stones may be significantly less expensive. The cut of the gemstone is also important; the right cut will bring out the warm, vivid blue color of aquamarine and will showcase its stunning clarity.
While medium-blue aquamarine is greatly prized, the intensity of the color can have a major impact on the price you will pay. Aquamarine’s color is typically appraised as greenish-blue. This greenish tint is not so prevalent as to make aquamarine appear turquoise, but it does lend the blue a warm tone.
For a single carat of aquamarine, here is a rough price estimate according to color intensity:
- Very pale blue with a strong greenish tint: $95
- Light blue with a strong greenish tint and a slightly de-saturated (grayish) hue: $150
- Light blue-green, strongly saturated: $200
- Medium blue-green, strongly saturated: $475
- Medium blue-green, deeper, darker hue: $900
Note that many aquamarine gemstones are irradiated to deepen the intensity of their color. Aquamarine is sensitive to heat and light, which can gradually strip away its color, but a stone can be irradiated again to return it to its vivid blue.
Stones that are naturally intense may be worth more than those which have been treated, but treatment is very common, and shouldn’t be a deterrent when you are purchasing. Just make sure you are getting a fair deal and that you are being told about all treatments used on the gemstone.
Coming back to the matter of inclusions, inclusions may in some cases actually be a draw with aquamarine. Sometimes the inclusions in aquamarine form in an aesthetically appealing manner, forming artistic grooves and lines which are quite stunning to behold. A gem cutter may choose a cut which integrates these inclusions instead of concealing them. An aquamarine that features beautiful inclusions like this is a one-of-a-kind piece of art.
Aquamarine jewelry is incredibly popular, particularly because aquamarine is the birthstone for the month of March. Even though aquamarine is not categorized as a precious gemstone, it has something of that mystique about it, perhaps because it is a form of beryl, just like emerald.
Because of this fact and because of the high price tag attached to premium grade aquamarine, it can make an elegant statement as a gift. It can even make a great choice for an engagement ring.
- While diamond is the most traditional choice for an engagement ring, aquamarine is probably one of the most popular alternatives. Aquamarine used for engagement rings may range from very pale blue, almost white, to deep medium sea-blue. Even though you might shy away from the lighter blues for reasons of value, pale blue makes a lovely choice since it has that same ethereal quality to it that diamond does.
- Aquamarine pairs up exquisitely with tiny accent diamonds. These can help to make the ring more traditional, can up its value, and can really frame the splendor of the aquamarine magnificently.
- Aquamarine’s clarity, depth, and sparkle are stunning, and just as beautiful to behold as any diamond.
- The history of aquamarine is actually quite a romantic one, as you will discover shortly. In ancient Rome and the Middle Ages, it was believed that aquamarine could help capture the romantic energy of a young couple in love. In fact, aquamarine was a popular gem for grooms to gift their brides in ancient Rome. In that sense, the tradition of aquamarine as a wedding ring arguably goes back much further in time than the tradition of diamond!
- Because aquamarine fractures easily, it is a more fragile choice than diamond for everyday wear. It is still pretty hard, though, so this shouldn’t be a major deterrent.
- Aquamarine simply is not traditional, and some recipients will only be happy with a traditional diamond ring.
Always check with your partner before shopping for an aquamarine engagement ring, just to be sure that she is not expecting a diamond!
How to Clean and Store Aquamarine
- Cleaning aquamarine requires care. Remember, 7.5-8 on the Mohs scale of hardness is only marginally harder than quartz, and softer than corundum or diamond. Because aquamarine is brittle and may easily crack along its cleavages, you need to handle it gently. How you need to clean your stone depends on its condition. If it is fracture filled—or has unfilled fractures or liquid inclusions—stay away from ultrasonic and steam cleaners, and stick with warm soapy water. Wash your gemstone by hand, and use an old toothbrush to clean the setting. If your aquamarine stone is fracture-free and has no inclusions, you should be able to safely use an ultrasonic or steam cleaner. When in doubt, stick with hand-washing, as it is always safer!
- Storing aquamarine means finding a cool, dark place. Heat can lighten the color of your aquamarine, causing it to lose its intensity. For that reason, you do not want to leave it sitting in the sun. To protect it from breakage, store it inside a soft jewelry pouch, and do not let it rub up against other jewelry. Take off aquamarine jewelry before you work with your hands or do anything active.
While it is difficult to trace the exact origin of the name “aquamarine,” usage dates back at least as far as 1609, when the term was used by Anselmus de Boodt in his published work Gemmarum et Lapidum Historiig.
The history of aquamarine in jewelry and art dates back much further to the dusty annals of ancient history. Many ancient civilizations prized this exquisite sea-blue gemstone and believed that it conferred power on the wearer. In Ancient Rome, frogs were carved out of aquamarine gems. It was believed that these aquamarine frog figurines had the power to reconcile enemies and build friendships.
Ancient Romans also believed that aquamarine was a gemstone of love, and that it could absorb and amplify love. For that reason, Roman grooms gifted their brides with aquamarine the morning after they were married. It was believed that by wearing the aquamarine, the bride could capture the energy of young love and the couple could carry it with them going forward into the years ahead.
In ancient Greece as well as ancient Rome, aquamarine was also strongly associated with the sea. Sailors wore or carried aquamarine with them on lengthy sea voyages, believing that the gem would connect them with the ocean and foster a safe journey.
Aquamarine was a popular gemstone in the Middle Ages as well, when the meanings and beliefs associated with it in ancient times were carried forward in a new form. Soldiers wore aquamarine into battle, believing that it would protect them. Aquamarine also remained strongly linked to the ideal of romantic love.
It was believed that the clear blue-green stone could help to rekindle the spark of love for married couples that had gone astray. It is easy to see how this connects with the Roman belief that aquamarine could capture feelings of young love and carry them forward.
In 1377, William Langland wrote about aquamarine in a piece titled, The Vision Concerning Piers and the Plowman. In this piece, he asserted that aquamarine was an effective antidote for poison. It was believed that simply wearing the gem was enough to confer protection (other gemstones at the time were ground into powder and consumed). As a result, it was a popular stone among royalty.
Aquamarine had spiritual associations as well. It was a popular practice in the Middle Ages to associate gemstones with the twelve apostles. Aquamarine came to be associated with St. Thomas because he voyaged across the seas to spread the word of his faith. Aquamarine reflected the sea, and therefore reflected St Thomas.
Aquamarine was widely used in medieval fortune-telling as well, and in many different forms. Sometimes aquamarine was used as a crystal ball, and other times it was used as a pendulum. Sometimes practitioners would also drop a stone inside a bowl of water and look for patterns in the ripples.
Interestingly enough, in the 19th century, aquamarine was a popular gemstone, but the pieces which were mostly highly prized were those which had a greener hue to them. Today, the opposite is usually true. This is an interesting example of how value is subjective, and as a result, the valuation of a single stone may change over time. A greenish piece which would have been highly valued in the 19th century could well have a lower relative price value today. The converse would be true with a bluer gem.
The largest aquamarine ever found was discovered in Brazil in 1910. The stone weighed in at an astounding 243 pounds. Once it was cut down, the resulting gemstones totaled around 200,000 carats in weight.
In modern times, aquamarine is the birthstone for the month of March, contributing greatly to the popularity of the stone. The zodiac signs for the month of March are Pisces and Aries, so aquamarine is also linked to both of these zodiac signs.
Aquamarine’s main meanings and associations have changed little with time. The color and clarity of this stone still reflect the beauty of the sea. Because aquamarine is such a soothing, calm, reflective color, and because the sea itself is a source of life, aquamarine connects the wearer with that deep sense of tranquility and uplift.
While aquamarine is a uniquely beautiful gemstone, there are a number of similar stones which may be confused with it.
- Aqua aura. This is actually a form of quartz which has been coated with gold fumes. The resulting appearance is a blue-green color which is similar to aquamarine. How do you tell the two apart? Aqua aura will have the same texture, hardness, and inclusions you would find in any other form of quartz. It may also form in terminated crystals, which is far rarer for beryl, which tends to form a flat top.
- Blue topaz. The lighter blue specimens of topaz can closely resemble aquamarine. They tend to be a truer blue in color than aquamarine, however, which usually has a warmer tint.
- Blue tourmaline. Tourmaline is a multi-hued gemstone which can occur in a number of different color combinations. Blue tourmaline usually has a mixture of blue and green hues in it. As a result, it may sometimes be mistaken for aquamarine.
- Apatite. Apatite is a mineral which is usually used to manufacture fertilizer. It yields phosphorus when it is processed. Sometimes it is pulverized and used to create dyes. The color of apatite is blue-green, though generally deeper in hue than aquamarine. Apatite usually isn’t used in jewelry or art because it tends to be quite cloudy and contain numerous inclusions. Occasionally though you may run across a faceted apatite gemstone. Usually (though not always) this stone is significantly greener than aquamarine. This as well as the inclusions can help you to tell the two apart.
- Emerald: While emerald doesn’t really resemble aquamarine, it is worth mentioning in this list simply because it is the most well-known type of beryl, and a close relative of aquamarine. If you see emerald and aquamarine in their natural form, you will notice the similarity in their structure and glassy texture. Emerald of course is a deep green color where aquamarine is always a clear sea-blue.