Aquamarine is one of my favorite gems. Of course with me, talking about my favorite gemstones is like asking a parent about their favorite child—whichever one I’m thinking about or talking about at the moment is the favorite. Still, aquamarine is right up there in my true favorites.
Aquamarine—one of the many faces of beryl
One of the interesting things about aquamarine is its true rarity—due to the unique trace minerals that have combined with its underlying base mineral, Beryl, to produce its beautiful blue tone…
Beryl is a Beryllium-Aluminum Silicate (a silicate mineral—just like garnets, topaz, tourmaline and quartz—which in itself comes in multiple colors such as amethyst, citrine, ouro verde etc.).
When other trace minerals are present during beryl’s formation, it takes on different colors, and becomes known by other names. For example, beryl with trace amounts of manganese turns pink and peach and is known as Morganite. Beryl with trace amounts of chromium turns deep green and is known as emerald. In the case of aquamarine, very small amounts of iron combined with beryl has produced its fabulous blue color.
The cost of aquamarine
Because iron and beryl aren’t found together very often, aquamarine is a relatively rare find and thus can be a relatively expensive gem. In larger sizes with ultra top color an individual gem may cost several tens of thousands of dollars—even at the dealer to dealer price-level. A large piece of rough aquamarine was recently offered on the market at a price in excess of $2.2 million dollars—and that was dealer-to-dealer cost!
What makes aquamarine command such prices? The law of supply and demand. There is a big world-wide demand for aquamarine and it’s in perpetually short supply. I am good friends with several of the biggest miners in aquamarine and they just can’t get enough out of the ground to satisfy the demand.
We’ve discussed color variance in several of our other “Birthstone Spotlight” blog posts. In gems like tourmaline or garnet, the color varieties are dramatic and stunning—including many colors of the rainbow. In aquamarine, the variation all revolves around the color blue. The easiest answer about the value of an aquamarine gem is this: the bluer the better.
Compare that to other gems known for their blue color, like sapphire. Sapphire can, from several prolific deposits, come out of the ground in such a dark blue color that it’s too dark to be considered optimal. Aquamarine rarely, if ever, has this problem. Such is the nature and variety of naturally occurring substances.
As of current gem finds the best color in aquamarine is known to come from the Santa Maria mining district in Brazil, and the Mkushi, Lundazi, and Itezhi Tezhi areas of Zambia. By reason of seniority, Santa Maria has the “name” but it’s in a neck and neck competition with Zambia for producing the best colors—but only IF they are producing… a good supplier of mine from Santa Maria has temporarily given up mining aquamarine and is working on a nearby emerald deposit. The cost of mining often outweighs the production of gems.
Believe it or not, most gem mines are marginally profitable; the norm is that they are simply a hole in the ground where a miner pours money, effort, and years.
Where in the World?
Talking about the locations for top aquamarine color is a good segue to mentioning the locations for current aquamarine mining. Brazil is still a top spot; it’s typically noted as producing larger sized stones. Various African countries produce aquamarine as well. In addition to Zambia, Mozambique, Nigeria and Madagascar produce aquamarine from time to time. In the past 15+ years, China has been producing good quantities of smaller aquamarine gems—in fact the majority of smaller, calibrated aquamarine has been found from Chinese sources.
In addition to these larger commercial productions there have been smaller amounts of aquamarine found in interesting locations: Mt. Antero in Colorado produces nice mineral specimens along with aquamarine gems from time to time. Russia, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan have all produced quantities of aquamarine from time to time as well.