Aquamarine comes from a family of gemstones that we call Beryl. Beryls are some of the most beautiful and desirable gems sought after through the history of jewelry. When colorless, the purest of beryls, it is referred to as Goshenite, however beryls gets their name from the greek word beryllos, meaning green stone. The reason for that is that we referred to them is by the coloring that occurs when there are minute chemical claws in the composition of the mineral, one of the most common being chromium which makes a beautiful green stone, famously known as Emerald. Another color designation includes Morganite, rich in manganese, it turns the stone a variety of peach, pinks, and rose colored stones. Manganese is also the trace mineral that causes the very rare deep red beryl, referred to as a Scarlet Emerald. Lastly, we have 2 color designations that result from beryls rich in iron, the first being yellows that are referred to as helios (Greek for sun,) and aquamarine (meaning seawater.)
Aquamarine, and all beryls, rate 7.5 - 8 on the Mohs scale of hardness. These minerals are durable and strong gemstones, however, their trace minerals often times compose flaws in the stone that are most gaseous and therefore more volatile than those of the corundum or diamond families of stones, so it is advised to proceed with caution when wearing beryls for everyday use as they can scratch, crack and break more easily than their Mohs scale rating would lead us to believe.
Aquamarine can be found all over the world, from Sri Lanka to Montana, or Brazil to Madagascar, but with a special place in our home state of Colorado. Aquamarine is our state gemstone in Colorado, and geodes containing blue aquamarine can be found at the summit of Mt. Anteroom in the Sawatch Range, and as far north as the Big Horn Mountains in Wyonming. The world’s largest known reserves of beryls, however, is Brazil.
Aquamarine is amazing for its faint to deep aquatic color, in blues and teals. It has intrigued and enchanted people for ages for its resemblance to the ocean, sea and sky. One of the most interesting discoveries within the human histories of aquamarines is that of the Don Pedro Aquamarine. This giant crystal was discovered by 3 prospectors at Pedra Azul, in Brazil. It was broken up into 3 pieces, and the prospectors sold those 3 crystals to an unnamed Brazilian collector, who had the 2 smaller stones divided, cut and faceted for jewelry. The largest of the 3 remained uncut, as a crystal until the early 1990’s, when a German dealer named Jürgen Henn invested in the majority of the stone in a deal and arrangement that took a year to sort out. He entrusted the massive 24 inches gem to the extremely talented stone cutter Bernd Munsteiner, who has been renowned for his fantasy cuts since the 1960’s. Hen and Munsteiner specifically preserved this stone as a way to honor, and preserve the mineral for its rarity and wonder. It is now cut and carved in a modified obelisk, measures 14” in height and weights 10,363 carats, (apx. 4.6 lbs.) and was finished in 1993.
The Don Pedro made it’s world debut at the annual gem fair in Basel Switzerland. It traveled and was exhibited around the world, but Henn’s Brazilian partner really wanted to sell it and turn a profit. Panicked that it would be cut up into more useable faceted stones for use in jewelry, Henn and Munsteiner turned to gem collector Jane Mitchell. She and her husband, Jeff Bland bought the Don Pedro in 1999, and later donated it to the Smithsonian Institution in 2011 for their permanent National Gem Collection. Although it may reside permanently in the United States, it is named after the first, and the last kings of Brazil, and is a reminder of Brazil’s natural richness and amazing geological features.
My personal favorite jewelry pieces of aquamarine are also from Brazil. In 1953, when Queen Elizabeth of England was crowned the queen of the United Kingdom, at which time the Brazilian government gifted her a fantastic necklace with matching pendant earrings for her coronation. Set with diamonds in platinum, the queen was so thrilled with her aquamarines, that 4 years later, she commissioned a tiara to match. A year after this the Brazilian government added to their gift 5 years earlier by giving a bracelet in a similar style set with 7 large aquamarines. Then, “in 1968, the queen and prince Philip made their first state visit to Brazil and the Governor of Sao Paulo presented the queen with a V-shaped ‘hair ornament’, as it was described at the time, also made of aquamarines and diamonds.” (-Leslie Fields The Queen’s Jewels) These aquamarines were then added to her tiara to enhance the, already outrageous, aqua and diamond crown. The queen still wears this parure to this day, often times with her very famous set of clip brooches by Louis Cartier that she was gifted on her 18th birthday in 1944, (what a lucky girl...)
Because of their natural clarity and iron rich structure, the aquamarine gem is most often cut as an emerald cut. This step cut, with long table-like facets allows for the color to come through and enhances the over all color that comes through it. A great example is this large aquamarine is an emerald-cut that is all about the emergence of the Retrospective of the Art Deco and Nouveau movements. It was made by designer Jean Fouquet sometime between 1925 and 1930. It is technically of the Art Deco movement, but this piece seems to go one step beyond that. Both minimalism and luxury give name to the irreverent Retro stylings of Hollywood and the 1950s that followed. Most designers in the late 20’s were working in filigree, bead work or more elaborate styles that accentuated the length of the flappers waist line, but in this piece Fouquet shows a structure and conceptual format to his design, with a progressive cobra-snake chain, set with heavy links, and a gold and black lacquer bar that drop down to a white gold, round disk turn-table, and the music that it spins is that of a large, stunning emerald-cut aquamarine, with warm undertones that play off of the gold and black. He was not interested in following fashions, but rather what fashion would become. Its as if he was saying “Take your decorative arts and shove them, you glutinous world!” and he was right, soon there-after the stock market crashed and the decorative arts fell by the wayside along with most of the modern world. The depression took over and for the following 20 years the jewelry industry struggled to find a voice. When it emerged, designers looks to this style with a new found respect. It represented the materials; the beauty; the difficulty of values, and blatant call for indulgence. It also represented their story, the fallen, mass-producing companies of those roaring 20’s. It also represented the future, with a word of caution to those artists who listened, which whispered, stay true to your designs, because those works will give you a name that lasts.
Whether you are a March baby, gemologist, collector or just admire the aquamarine, it is truly one of the great stones used in antique and estate jewelry. In 1902 Rene’ Lalique designed one of the most enchanting of his insect motifs. It wasn’t something a mythological nymph, or an Egyptian revival, rather, it was simply damselflies, working together to hold up this amazing aquamarine stone. Lalique, as with all of the French Art Nouveau craftsmen, took a moody, smokey approach to the lines of his design. These works are truly the most nuanced works found in all of modernity. Since the Renaissance, artists had tried to reinvent realism in so many ways that they had forgotten the spirit of the arts, but the late 19th and early 20th century artists made a swamp of thought that was so rich in conceptual sludge, that we can only surmise that this was due to the extreme advancement of technologies, war, industry, the demand of the middle classes, and fall of the aristocracy which, in turn, evolved the collective creative conscious into the movements that came to fruition ever so fast.
In Rene’s work we find ourselves giving archetypes to these magical little creatures. They represent beauty, yes, but they also beg the question, was Lalique finding narrative in his work? We know for certain that his understanding of enamel, glass and materials was that of genius, but what was he saying through such incredible technical masterpieces? Perhaps in these and many of his works at this time, he anthropomorphizes insects, fish and flora to give name to the philosophies of those times and call a return to nature in such an industrial age. Maybe, it is because of this, that he was able to develop a sense of the future and the ideas of modernity at such a young age. Maybe he was foreseeing a society absorbed in its technologies and reveling in its glutenous disregard for its natural resources. This is what I find so beautiful about Lalique’s work; not that it was so finely made, or that the imagery is magical and pretty, but that it is like a story yet to be told. His work is a meditation on culture, and its purely human ability, to step back and look at nature for what it is in that Zen sort of way. He was pursuing perfection by allowing for nature to return to the decorative in a way that was elegant and fashionable, but true to its self. Rene Lalique seems to have practiced this Wabi-Sabi of the western industrial revolution, and here, with a cluster of damselflies (and yes, damselflies are a real insect) he reminds us that perhaps the best thing to do for design in the technological age, is to look at nature, and the materials that we use, such as this amazing, and revered aquamarine.
In the metaphysical world, aquamarines rule the throat chakra, and inspire the wearer to speak with a strong sense of truth and love. They are believed to heal and aid with argumentative personalities and during times of litigation. They are also believed to keep on safe during travel.
Please, take a moment and peruse our selection of Aqua Marines at the moment. It really is such a great stone to be lucky enough to call your birthstone, and makes a great gift for that special someone you love.
-Zach Burk March 6, 2017