I have always had a fondness for the natural gemstone aquamarine. It also happens to be my birthstone, but there is much more to it than that. Often times a customer will claim to own a really fine “Aqua” they may have purchased cheap on a cruise ship or abroad. Eight out of ten times I have to break the bad news that their “Aqua” is in fact an inexpensive blue topaz. The results of that information can go both ways, like paying a lot for a blue topaz when you were under the impression it was a genuine aquamarine. Ouch!
Many of you may have seen a truly magnificent aquamarine in your lifetime; maybe you had a relative who had one? In my case, my Great-Aunt Edith (My cheeks just started ache just mentioning her name) had a huge honking twenty–plus carat emerald cut aquamarine ring with diamonds set in platinum. My uncle made it for her in the forties or fifties. I can still remember it, even today. (And the way she would leave a mark pinching my cheek! My facial cheeks, get your mind out of the gutter!) That ring had the most beautiful vibrant blue color, and even back then, it was worth a fortune.
Every now and then someone will present me with a gargantuan aquamarine ring or pendant they inherited, and ask me “What the heck is this thing?” They are often times floored when I tell them its value.
Today, even if you see genuine aquamarine, the color tends to be pale and washed out. That is all too common here in the states, because the Brazilians get top dollar elsewhere in the world where the real demand is for top grade gemstones, especially in Japan and many European countries that can never get enough of them.
The main source is Brazil, but there is also an African variety – They too are also beautiful, but many tend to have a deeper blue color in the smaller sizes. The cost of aquamarine can be all over the board. Obviously the pale blue will be inexpensive, and the more vibrant they get the more expensive they are.
I have a great Brazilian connection (gemstones, not drugs!) for magnificent aquamarines, amethysts, tourmalines and yellow beryl, to name a few. I bought several grades in various shapes; rounds, ovals and emerald cuts (The cost can be anywhere from $200 to $1,000 per carat and higher!). My intentions are setting them in my custom designed sea life pieces with diamonds in yellow and white gold.
The aqua blue color looks better in platinum or white gold, but that’s only my opinion.
So what is aquamarine? Its Latin translation means “sea water.” Just like emerald, it is in the beryl family. It owes its color or hues to traces of iron in its creation. Aquamarine was worn in medievaldays to help or heal problems of the eyes and lungs and promised the virtues of insight and foresight.
After mining it is almost always heat-treated to remove any yellow to intensify its sea blue brilliance. The gem has a hardness on the Mohs scale of 7 ½ to 8 (a diamond is a 10).
As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of imposter stones out there. Besides blue topaz there are synthetic lookalikes, and even simple blue glass posing as the real thing. Let the buyer beware!
The advent of gamma ray and x-rays create blue topaz that mimic aquamarine. Years ago there was Russian-made blue topaz that was potentially dangerous to humans because the rays they used to color them made the stones highly radioactive (Gee, what a surprise!). They never made it into the U.S.
The non-radioactive semi-precious blue topaz on the market is in a variety of colors, but in fact when the raw uncut topaz is mined it is almost clear or slightly tan or brown. Not terribly attractive. Then it’s a trip to the gamma ray reactor that changes the drab clear color to blue and beyond. Some of these shades of inexpensive blue topaz can easily be mistaken by the naive for precious aquamarine.
Some additional folklore about the gemstone included being worn by sailors to keep them safe and help prevent seasickness. If worn as a talisman, the gem also supposedly increased intelligence and reduced anxiety. (I can think of a few people who should invest in a couple hundred carats or so!)
Recently a question was asked on my web site: What insurance company do I suggest folks insure their precious jewels and baubles with?
In my forty-plus years in the business I have dealt with both the big boys and the little guy insurance companies. Most were not good experiences for both the insured and myself. Besides the innumerable hours of my time, and how long they make you wait for payment, I have found many simply don’t want to pay you the lost article’s true worth, not to mention the flaming hoops and red tape they put everyone through. There are insurance companies I simply will not deal with…period. Regretfully I cannot name names, all I can say is they qualify as the “big guys.” For what it’s worth, every time I was involved with a claim from Jewelers Mutual Insurance Company it was a smooth transaction and a fast payment to the insured party because they don’t insure homes, cars or boats, only jewelry, fine watches and diamonds. Another plus: J.M. has been around for almost a century. Check them out online or toll free: Insureyourjewelry.com, 1-888-884-2424.
Richard Alan is a designer/ goldsmith and owner of the Harbor Goldsmith and has been Marco’s go-to jeweler for close to 25 years. He welcomes your questions about “all that glitters.” Phone 239-394-9275 or visit www.harborgoldsmith.com.