Beryllium is a hard and shiny metallic element. Extremely rare, it’s prized in industry for its high melting point and conductivity. Combined with other elements, it forms beautiful gemstones that are hard and brilliant.
Mix beryllium with aluminum and silica and you get a family of minerals known as beryl. Stir in a few impurities, and clear beryl becomes green, blue, yellow, pink, or red.
Each color has its own name: clear beryl is called goshenite; green, emerald; blue, aquamarine; yellow, heliodor; pink, morganite; and red is known as red beryl or bixbite. Additionally, a light green that isn’t intense enough to be classified as emerald is labeled green beryl.
The green in emeralds results from trace amounts of chromium. Varying combinations of iron, magnesium, manganese, and vanadium produce blues, yellows, pinks, and red.
Emeralds are rare, and the most prized of all gemstones.
Blue-green aquamarine, which received its name from the Latin words for seawater, was once believed to contain the spirit of the sea. A piece of aquamarine was the traditional good luck talisman for ancient sea- farers. Warriors also carried aquamarine, in the belief that it imparted courage.
Aquamarine is more abundant than emerald, and much lower-priced. Brazil is the primary source of aquamarine, with lesser amounts mined in Africa, Europe, India, and the United States.
Large aquamarines weighing several pounds are common. Faceted aquamarines often weigh 10-30 carats, with some tipping the scales up to 1,000 carats. At about 142 carats to an ounce, those gems weigh nearly half a pound!
Because fashion dictates that pure blue is more desirable, blue-green aquamarines are routinely heat- treated to turn them permanently blue. Although rare, some aquamarines are naturally blue. When buying any aquamarine, ask to see it in natural light, as artificial light can make the color seem richer than it truly is.
Heliodor, morganite, and red beryl are less well- known. The first two are abundant and inexpensive. Red beryl, because it is the rarest of all beryl, is very expensive. Unlike aquamarine, its blue-green cousin, red beryl is small, seldom exceeding more than one carat in size.
Chrysoberyl, a group of lesser-known cousins, results when beryllium combines with aluminum and oxygen, rather than silica.
Relatively unknown, chrysoberyl is usually transparent yellow green, green, or yellow. Occasionally, it’s brown. Collectors are the primary admirers of chrysoberyl as there’s little demand for it in jewelry.
Another cousin is cat’s eye chrysoberyl.
The rarest of all the beryllium cousins, and therefore the most valuable, is alexandrite, the magical mineral that changes colors. Wear alexandrite in the daylight and it flashes gorgeous green. Wear it in incandescent light and it blushes radiant red.
The Russians discovered alexandrite in 1830, on the 21st birthday of Czar Alexander II, for whom they named it. They quickly mined out the small lode. Alexandrite today comes from Brazilian mines. Good
alexandrite is very rare and extremely expensive.
Most of the natural alexandrite now available has “muddy” colors that do not make a clear change from red to green and back. Synthetic alexandrite changes colors flawlessly. Those in search of good quality alexandrite hunt for it in estate sales, rather buy it in today’s markets.
With all its cousins, it’s easy to find the gem best suited for your purposes among the brilliant beryls.