March Birthstone: Aquamarine
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What is the March Birthstone?
The modern birthstone representing March is aquamarine. Famed for millennia for its pure and even blue or blue-green color, potentially large size, and sparkling clarity, the aquamarine has been a valued gem to many cultures. Aquamarine is a variety of the gem species beryl, making it a close cousin of emerald.
The word “aquamarine” is a direct reference to its color. It is a marriage of the two Latin words aqua, which simply means “water”, and marina, which means “of the sea”. As the name suggests, much of the lore surrounding the stone is connected to the ocean in some way.
In addition to being the birthstone for March, aquamarine is also traditionally given to commemorate a 19th wedding anniversary.
What is the March Birthstone Color?
Aquamarine has been famous throughout history for its clear blue color, which often displays some green. The mineral species beryl, the family to which aquamarine belongs, comes in a variety of colors including pink, green, and yellow, depending on which trace elements are present in its crystal lattice. The striking blue hue characteristic of the aquamarine variety comes from iron.
Like most colored gemstones, aquamarine is evaluated based on the combination of hue, tone, and saturation. Aquamarine is an inherently light crystal that does not achieve especially dark tones or saturations. The color of a select few of the darkest stones may be comparable to the blue of sapphire, but aquamarine is generally much lighter. The most valuable combination of factors are a pure blue hue or a blue with slight hints of green, paired with moderately strong saturation and medium-dark tone.
Because the color of the March birthstone is intensified by the size of the crystal, small aquamarine gems will often have lighter tones and saturations than larger ones. Typically, stones must weigh at least five carats to achieve the best, most intense blue and green hues. However, there are some sources, many of which are found in Africa, which produce gems that have stronger saturations than is typical. These can be smaller but still have attractively intense colors.
Aquamarine is a pleochroic gem, meaning that its color looks different depending on which direction you look at the crystal. As is typical for most beryl varieties, aquamarine grows in long, six-sided columns. If you look at a crystal column one way, it appears almost colorless. However, if you spin the crystal around and look at the column lengthwise, the darker blue colors suddenly appear. This is fortunate because it allows cutters to orient the face-up direction of faceted stones to align with the lengthwise direction of the crystal; meaning, they can make good use of the rough and fashion large gems with little waste. As a result, you can easily find aquamarine birthstone jewelry that features showstopping stones of incredible size. The Smithsonian displays the famous Dom Pedro gem, reputedly the world’s largest faceted aquamarine, which weighs in at 10,363 breathtaking carats.
In fact, a relatively high percentage of the aquamarine crystals harvested have so much usable gem-quality material that they can yield faceted gems that are simply too large to be practical for use in jewelry. This leads to an interesting trend in terms of the associated price-per-carat costs; faceted aquamarine gems which weigh more than 25 carats may actually lose value because jewelers can’t do very much with them.
The clarity of aquamarine can fall anywhere on the spectrum from purely transparent to opaque. The overwhelming majority of faceted gemstones used in jewelry are transparent. While raw transparent aquamarine crystals may have some liquid inclusions present, most of the stones on the market are eye-clean. Transparent gems which have numerous noticeable inclusions or internal fractures are not as valuable as those without these features. The beautiful transparency and clear appearance that aquamarine is known for, coupled with its evenly distributed color, is a large part of what has attracted humans across the globe for many millennia.
However, aquamarine with inclusions or less than transparent clarity are still useful. A few gems feature parallel inclusions which are plentiful enough to create a stunning and highly sought-after cat’s eye effect. Alternatively, stones of any clarity grading can be made into beads. They can also be polished into rounded cabochon shapes. Additionally, aquamarine is a popular gemstone choice for carvers. All types of crystals from transparent to opaque can be made into exceptional and unique artistic carvings and figurines.
Aquamarine responds quite well to heat-treatment, which emphasizes the bright, iron-induced blue hue while decreasing green, as well as yellow or brown color components that are sometimes expressed. Because gems which are pure or predominately blue are generally more valuable than those with some green – and are definitely more desirable than those with yellow or brown – it has become standard practice to heat stones after they have been faceted. Heat treatment is both safe for the gem and it is permanent, so you will not have to worry about your aquamarine’s color fading or changing over time.
While bluer gems may be worth more, crystals that show a beautiful pairing of blue and green may be left untreated because there certainly is a market for stones that have that lovely seawater color.
What is the Meaning of Aquamarine?
Aquamarine has been loved for many centuries and its similarity to the clear color of the ocean has fostered natural associations with water and sea travel. Going back to Ancient Greek culture, some believed that Poseidon, God of the sea, created the aquamarine directly from seawater. Other legends claim that mermaid’s tails are made of aquamarine, adding some magic to the gem.
Both the ancient Romans and Greeks perpetuated the belief that the ocean-colored gem had the power to calm dangerous waves thereby safeguarding vessels along with their crew, passengers, and cargo. Fishermen treasure the gem for bringing them luck in their efforts to collect food. This makes the gem an important token for sea travelers of any kind. Expanding on this principle, aquamarine is still thought to offer its owner protection in general.
Similarly, as aquamarine is thought to be able to quiet water, it is also credited with being able to soothe tempers and decrease interpersonal conflict. As negative passions are cooled by the gem, communication and trust are improved. Many continue to believe that keeping an aquamarine close will strengthen healthy marriages and, indeed, relationships of all kinds. It follows that wearing the gem symbolizes the strength of an individual’s bond to their partner and level of commitment.
The March birthstone can also encourage peace of mind. Many believe that wearing the gem eases anxiety, increases mental clarity, and promotes healing from past traumas. Like many other blue gemstones, aquamarine also is thought to have physical health benefits and increase vitality. Specifically, some credit the gem with being able to help regulate hormones and the thyroid gland.
Where Does Aquamarine Come From?
We are fortunate that aquamarine grows in many different locations around the world. This ensures that there is lots of inventory to be had and that the supply chain is secure. Among these are abundant deposits that can be found on the African continent in places like Mozambique, Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia and the famously gem-rich Madagascar. Australia and the US both have aquamarine sources (it is the state gem for Colorado), while the Pakistani product sometimes includes very dark stones. It was recently discovered that China has plentiful amounts of small, pale aquamarine crystals and it has become the main source of low-cost gems.
However, even with so many global deposits to draw from, Brazil is possibly the most prolific supplier of aquamarine. This South American country, which also has produced some of the world’s finest emeralds, is the origin of many of the largest aquamarine crystals ever found, some weighing hundreds of pounds! Many of the literally thousands of Brazilian aquamarine mines are clustered in the northeast region of Minas Gerais. Some of the mines cut directly into hard pegmatites that aquamarine often grows in, however, secondary deposits which contain stones that Mother Nature weathered out of rocks on her own bear much of the gem material used today.
Is Aquamarine Durable?
Aquamarine ranks between 7.5 and 8 on the Mohs hardness scale. This means that it is a relatively strong gemstone and most jewelry can be worn regularly. Perhaps influenced by the lore which says that aquamarine encourages strong marriages and stable, loving relationships, some even choose the March birthstone as the primary stone(s) in their engagement ring. While the gem is not as strong as diamond or sapphire, it is resilient enough to be worn like this as long as you remove it during specific situations where it might be damaged.
With durability that is neither supremely hard nor overly fragile, aquamarine sits in a sweet spot that makes it soft enough to carve, while, at the same time, being strong enough to tolerate that process and display fine detail. Coupling this with the abundance and affordability of large crystal rough, aquamarine is a longtime favorite of artistic carvers who create beautiful custom designs.
Because aquamarine is such a light and transparent gem, you likely will be able to see dirt or grime as it accumulates on the surface of your stone. This may look like a cloudy patch you have never seen before growing within the stone but, fear not, your gem is only dirty on the outside. Fortunately, cleaning your aquamarine jewelry is simple. As with most gemstones, regular cleanings can be done with a soft brush and a specialized jewelry cleaning solution or mild soapy water. Remember to clean the top, sides, and underbelly of the stones if you can reach them to get rid of that distracting cloudy effect. If you are gentle, you can do this as often as is necessary.
Since aquamarine is durable and its color is stable with or without heat treatment, most stones without noticeable inclusions or fractures can go into ultrasonic machines or be steamed for occasional, intense cleaning.
How to Buy March Birthstone Jewelry
Thanks to the beauty of aquamarine, coupled with its durability and availability in all usable sizes, the March birthstone is suitable for every type of jewelry. It is as at home in everyday jewelry as it is in statement pieces intended for extravagant events.
Like many gemstones, you will find plenty of aquamarine in round and oval brilliant cuts. These shapes are both attractive and compatible with many jewelry designs. They also enhance the brilliance of gemstones by amplifying light return and creating balanced sparkle patterns. Because there is no shortage of inventory, there is no reason to purchase a poorly cut stone. You want to look for gems that are symmetrical and sparkle lively.
Unlike some of the other birthstones, the availability of large aquamarine gems allows it to frequently be cut into shapes that emphasize depth, such as emerald cuts. As the color saturation of aquamarine is deepened by larger size, the hues displayed by these kinds of cuts can be rich.
A final note about aquamarine rings. Aquamarine may not be as strong as traditional engagement stones, but it can be far more affordable. Because there is so much inventory of all sizes, qualities, and price-per-carat values, replacements can usually be found for damaged stones. Even if your ring features a gem of an unusual shape, professionals can typically find similar gems. So, if your aquamarine is damaged, there is no reason to panic! Seek help from a jewelry professional and a workable solution can usually be found!
Frequently Asked Questions About Aquamarine
Emily Frontiere is a GIA Graduate Gemologist. She is particularly experienced working with estate/antique jewelry.
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