If you are relatively new to the gemstone world, you may not yet have heard of the Beryl family of jewels, but you’ll undoubtedly have heard of one or more of its members.
Most famously of all, the deep, vibrant green variety of Beryl is known as Emerald. The light, seafoam blue-green variety is known as Aquamarine and the soft, pastel pink variety as Morganite. There are many more types too, and here we set out to explore the family in further detail, including how they get their distinct colours and some of the far lesser-known members of the group. Let’s start with a little bit of science.
The Science Bit
Allochromatic is the word given to minerals and gemstones that get their hue from imperfections within their chemical structure, rather than from the chemical structure itself. The opposite of this is idiochromatic, meaning the colour is inherently part of the chemical structure of the stone. Peridot is an example of this and is only found in its famous golden-green hue. Beryl, like Corundum (Ruby and Sapphire), Tourmaline, Spinel, Quartz and others, is allochromatic. As with all allochromatic gems, Beryl in its purest form exists as a colourless variety, which is known as Goshenite.
Beryl’s chemical formula is Be3Al2(SiO3)6 which is also sometimes written as Be3Al2Si6O18. This formula remains the same for the hue variations of the stone. Beryl, therefore, is always formed of the elements beryllium (Be), aluminium (Al), silicon (Si) and oxygen (O) in precise quantities and ratios to each other. However, additional trace elements in Beryl create the beautiful variations of hue that the stone exhibits. Without any trace elements, we get clear, pure Goshenite. If the stone contains chromium (Cr), vanadium (V), and/or iron (Fe), we get vivid glowing greens, and the jewel is then known as Emerald. Add in some Manganese (Mn) instead, and we get the unmistakable pastel pink of Morganite. Iron (Fe) alone skews the hue to a pastel blue Aquamarine gem, sometimes with subtle hints of very soft green.
Beryl crystallises at lower temperatures and pressures than many other gemstones and is most often found, underground, in the open voids created by geological fractures in granite pegmatite rocks. These are a type of igneous rock, which form when magma cools. Beryl crystals tend to develop in elongated columns with a hexagonal cross-section. Once mined and faceted, members of the Beryl family are generally heat-treated to enhance and stabilise their colour, which, as a treatment, goes back almost as far as when these treasures were first discovered.
Here, we break down each member of the Beryl family and learn a little more about the character of each.
Colour: Colourless | Coloured by: Lack of trace elements
Known as ‘the mother of all gemstones’ because of its unrivalled flawlessness, there is something magical about the purity of Goshenite. It exudes exceptional lustre, scintillation and fire. The excellent qualities of this transparent Beryl have made it the perfect alternative for other colourless gemstones, such as Diamond, and provides the perfect canvas for the other hues that this gem displays so well. Fascinatingly, in Ancient Greece, Goshenite was used to make the first lenses for glasses, as its clarity was significantly superior to that of ancient glass. The name for this gemstone derives from Goshen, Massachusetts, which was one of the first places the gem was discovered.
Found in: Brazil, Mozambique, China, Myanmar (Burma), the USA and Namibia
Colour: Deep Green | Coloured by: Chromium (Cr), Vanadium (V), Iron (Fe)
Emerald is one of the most desirable, famous and historical gemstones of all time, and has been mined for around 4,000 years. It can be found throughout time in some of the most stunning pieces of jewellery ever to have existed. The first known mines were in Egypt and date back as far as 4,000 BC. Cleopatra was said to be hypnotised with the unique charm of this gemstone and adorned herself in the very finest Emeralds. Its name is derived from the Greek word ‘smaragdos’, a name once given to many gems with the colour green in common.
Found in: Colombia, Brazil, Siberia, Zambia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Australia
Colour: Pastel Blue-Green | Coloured by: Iron (Fe)
One of the most famous blue gemstones, Aquamarine is steeped in myth and legend. Known as the gem of the sea, even the name ‘Aquamarine’ comes from the Latin ‘aqua’ for ‘water’ and ‘marina’ for ‘of the sea’. Aquamarine can have outstanding clarity, meaning that it dazzles with a bright, energetic sparkle. Some stones display a slight green undertone, although today Aquamarine is heat-treated to strengthen and stabilise the blue hue and eliminate the green. Used in jewellery since at least 500 BC, sailors and travellers once wore it as a talisman to protect against shipwreck and to ward off seasickness.
Found in: Brazil, Mozambique, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Pakistan, India, China and Myanmar (Burma)
Colour: Pastel Pink | Coloured by: Manganese (Mn)
Morganite exudes perfect blush-peach tones that never fail to catch the eye. The gem was first discovered in Pala, California in the early 20th century. Soon after, the respected gemologist George Frederick Kunz discovered a significant Morganite deposit in Madagascar and named the stone after his biggest customer, the banker J.P. Morgan. Although this gemstone began its life millions of years ago, it has only been known and recognised in its own right for a little over a century. When discovered in its rough form the gem is a pale salmon colour, but when heated its pink hues become more prominent.
Found in: Brazil, Afghanistan, Mozambique, Namibia, and Madagascar
Colour: Deep Yellow | Coloured by: Iron (Fe)
Once known as ‘Precious Beryl’, this golden-yellow variety can be known as both Golden Beryl (which often has slightly more yellowish hues) and Heliodor (which often has a slight green tinge). Heliodor is from the Greek words ‘helios’ and ‘doron’, meaning ‘gift of the sun’. Heliodor is normally transparent, but occasionally can be found translucent. When this is the case, the gem is often cabochon cut and sometimes chatoyancy or asterism can be visible. Like Aquamarine, the stone is coloured by iron impurities. However, because of differing ratios of ferric and ferrous iron, plus their oxidisation, in this case, Golden Beryl turns yellow rather than blue.
Found in: Madagascar, Brazil, Nigeria and Ukraine
SHOP GOLDEN BERYL
Colour: Deep Red | Coloured by: Manganese (Mn)
Sometimes also known as Red Emerald or Red Beryl, Bixbite is regarded by many gemologists as the rarest member of the Beryl family. It is named in honour of the mineralogist Maynard Bixby of Utah, USA, who is thought to have first discovered the gem in 1904. Manganese causes the stunning red hue, and although the gem is often heavily included and at best translucent, many collectors regard the gem as a more significant acquisition than Ruby. Unfortunately, over the years, we have not been able to source the jewel in any reasonable quantity. However, we did launch a very limited collection of jewellery in 2019 that quickly sold out.
Found in: Utah, USA and New Mexico, USA
A Touch of History
Interestingly the element beryllium was named after the gemstone, not the other way around. It was also known as glucinium until the beginning of the 20th century. The name Beryl itself is derived from the Greek ‘beryllos’, which means ‘to become pale’ and was used when referring to gemstones with a precious blue-green colour. Another source associates the word ‘beryllos’ with “precious blue-green colour-of-sea-water stones”. From this, maybe we can hypothesise that the first variety of Beryl to be discovered was Aquamarine? However, we must bear in mind that the term may have originally applied to all blue-green stones, not just those from the Beryl family. Historically, gem names have had multiple meanings over history that have been tweaked, borrowed and mistaken for one another before settling to what we know today. Peridot, for example, was once called Topazios, before the word came to represent what we now know as Topaz.
Beryl Fact File
- Colour: Colourless, blue, pink, green, yellow, red
- Family: Beryl
- Mohs Scale Hardness: 7.5 - 8
- Lustre: Vitreous to resinous
- Crystal System: Hexagonal
- Transparency: Transparent to translucent
- Chemical Formula: Be3Al2(SiO3)6
- Composition: Beryllium Aluminium Silicate
- Specific Gravity: 2.63 - 2.92
- Refractive Index: 1.57 - 1.61
The world’s biggest faceted single Aquamarine is known as the ‘Dom Pedro’ and originates from Brazil. The exquisite piece is shaped like an obelisk and has been intricately crisscrossed with diagonal detailing. It weighs a staggering 10,363 carats, which is over 2kg (4.5lbs). The biggest faceted Morganite in the world is believed to be the Grace Morganite, which resides in the Gemporia museum adjacent to our television studio. This 988ct African Morganite has been in our possession for a decade, though we are planning on auctioning it at some point so that many more people can view it. The largest Emerald ever found is called the Bahia Emerald, which was mined in Brazil in 2001. The stone weighed a truly inconceivable 1,700,000 carats, approximately.
LEARN MORE: AQUAMARINE
LEARN MORE: EMERALD