What is Beryl?
Beryl gemstones may be a relatively rare silicate mineral with a chemical composition of Be3Al2Si6O18. It is found in igneous and metamorphic rocks in many parts of the world.
Beryl has served as a minor ore of beryllium, and colour sorts of the mineral are among the world’s hottest gemstones. Emerald, aquamarine, heliodor, and morganite are the foremost popular sorts of beryl.
Uses of Beryl
Beryl once served because the world’s only important ore of beryllium metal. But in 1969, Spor Mountain, Utah became the source for about 80% of the world’s beryllium supply when bertrandite, a beryllium silicate hydroxide mineral, was discovered there.
The extraction of beryllium from beryl is extremely costly, and as long as bertrandite is out there in large amounts, beryl will remain a minor ore of that metal. Small amounts of beryl, mostly produced as a by-product of gemstone mining, are still wont to produce beryllium.
The most important use of beryl today is as a gemstone.
It is one of the most important gem minerals, and the gems of beryl are named by their colour as: emerald (green), aquamarine (greenish blue to blue), morganite (pink to orange), red beryl (red), heliodor (yellow to greenish yellow), maxixe (deep blue), goshenite (colourless), and green beryl (light green).
Emerald and aquamarine are far and away the foremost popular sorts of gem beryl; however, the recognition of morganite has surged since about 2010. Compared to other gemstones, emeralds are second only to diamonds in terms of the dollar value imported into the United States. Occasionally, chatoyant specimens of beryl are found which will be dig cabochons to supply interesting cat’s-eye gemstones.
Geologic Occurrence of Beryl
Beryl may be a mineral that contains a big amount of beryllium. Beryllium is a very rare metal, and that limits the formation of beryl to a few geological situations where beryllium is present in sufficient amounts to form minerals. It mainly occurs in granite, rhyolite, and granite pegmatites; in metamorphic rocks associated with pegmatites; and, in veins and cavities where hydrothermal activity has altered rocks of granitic composition.
These different types of deposits are often found together and serve as an exploration indicator for finding beryl.
Beryl is additionally found where carbonaceous shale, limestone, and marble are acted upon by regional metamorphism. The famous emerald deposits of Colombia and Zambia were formed under these conditions. The carbonaceous material is assumed to supply the chromium or vanadium needed to paint the emerald.
Physical Properties of Beryl
The most important physical properties of beryl are people who determine its usefulness as a gem. Colour is by far the most important. Colour is what determines if the gem is an emerald, an aquamarine, a morganite, etc. The quality and saturation of the colour will have an enormous impact upon the value of a gem.
The clarity is very important. Transparent gems of perfect clarity – without inclusions, fractures or other internal characteristics – are the most desirable. Finding these in an adequate size to make large gems can be difficult.
Beryl’s durability ranges from fair to very good. It has a Mohs hardness of seven .5 to 8, which helps it resist scratches when worn in jewellery. It is one of the hardest gem materials.
The primary economic use of beryl today is as a gemstone. It occurs in a wide variety of colours that appeal to many consumers. A brief description of popular gem beryl varieties is presented in the sections below.
Emeralds are gem-quality specimens of beryl that are defined by their green colour. To be considered an “emerald,” a stone must have a rich, distinct colour in the bluish green to green to yellowish green range. If the colour is not a rich saturated green, the stone should be called a “green beryl” instead of an “emerald.”
There are often disagreements between buyers and sellers on judging the colour boundary between emerald and green beryl. Some also believe that the name “emerald” should be reserved for stones with a green colour caused by chromium rather than by vanadium. Material collared by iron is almost always too light to be called emerald and usually lacks the distinct green colour typically associated with emerald.
Emerald is the most popular and valuable variety of beryl. It serves as the only birthstone for the month of May. Because it is the world’s most popular green gemstone, an alternative birthstone was not designated.
Excellent emerald crystals are often more highly valued for use as collector specimens than as gems. Cutting them into faceted gems would be a huge financial loss. Many people collect specimens of gem minerals because they are treasured not only for their ability to be used to produce gems, but also for their desirability as mineral specimens.
Emerald, sapphire and ruby are considered to be the “big three” of coloured stones. More money is spent on these in the United States than all other coloured stones combined. In many years, the United States imports a higher dollar value of emerald than of ruby and sapphire combined.
Colombia, Zambia, Brazil, and Zimbabwe are major producers of gem-quality emerald. A small amount of emerald is sporadically mined in the United States near Hiddenite, North Carolina.
Emerald may be a beautiful gem, but it’s often fractured or highly included. Most of the emerald entering the retail market has been treated in some way. Fractures are often impregnated with glass or resins to stabilize the stone and make the fractures less visible. Stones are often waxed or oiled to hide fractures and surface-reaching inclusions. Heating and drilling are often done to reduce the visibility of inclusions.
Even after these treatments, a person with a small amount of knowledge can usually look into a display case at the typical mall jewellery store and with reasonable success identify natural stones and lab-created stones by their clarity. Lab-created stones have a bright green colour and are transparent. Natural stones are usually translucent or have visible inclusions and fractures. Natural stones without these characteristics are extremely rare and have a very high price.
Many people prefer natural stones and their visible flaws. Others prefer the clarity and colour of lab-created stones and their significantly lower price. Lab-created emeralds account for a significant percentage of the stones on display and being sold in many department stores and mall jewellery stores.
Aquamarine is the second-most-popular gem beryl and is the birthstone for the month of March. Like emerald, its identity is defined by its colour. Aquamarine has a distinct greenish blue to blue colour. Unlike emerald, light-collared stones during this colour range are still called aquamarine. The stones that are richly colored are the most desirable, and the stones with a very pale colour are made into inexpensive jewellery.
Aquamarine differs from emerald in another way – it normally has far fewer inclusions and fractures. Most of the aquamarine seen in mall jewellery stores is typically eye clean and without visible fractures.
The colour of aquamarine can usually be improved by heating. Most stones entering the retail market have been heated. Many of the greenish blue stones offered for sale were distinctly bluish green or even yellow beryl before treatment.
Morganite, also known as “pink beryl” and “rose beryl,” is a rare variety of beryl that ranges in colour between yellowish orange, orange, pink, and lilac. “Rose,” “salmon,” and “peach” are common words that have been used to describe morganite’s colours. Trace amounts of manganese are the explanation for colour most morganite.
Morganite is that the third most ordinarily seen sort of beryl in jewellery stores, but the choice is usually limited, and stones with top colour are very hard to seek out. Most morganite sold in jewellery has been heat treated to improve its colour. Heating generally removes traces of yellow from the stone and converts orange or yellowish stones into a more desirable pink colour.
Some morganite has been irradiated to deepen its colour. Synthetic morganite has been produced but has not been widely marketed because morganite is not well known to consumers.
Until about 2010, three things severely limited the popularity of morganite: 1) most specimens were very light in colour; 2) jewellery manufacturers were hesitant to make a large commitment to the gem because they did not have a steady source of supply; and, 3) consumers were not familiar with morganite because it had never been strongly promoted.
However, starting in about 2010, discoveries of morganite in Brazil and improved methods of heat treatment increased the supply of morganite and improved the colour of material with a weak saturation. Since then an increasing amount of moranite jewellery has been appearing in stores.
Yellow beryl, also called “golden beryl” or “heliodor,” is a yellow to greenish yellow beryl. Yellow beryl may be a durable stone that always features a beautiful yellow colour and a comparatively low price. The public is not especially familiar with the gem, and as a result the demand is low and so is the price. People who enjoy yellow gems and want an item of jewellery with a yellow beryl will have a hard time finding it at most jewellery stores. It is most often seen in the inventory of a jeweller who does custom designs.
A few vendors call it “yellow emerald.” This name is inappropriate because the name “emerald” is by definition a beryl of green colour. The Federal Trade Commission has proposed revising its Guides for the Jewellery, Precious Metals and Pewter Industries to state that incorrect usage of varietal names is “unfair” and “deceptive.” Their proposal points directly to “yellow emerald” as an example of a misleading name.
This is a direct quote from the Federal Trade Commission’s Guides for the Jewellery, Precious Metals, and Pewter Industries (page 7, section V):
“The Commission proposes adding a replacement section that states it’s unfair or deceptive to mark or describe a product with an incorrect varietal name.14 Varietal names describes a division of gem species or genus supported colour, sort of physical phenomenon, or other peculiarity of appearance (e.g., crystal structure). Based on consumer perception evidence, this proposed section provides two samples of markings or descriptions which will be misleading: (1) use of the term “yellow emerald” to explain a golden beryl or heliodor, and (2) the utilization of the term “green amethyst” to explain prasiolite.”
Small amounts of iron are thought to produce the colour of yellow beryl, which can often be changed with heating or irradiation. Despite the fact that many specimens of yellow beryl depreciate with treatment to less valuable colours, some specimens can be heated to a greenish blue similar to aquamarine, while others can be irradiated to produce a more desirable yellow colour. Those with plans to treat yellow beryl must experiment because treatment success is variable.
“Green beryl” is that the name given to light green specimens of beryl that don’t have a tone and saturation dark enough to merit the name “emerald.” a number of this light green beryl is coloured by iron and lacks the distinct green colour related to emerald. Some is coloured by chromium or vanadium and does not have the proper hue, tone, and saturation to be called “emerald.”
The price difference between green beryl and emerald is significant, so some buyers or sellers hope to have specimens judged in their favour. This can lead to problems because a precise colour boundary between emerald and green beryl has not been defined with industry-wide agreement. Green beryl is often a beautiful gem, but it’s rarely seen in jewellery.
Red beryl is one of the world’s rarest gem materials. Gem-quality material that is large enough to facet has been found in very modest amounts in the Wah Wah Mountains and Thomas Range of Utah. Occurrences of red beryl have been found in the Black Range of New Mexico, but crystals there are just a few millimetres in length and are generally too small to facet.
Red beryl usually has a strong and attractive red colour. It has a high enough saturation that even small gems have a very strong colour. This is fortunate because most gems cut from red beryl are very small and only suitable for cutting into melee. Gems over one carat in size is very rare and sells for thousands of dollars per carat. The material is often included and fractured, and these characteristics are accepted just as they are accepted in emerald.
In Utah, the host rocks of red beryl are rhyolitic lava flows. Here, crystals of red beryl formed in small vugs and shrinkage cracks long after the rhyolite crystallized. It is thought that ascending beryllium-rich gases encountered descending mineral-rich groundwater to create the geochemical environment needed to form red beryl. Trace amounts of manganese are thought to cause the colour.
Beryl may be a relatively rare mineral because beryllium rarely occurs in large enough quantities to supply minerals. Red beryl is extremely rare because the conditions needed to supply the colour-producing manganese at the proper time to a beryl-forming environment is improbable. So, the formation of red beryl requires the nearly impossible coincidence of two very unlikely events.
Red beryl was initially named “bixbite” after Maynard Bixby, who first discovered the material. That name has been mostly abandoned because it was so often confused with bixbyite, a manganese iron oxide mineral also named after Mr. Bixby. Some people call it “red emerald,” but that name is rejected by many in the trade because it causes confusion with another variety of beryl named “emerald.”
Goshenite is the name used for colourless beryl. In most cases, colour in beryl is caused by trace amounts of certain metals that impart a colour. That is often the case for goshenite, but colour-inhibiting elements also can keep goshenite colourless.
Goshenite is usually found in large hexagonal crystals with exceptional clarity and transparency. In the Middle Ages these crystals were cut and polished into lenses for hand magnifiers, telescopes, and some of the earliest eyeglasses.
With a Mohs hardness of 7.5 to 8.0, these were some of the earliest scratch-resistant lenses.
Goshenite is sometimes cut into gemstones. These gems are mainly of interest to collectors. They are rarely used in jewellery, because they lack colour and their appearance is inferior to other colourless gems such as diamond and white sapphire.
Another rare beryl is a very dark blue material known as “maxixe” (pronounced “mashish”). The dark blue colour is thought to be developed in the ground by exposure to natural radiation. Maxixe has an unfortunate problem: the wonderful blue colour quickly fades in daylight to a pale brownish yellow colour. The colour can be restored with additional irradiation, but that colour is also quickly lost with exposure to light. Maxixe was first found in 1917 in a mine in the Minas Gerais area of Brazil. It has since been found in small amounts at a few other locations.
Beryl occasionally contains a fine silk that allows it to be cut into chatoyant gems. Aquamarine, golden beryl, and emerald are the foremost likely beryls to be found with chatoyance. When properly oriented and cut en cabochon, these gems usually produce a weak cat’s eye, but occasionally a strong cat’s eye is produced.
The most valuable chatoyant beryls are those with a highly desirable colour and a bright, thin eye that perfectly bisects the gem.
Frequently Asked Questions
A beryl are one of the following gemstones: emerald (green), aquamarine (blue), morganite (pink), heliodor (yellow), goshenite (colourless), red beryl and pezzottaite (pinkish-red to pink). Each coloured stone comes with its own name, unique physical properties and colouring element.
Due to the large variety of stones, from emerald to aquamarine and morganite, this is dependent on the type of beryl you will select for your jewellery item. Please ask one of our consultants to advise you on the price of the stone you love.
Emerald is the birthstone for May and Aquamarines is the birthstone for March.
Red beryl is the world’s rarest coloured gemstone. Only about one crystal of red beryl is found for every 150000 gem quality diamonds. Red beryl is so rare due to the formation process that requires a unique geochemical environment.
Beryl is found in Europe, Germany, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Ireland, as well as Brazil, Madagascar, Colombia, Mozambique, South Africa, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States, and Zambia