Close your eyes and picture an engagement ring. Whatever the setting, whatever the cut or size of the stone – you probably visualized a multi-faceted diamond sparkling right in the center. That’s understandable, since more than 80% of all engagement rings sold in America are diamond rings and the percentages are comparable throughout the Western world.
No one would argue that diamond rings aren’t beautiful or meaningful. But many women spend tremendous amounts of time searching for dresses, shoes or accessories which make them stand out from the rest of the crowd. Why shouldn’t their rings stand out in a virtual sea of diamond engagement rings?
One of the most distinctive and spectacular gemstones which can make that sort of statement is the aquamarine. This blue stone is a favorite of artistic jewelry designers, it makes an immediate and unique impression on the eye, and is priced more reasonably than a diamond of equal quality. Aquamarine engagement rings, to put it simply, are well worth considering before automatically deciding on a diamond.
Here’s all you need to know about aquamarines, and their suitability for engagement and wedding rings.
A Beloved Gemstone
The blue aquamarine is a member of the beryl family, and has been favored by civilizations dating back thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians and Sumerians considered it to symbolize eternal youth and happiness; the Greeks and Romans believed the stone to be a sign of friendship or love; at one time, European royalty believed aquamarine worn as a pendant or ring to be an antidote to poison; during the middle ages, it was thought to be a powerful “oracle” crystal useful in the telling of fortunes since its blue color was not only connected with the seas, but also the heavens. Various cultures credited the gemstone with the power to bring victory in battle, bring rain, relieve pain or even cure illnesses ranging from toothaches to belching.
The stone was first popularly described by the name aquamarine (which comes from the Latin term for “water of the sea”) in an early 17th century gemological publication. Stories about the gemstone, however, go back much further. It was once said that the stone came from mermaids’ treasure chests; even though most understood that to be a myth, the connection between aquamarine and the sea continued to be an important one – and not just because its color immediately brings water to mind. For millennia, the gemstone has been considered able to ensure the safety of sailors, its power has been said to be at its peak when immersed in water touched by sunlight, and the color of a high-quality aquamarine does indeed resemble the beautiful blue waters of the ocean.
As international trade increased after the Middle Ages, aquamarines became more popular around the world. Up through the 19th century, the most sought-after stones were those with a sea-green color; since that time, however, blue aquamarines have been considered more valuable, with a stone’s value increasing with the intensity of its color. Today, the popularity of aquamarine continues to grow, as a beautiful, plentiful and affordable gemstone perfectly suited for use in rings, necklaces, earrings and other types of jewelry.
The Blue Secret
What gives high-quality aquamarine its distinctive blue color? Believe it or not, it’s often heat.
Aquamarine comes from the beryl family (beryllium aluminum silicate), which also includes colored gemstones like emerald, heliodor, morganite and bixbite. It naturally occurs in colors ranging from very faint blue, green or blue-green to vibrant blue or blue-green, due to traces of iron in the stone; lighter-colored aquamarine deposits are discovered much more often than deeply colored ones. However, the color of these gemstones can often be altered when heated to extremely high temperatures, with light green beryl able to be transformed into aquamarine, and greenish stones able to be changed to purer blue ones, when subjected to high heat. Heat treatment is extremely common for commercially-sold aquamarines because it enhances their color, and does not detract from the stone’s value if done properly – all that happens is that the greenish tint is lessened or eliminated without affecting the innate qualities of the gemstone.
Many nations throughout the world mine aquamarine. Brazil and India are major suppliers of the gemstone (with Brazilian quality far surpassing that of stones from India), but deposits have been discovered and mined in nations as far separated as China and Nigeria, Australia and Kenya, the United States and Myanmar. Deep blue deposits of aquamarine are few and far between, with the intense blue stones which come from the Brazilian mine Santa Maria de Itabria (known simply as Santa Marias) among the world’s most desirable. Several other sources of gemstones with similar stunning color have been found in African nations like Mozambique; those stones have become known as Santa Maria Africana.
Some lovers of aquamarine favor the lighter stones, not only for their lower prices but for their unusual shimmering sea-green or light blue colors; in fact, some light-colored aquamarines can be crystal clear and absolutely stunning. However, pure, deep blue aquamarines continue to be the most popular, and most expensive, versions of this gemstone.
Qualities of Aquamarine
There are several reasons why this beautiful gemstone is the perfect centerpiece for an aquamarine engagement ring. Perhaps the most important is that it’s an easy gem for designers to work with; for that reason, they’re able to cut it in many different ways to highlight the stone’s natural brilliance, and simply cutting an aquamarine brings out a luster similar to that of shiny glass. They lend themselves to finely-cut edges, grooves and curves which enhance the gemstone’s reflective qualities and truly make them “one of a kind” stones. Even without special cutting, though aquamarine’s six-sided crystals are perfect for catching and reflecting light. High-quality diamonds catch the eye by virtue of the way light reflects off their facets; in much the same way, a well-cut aquamarine will immediately be noticed.
Another reason these stones work so well in engagement rings is that they are usually eye clean and transparent (or extremely close to it) – making the gemstones true showpieces. On the other hand, aquamarines occasionally have inclusions which can create a cat’s eye or star effect when the stone is viewed; cat’s eye stones are even more expensive than “normal” aquamarines, and star aquamarines, which are extremely rare, are extremely valuable.
Finally, there’s the color. A well-designed and well-cut diamond engagement ring will always stand out; even with the growing popularity of colored diamonds, however, a ring built around a diamond will always look like a beautiful yet somewhat standard engagement ring. One which features a deep blue aquamarine, however, will unquestionably be the most unusual and distinctive – as well as gorgeous – engagement ring in any room. And at a price lower than a comparable diamond ring would cost, there’s no better way to make a statement about your engagement or marriage.
Buying Aquamarine Jewelry
Now that you’re familiar with the history and attributes of this stunning gemstone, it’s time to take a look at the details which should be considered in actually purchasing an aquamarine engagement ring.
First things first: the price. As with any precious stone, the cost of a ring will vary quite a bit depending not only on the setting you choose, but the size and quality of the gemstone. Low-quality, poorly-colored aquamarines are available for well under $100 per carat, very nice blue stones can be found for $300-$400 per carat, and exquisite Santa Maria stones – even if they approach $1000 per carat – are still priced well below similar-sized diamonds. One nice thing about aquamarines is that they occur naturally in large sizes, so the per-carat price of a stone doesn’t increase once you start looking at aquamarines larger than a carat, unlike many other gemstones.
Once you’ve decided on the color and color quality of your gemstone, the other three of the “4 C’s” come into play. As mentioned, you don’t pay a per-carat premium for a larger aquamarine, so you’re free to choose as large a stone as you’d like as long as it’s within your budget – and large aquamarines can be particularly breathtaking. Because this is such a clear gemstone, there’s no reason to settle for less than an eye-clear gem (unless you plan to use them as small stones set around a larger one, or for a less-important piece of jewelry like a bead necklace). Finally, there’s cut, and since this is an important attribute of any aquamarine we’ll discuss it in a bit more detail.
If you’re purchasing a pre-cut stone, you should be sure that the cut hasn’t compromised the reflective quality of your aquamarine by looking at it from a number of angles; the light should reflect beautifully no matter how you hold the ring. If you have a number to choose from (or are having the stone cut to your specifications), emerald step-cuts are the most popular and well-suited to the properties of an aquamarine. Other common and flattering cuts are brilliant with rectangular or long shapes, and the gem lends itself well to other traditional cuts like oval, round and pear; designers will be happy to work with you on just about any type of cut you’d like, even cat’s eyes or stars if the right gemstone is available, since aquamarine is such an enjoyable stone to work with. Both faceted and cabochon cuts are available at most upscale jewelers.
An aquamarine engagement ring should last a lifetime with just a small bit of care. The stone is quite hard, registering 7.5 to 8 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, so it’s durable and resistant to scratches as long as there are no surface inclusions which can lead to chipping as time goes on. The only other thing to be wary of is wearing the ring near a stove or oven, because heat can cause the stone to change color; the wives’ tale that aquamarines should be kept out of sunlight is a fallacy, though, because the gemstone’s color is extremely stable in normal temperatures.
What To Watch Out For
It’s unusual to be duped when buying an aquamarine ring at a reputable store, but stranger things have happened – so it helps to know what to look for and what names to be wary of.
First, be suspicious if you’re paying a high price for a stone that you’re told is untreated. Just about all aquamarines are heat-treated to improve their color; unless you’re buying a low-priced gemstone that’s either a less-desirable shade of light blue or it has yellow or brown tinges, there’s probably something wrong with the deal.
There are also many blue topaz on the market, which can be quite pretty and often resemble aquamarines – but are a much lower-quality stone because they’re simply colorless topaz which has been treated with radiation. Some dealers even try to pass off heat-treated blue zircons as aquamarines. You can often tell the difference by the amount of light they reflect or the inclusions in the stone, but be sure to have the stones checked if you have any concerns. “Brazilian aquamarine” and “Nerchinsk aquamarine” are names often used to camouflage the fact that you’re really buying a blue topaz, and blue zircons are often sold as “Siam aquamarine”. If someone tries to sell you a “mass aqua” stone, run in the other direction, because it’s simply dyed glass. There are also cubic zirconia made to look like aquamarines, which can be pretty to look at but obviously aren’t the real thing.
One thing you don’t have to watch out for is synthetic aquamarines. They cost a great deal to produce, so they’re simply not worth the time and expense to create and sell.
Stand Apart From The Crowd
You’ll certainly be one of a select few if you decide on an aquamarine engagement ring. Not only will it be a unique piece of jewelry evoking the feelings of trust, harmony and love connected with the color blue – but it is considered lucky for a bride to wear a piece of aquamarine on her wedding day. Even better, you won’t have to go out of your way to find “something blue” to wear on that special day.