By Ashley Bailey
, Monday, August 07, 2006 12:00 AM
Was aquamarine the first wedding gem? A couplet in a late 11th century poem by the Bishop of Rennes specifically mentions this sea-blue and green beryl in a context of matrimony. It is one of the earliest such references to an exchange of gemstone rings:
This potent gem, found in far India’s mines,
With mutual love the wedded couple binds.
By the time the churchman wrote these lines, aquamarine was a highly revered gem - with a long history dating back to 3500 B.C. when it was first found in Egypt. By 1500 B.C., it was used for amulets in India, then as beads for jewelry in Greece and later carvings in China - all before the birth of Christ.
The name aquamarine is an amalgam of Latin words meaning "water of the sea." Roman artisans prized this gem for use in carving intaglios, figures engraved below the surface of a stone to appear like a design in relief. Charlemagne (742-814) owned an intaglio of Julia, daughter of Emperor Titus, carved in the first century A.D.
Although aquamarine has been prized for millennia, it was never found in any great quantity until Spanish explorers discovered it in Brazil in the late 17th century. Ever since, this country has been the single biggest producer of the gem. However, since 1960, Africa has become the largest collective producer with significant mining in Kenya, Madagascar and Zambia. China has also been a source but the bulk of its material is pale powdery blue to nearly colorless. Colorado briefly mined aqua with such success in 1910 that it later became the state gem.
Since 1911, it has been the official birthstone for March.
Aquamarine often occurs in large flawless crystals which yield sizable clean stones. The largest such crystal, found in 1910, weighed an astonishing 520,000 carats (243 lbs.). It is common to heat aqua at medium temperatures to eliminate traces of green and grey. The enhancement is permanent and in no way harms the stone. However, some stones resist color alteration.
Connoisseurs expect aqua to be eye-clean and a deep mouthwash blue.
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