Aquamarine, the March birthstone, is said to bring happiness to a marriage, calm waves, and keep sailors safe at sea: not surprising for a gem named after seawater. Aquamarine’s tranquil blues conjure peaceful waters and smooth sailing – unlike the often dry and desolate places where it is mined.
To find the sources of the March birthstone, we’ll have to travel across three continents, trek through rainforests and climb dangerous mountain peaks. But before embarking on our aquamarine adventure, let’s learn a little bit about the gemological properties of the gem, so that we can better appreciate where our March birthstone comes from.
The Scoop on March Birthstone: Aquamarine
Aquamarine is the blue, greenish blue to green-blue variety of the mineral beryl. Traces of iron in beryl’s crystal structure cause aquamarine’s color. Gem and jewelry lovers prize aquamarine that is medium-dark blue to slightly greenish blue with moderately strong intensity.
Aquamarine grows in beautiful six-sided prismatic crystals and can range from very small to very large, up to 100 lbs (45 kg) in some cases. Faceted stones are often exceptionally transparent and are often cut into emerald cut, round or oval brilliants. Aquamarines are usually eye-clean, meaning that they have few or no visible inclusions, and they’re often cut in sizes larger than five carats to intensify their color. So, if you go shopping for the March birthstone, you’ll probably end up with a sizable gem that is free from blemishes and other clarity characteristics.
Now that you know a little bit about aquamarine, let’s set sail to find where it’s found!
Aquamarine from Brazil
Our search for aquamarine starts in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, which has been an important source for the gemstone for the past two centuries. Travel there and you’ll find a changing panorama of landscapes: rocky hills and scrub brush dominate the central and eastern regions; savannahs, forests, and streams checker the west; and lush green hills roll southward. Minas Gerais is also a melting pot of Portuguese, African, German, and Lebanese cultures: the result of a wealth of gold, gem, and diamond deposits which exert a magnetic pull on natives and immigrants.
Teofilo Otoni, a town in northeast Minas Gerais, is our final destination. The main plaza is something of a bazaar for aquamarine and other gems. A grand Catholic church and a Spanish-style colonial building bookend the square. Street vendors sell their bejeweled wares. And in the midday sun, you may see a sloth slowly climbing down a tree as it seeks a shadier spot.
Of the countless carats of aquamarine unearthed in Minas Gerais, the Dom Pedro-Ondas Maritimas is probably the most famous. Acclaimed lapidary Bernd Munsteiner spent four months studying it and another six months working on it. The finished piece is on display at the National Gem Collection Gallery at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
Aquamarine from Pakistan
Deep in the heart of Pakistan, high in the Karakorum foothills lie aquamarine deposits. To reach them, miners climb steep paths to heights 3,000 to 4,000 meters (9,800 to 13,000+ feet), and work the sides of forbidding cliffs. The Karakorum Highway – the same route taken by Marco Polo centuries ago – winds its way through these treacherous mountain passes. Below this inhospitable rocky world lie fertile valleys, rushing rivers, and small towns. Aquamarine from this area has been described as clear as water.
Aquamarine from Africa
Our next stop in the search for the March birthstone is Africa. Aquamarine is found across the continent in Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, Zambia and Mozambique. Mines there have produced deep blue aquamarines in sizes smaller than five carats. Klein Spitzkoppe in central Namibia, about 200 km northwest of the capital city of Windhoek, a remote location surrounded by the plains of the Namib Desert, is one location that has yielded beautiful gemstones.
Aquamarine from the United States
You may not need to travel far find your March birthstone. Aquamarine is the official state gemstone of Colorado, where prospectors have been mining the gem in the Mount Antero area since the late 1800s. Like other places on earth where aquamarine is found, the search is challenging – high elevations (14,000 feet), wind, lightning storms and life-threatening cold temperatures often limit the aquamarine mining season to the summer months.
If high altitude prospecting isn’t for you, California’s Riverside and San Bernardino counties also produce gem quality aquamarine crystals, and it’s even found in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Aquamarine is a relatively abundant gem and our odyssey to find its sources is by no means exhaustive. China, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and Russia are also known to produce fine quality crystals. The relative abundance of the gem makes it a beautiful and affordable addition to any jewelry wardrobe. So whether your birthday is in March or not, treat yourself to this mesmerizing blue March birthstone, and get ready for some smooth sailing with a piece of wearable tranquility.