Written by Modern Jeweler On May 2, 2013.
In the past twenty years, aquamarine, the treasure of mermaids beloved for thousands of years, just hasn’t been getting much respect.
Jewelry manufacturers in the United States have developed the habit of jilting this blue beryl in favor of an overly abundant and less expensive look-alike: blue topaz. “It’s a matter of economics,” explains one gem cutter. Per-carat prices to jewelry manufacturers for bulk aqua are at least 10 times what they are for bulk blue topaz.
Elsewhere in the world, however, near-giveaway prices for blue topaz have not shaken loyalty to aqua. If anything, they have strengthened allegiance to it. “In America, manufacturers want color, they want look,” a dealer says. “But abroad they want lasting value.”
By lasting value he means long-term appreciation. That’s something blue topaz, which owes its blue color to relatively recently developed treatment techniques, can’t boast. The history of blue topaz makes it the gem equivalent of the LCD watch, a technological marvel that once commanded hundreds of dollars and is readily available today for less than $5.
But in recent years, the situation is changing. Jewelry designers looking for pastel gems to set in platinum and white gold decided that the color of blue topaz was too harsh for these metal’s subtle luster: more at home in sterling silver than premium metals. So aquamarine started a comeback of sorts. Its beryl brilliance looks at home in pricey platinum. And its subtle cool appeal is right for millennial minimalism.
Despite the change of heart with regard to fine aqua, it is doubtful the supply situation for fine stones will improve. First of all, production of fine aqua is spotty. Fine stones are eye-clean, a necessity with pastel-color gems, and have robust shades of blue that are a far cry from the anemic aqua hues one sees in inexpensive jewelry. “With most stones so pale, it’s no mystery why blue topaz has caught on so,” a Brazilian gem expert says.
Nevertheless, there are some who think fine aqua is far too expensive relative to fine blue topaz. They assume that because Brazilian aqua is commonly heated, it should be as easy to produce fine aqua as it is irradiated blue topaz.
That’s just not so. For while deep-color blue topaz can be produced almost at will, deep-color aqua can’t and never has been. Heating is used to permanently remove common green overtones from stones, not deepen their color. Interestingly, similar green overtones in many African aquas cannot be removed by heating in ovens, a distinct advantage for the Brazilian variety. Yet even so, Brazil can’t produce enough fine aqua to meet world demand.
So Brazilian aquamarine prices seem poised for a comeback as connoisseurs rediscover its appeal.