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Red beryl is an extremely rare and highly collectible variety of the mineral beryl. While most people are familiar with the green variety of beryl known as emerald, and the blue variety called aquamarine, red beryl is much less well-known. Found in only a few locations worldwide, with very limited production, red beryl is a gem for serious collectors and connoisseurs. Let's take a closer look at the history, properties, and allure of this uncommon red treasure.

History and Lore

Red beryl was first discovered in the early 1900s in Utah, USA as rare, non-commercial crystals. However, it wasn't until the late 1950s that larger quantities were found, allowing it to enter the gem market. Even so, red beryl remains unique to North America, with production sporadic at best.Unlike emerald and aquamarine which have been known and appreciated for thousands of years, red beryl does not have the same depth of history and lore. Its rarity means it was never well-known or widely used historically. However, red beryl's rich, saturated red color led to it sometimes being called "bixbite" in the early gem trade after its discoverer, Maynard Bixby. This name is now discouraged to avoid confusion with the mineral bixbyite.

Description and Properties

Red beryl is a variety of the beryl mineral species, which crystallizes in the hexagonal system. Its chemical formula is Be3Al2Si6O18, the same as other beryls. What makes red beryl distinct is the trace amounts of manganese that cause its vivid red color.Some key properties of red beryl include:

  • Color: Saturated red, sometimes with a slight purplish tint
  • Transparency: Transparent to translucent
  • Refractive Index: 1.577 to 1.583 (±0.017)
  • Birefringence: 0.005 to 0.009
  • Specific Gravity: 2.72 (+0.18, -0.05)
  • Hardness: 7.5 to 8 on the Mohs scale

Red beryl's hardness and hexagonal crystal structure are inherited from the beryl mineral group. However, its color is very different from the more common green of emerald or blue of aquamarine. The pure, saturated red of gem-quality red beryl is unmatched by any other beryls.

Formation and Mining

Like other beryls, red beryl forms in pegmatites - coarse-grained igneous rocks that develop during the final stage of a magma's crystallization. The trace element manganese that gives red beryl its signature color was present in the pegmatites of the Thomas Range and Wah Wah mountains of Utah where red beryl is mined.The formation of large, transparent, gem-quality red beryl crystals requires a very specific set of conditions in the pegmatite, making it extremely uncommon. In addition, the manganese content has to be just right - too little and the color is too light, too much and the crystal becomes opaque.Mining red beryl is challenging not only due to its rarity, but also the harshness of the terrain and the remote location of the deposits. The mineral is often found in small pockets and veins within the host rock. Dynamite blasting, jackhammers, and hand tools are used to carefully extract the gem material from the rock. This labor-intensive process, along with the very low yield, contributes to the high cost of gem-quality red beryl.

Collector Quality

For collectors, the most prized aspect of red beryl is its rich, saturated red color. Unlike many other red gems such as ruby or garnet that can range from pinkish-red to purplish-red to orangey-red, gem-quality red beryl is a pure, true red. The purer and more intense the red color, the more valuable the gem.Size is another important factor for collectors. Red beryl crystals are typically small, often under 1 carat in size. Larger gems over 1 carat are rare and highly sought after by collectors. Gems over 5 carats are extremely uncommon, with very few specimens known in the 10+ carat range. The largest faceted red beryl is the 'Red Empress', weighing in at 10.3 carats.Clarity also plays a role in red beryl's value. While its formation process means many red beryls have some inclusions, the cleaner and more transparent the gem, the higher its worth. Any inclusions should not be immediately visible to the naked eye in a top quality red beryl.Finally, the cut of the gem impacts its appeal to collectors. Because rough red beryl is so rare, the priority is usually to maximize the color and carat weight rather than achieving the most ideal cut. That said, well-proportioned gems that balance color, clarity, and brilliance are the most desirable. Overly deep cuts that make the gem look too dark or shallow cuts that don't allow light to reflect back are less valued.

Treatments and Imitations

Red beryl is almost never treated to enhance its color or clarity. The rarity and value of the natural, unaltered gem means treatments are not common or accepted in the red beryl market. Any kind of treatment would need to be fully disclosed.However, there are some imitations and simulants of red beryl. Some red or pinkish orange sapphires, spinels, and tourmalines have been misrepresented as red beryl. There are also some glass imitations on the market. Careful gemological testing can distinguish these from true red beryl.

Comparison to Other Red Gems

Red is one of the most sought-after colors in the gem world. Several well-known gems, such as ruby, spinel, and tourmaline, are famous for their red varieties. However, red beryl stands apart due to its unique properties and rarity.Compared to ruby, the most famous and valuable red gem, red beryl has some key differences:

  • Mineral species: Ruby is a variety of corundum, while red beryl is a variety of beryl
  • Hardness: Ruby (9) is harder than red beryl (7.5-8)
  • Color cause: Chromium in ruby, manganese in red beryl
  • Color range: Ruby can range from pinkish to purplish red, red beryl is a purer red
  • Availability: Fine rubies are rare but still more available than red beryls

Red spinel is another well-known red gem that has even been mistaken for ruby historically. Compared to red beryl:

  • Crystal system: Spinel is cubic, beryl is hexagonal
  • Hardness: Spinel (8) and beryl (7.5-8) are similar
  • Color cause: Chromium in red spinel, manganese in red beryl
  • Availability: Fine red spinels are more available than red beryls

Red tourmaline, when the color is saturated enough, is probably the closest visual match to red beryl. However:

  • Mineral species: Tourmaline is a complex boron silicate, beryl is a beryllium aluminum silicate
  • Crystal system: Tourmaline is trigonal, beryl is hexagonal
  • Color cause: Manganese and/or copper in red tourmaline, manganese in red beryl
  • Availability: Saturated red tourmalines are still more available than red beryls

So while there are several well-known and beautiful red gems, red beryl's combination of pure red color, rarity, and unique properties set it apart. It occupies a special niche in the world of collectible red gems.

Caring for Red Beryl Jewelry

Despite its rarity, red beryl is occasionally used in jewelry thanks to its hardness and durability. However, special care should be taken with red beryl pieces due to the gem's value and rarity.Like other beryls, red beryl has perfect cleavage, meaning it can break or split along certain crystallographic directions if struck. It's not recommended for daily-wear rings or bracelets where it's more likely to be bumped. Earrings, pendants, and occasional-wear rings are safer choices.Cleaning red beryl jewelry is best done with warm, soapy water and a soft brush or cloth. Ultrasonic and steam cleaners should be avoided as the vibrations and heat could cause damage, especially if the gem has inclusions. As with most gemstones, it's best to remove red beryl jewelry before exercising, cleaning, or doing other potentially rough activities.When storing red beryl jewelry, it should be kept away from other gems that could scratch its surface, like diamond or sapphire. Wrapping it in a soft cloth or placing it in a fabric-lined box is ideal.

The Future of Red Beryl

The future of red beryl is uncertain due to its scarcity. The known deposits in Utah are not expected to last indefinitely, and no other reliable sources have been found. As the supply dwindles, prices for gem-quality red beryl are likely to continue rising.However, the increasing rarity may also drive more people to appreciate and seek out this unique gem. As awareness of red beryl grows, more collectors may enter the market. Its position as the rarest and most valuable beryl variety seems secure.There is also potential for new deposits to be discovered. As geologists learn more about the specific conditions needed to form gem-quality red beryl, exploration could uncover new sources. However, the odds of finding an economically viable deposit are low given how uncommon those conditions are.Regardless of what the future holds, red beryl's legacy as one of the rarest and most distinctive gems is unlikely to change. Its pure red color, limited supply, and unique story will continue to captivate gem enthusiasts. While it may never achieve the widespread fame of emerald or the classic status of ruby, red beryl will always hold a special allure for those who appreciate the exceptional in the gem world.

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