A cut red beryl gemstone
Reddish-magenta beryl, in a color sometimes described as “gooseberry red”, is the rarest form of beryl (a mineral family which includes emerald, aquamarine, morganite, golden beryl and goshenite). The only locality for red beryl crystals suitable for faceting is in the Wah Wah Mountains near Beaver, Utah. This is the only place in the world where gem quality red beryl has been found.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
This gemstone has several different names: red beryl, red emerald, or bixbite. The confusion about the name started in 1912, when Dr. A. Eppler named it bixbite in honor of its discoverer, mineralogist Maynard Bixby (1853-1935). This name was used for many years, along with the term red beryl. The name “red emerald” was introduced by jewelry marketers in the 1970’s and 80’s, but has not caught on. All of these names refer to the same gemstone, and you can still find it being sold under all 3 names. There has never been an agreement on an “official” name, but today, red beryl appears to be the most accepted designation.
To confuse matters further, the name bixbite has been discredited by the World Jewelry Confederation. They did this because of the risk of confusion with the rare black mineral, bixbyite (manganese iron oxide – Mn2O3), also named after Maynard Bixby.
A parcel of gem red beryl crystals
All the members of the beryl family are beryllium aluminum cyclosilicate (Be3Al2SiO3). Pure beryl is actually colorless; the various colors are the result of the presence of trace amounts of impurities called chromophores, which cause the color. Chromium and vanadium are the coloring agents in emerald; iron is the impurity in aquamarine and golden beryl; and manganese in morganite. White or colorless beryl is known as goshenite. Laboratory analysis shows that manganese ions (Mn3+) along with small amounts of iron, chromium, and calcium create the gooseberry-red color of red beryl. The color is thought to result from these trace minerals substituting for aluminum in beryl’s molecular structure.
Red beryl crystals form a seam in the host rhyolite
Although most beryls are found in pegmatites and certain metamorphic rocks,red beryl occurs in topaz-bearing rhyolites. The red beryl formation was created by the eruption of topaz rhyolite lava 18 to 20 million years ago from volcanic vents. As the lava began to cool, shrinkage cracks formed, creating pathways for high temperature gases rich in beryllium to escape. Oxidized surface water also began seeping into these cracks and mixed with the rising beryllium gases. The gases reacted with the surface water, silica, alkali feldspar, and iron-manganese oxides from the lava to form red beryl crystals. Red beryl is thought to have grown at temperatures between 300 to 650 degrees Celsius.
Red beryl on matrix
Red beryl occurs in elongated hexagonal crystals that are generally 2 –10 mm long and 2 – 6 mm thick. Most of these crystals are too small or too poor quality to be faceted. Beryl has a refractive index of 1.564-1.574, a specific gravity of 2.66-2.70, and has a hardness of 7.5 to 8.0. Red beryl crystals range in color from orange-red to purplish-red with medium tones. The largest crystal ever found was 14mm x 34mm and weighed 54 carats. An average faceted gemstone weighs only .15 carats and the largest faceted gemstone weighed 8.0 carats.
Red beryl is presently found at only three locations in the world: the Thomas Range and the Wah Wah Mountains in west-central Utah, and the Black Range in New Mexico. Lately, red beryl has been confused with pezzottaite. This rare beryl gemstone has been found in Madagascar and Afghanistan, but the two varieties can be distinguished by their difference in refractive index.
Beryl is the main source of the element beryllium, which is combined with copper to make high quality low-resistance wires. It is also used in nuclear reactors, space shuttles, disc brakes and windshields.
The Ruby Violet red beryl mine
Red beryl was first discovered in 1904 by Maynard Bixby at Maynard’s Claim(Pismire Knolls) in the Wah Wah Mountains area of the Thomas Range in Juab County, Utah. Bixby thought he had found red beryl, but sent a sample to W.F. Hillebrand, a geochemist at National College in Washington, D.C., who identified the mineral as a new type of beryl in 1905. Soon thereafter, Bixby opened the Violet Mine and began mining for gem crystals. Unfortunately, production was poor, the mining operation was not profitable, and the mine was closed.
Rex Harris, Jerry Alkema, and Gary Harris worked the mine starting in 1976
In 1958, Lamar Hodges of Fillmore, Utah found gem-grade red beryl while prospecting for uranium. He staked the Violet Claim, later called the Ruby Violet Mine. There he found larger, better quality crystals than the original Violet Mine had produced. The gemmy crystals were only found in an area measuring 900 x 1900 meters. In 1976 the Harris family of Delta, Utah purchased mining rights to the property and staked 12 claims: Ruby 1 through 4; and Violet 1 through 8. The Ruby Violet claims have been worked as a gem & specimen mine by the Hodges family and by others who leased the property from them.
The open pit at the Ruby Violet red beryl mine
In 1994 Kennecott Exploration Co. (KEC) took an option to purchase the mine,and did extensive core drilling and sampling to determine the extent of the deposit. Their study showed that a large-scale mining operation would not be profitable. Since then, other companies explored the possibility of large scale mining and marketing of red beryl from the mine, but nothing has come of it. Meanwhile, the Harris family continued their small scale operation and produced a small but steady supply of red beryl which they sold as both mineral specimens and faceted gemstones.
After the heavy machinery is shut off, the crystals must be extracted using hand tools
In 1998 a company called Gemstone Mining, Inc. of Utah bought the Ruby Violet Claim for a reported $10 million. The annual yield of red beryl from the mine was only about 5,000 to 7,000 carats a year. GMI marketed the material as “red emerald”.
For the last few years the Violet Claims have been inactive. The price tag on the property is so enormous that no one has stepped forward to buy the mine. Dwindling supplies, already quite limited, have pushed prices to even higher levels. Rumors about a new prospect being opened elsewhere in the Wah Wahs have been circulating since Tucson 2010, but have yet to be confirmed.
RARITY & VALUE
A fancy cut red beryl gemstone
Many people consider red beryl to be the rarest gemstone on earth. Red beryl is estimated to be worth 1,000 times more than gold by weight, and is so rare that only one crystal is found for every 150,000 diamonds that are mined. Top quality natural red beryl gem crystals from the Ruby Violet Claims that have been faceted sell for as much as $10,000 per carat. By comparison, gold is currently worth about $1300 per ounce (one ounce is equal to 155 carats). Only 10% of the gemstones cut from this rare material exceed 1 carat in weight. To date the largest faceted red beryl weighed 4.5 carats.
Collectors who wish to add one of these rare and coveted gem crystals to their collections should act now, before prices escalate further and good quality material becomes even harder to find.