Bixbite (Red Beryl)

Emerald is the most famous member of the beryl family, which also include aquamarine, morganite and golden beryl. But emerald is not the rarest of the beryls. That distinction belongs to red beryl, also known by the name bixbite.

All the members of the beryl family are beryllium aluminum cyclosilicate by chemical composition. Pure beryl is actually colorless; the various colors occur from the presence of impurities, such as chromium and vanadium (emerald), iron (aquamarine, golden beryl), and manganese (morganite, red beryl). White or colorless beryl is known as goshenite.

Red beryl or bixbite was first described in 1904 based on a discovery at Maynard's Claim in the Thomas Mountains in western Utah, USA. It was named after Maynard Bixby (1853-1935), an American mineralogist. The name bixbite has now been deprecated by CIBJO, the World Jewellery Confederation, to avoid confusion with another mineral, bixbyite, also named after Maynard Bixby.

Concentrations of red beryl at the initial site were very small and the material was not gem quality. Gem-quality material was not discovered until 1958 by Lamar Hodges, who was prospecting for uranium in the Wah Wah mountains of Beaver County, in southwestern Utah. Twelve claims were staked: Ruby, 1 through 4; and Violet, 1 through 8. The claims were worked as a hobby mine by the Hodges family and by intermittent leases, known as the "Ruby Violet claims."

In 1998 a company called Gemstone Mining, Inc. of Utah bought the Ruby Violet Claim for $10 million. The annual yield of red beryl from the mine is only about 5,000 to 7,000 carats a year. GMI is marketing the product as "red emerald," and touts it as one of the rarest gemstones in the world. Prices run as high as $10,000 a carat for top specimens. Most red beryl specimens are under a carat. A 2 to 3 carat stone would be considered very large.

Some of the red gems being sold in the market as red beryl or bixbite are actually Pezzottaite, a new gem variety discovered in Madagascar. Pezzottaite is also very rare -- but not yet as valuable as bixbite -- but is a different mineral altogether, with a different chemical composition, density and refractive index. A new find of pezzottaite in Afghanistan has made this new gemstone more widely available. Red beryl is so rare that it is wise to always insist on certification from a recognized gemological lab when buying this gemstone.

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