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Red Beryl

In an ideal world, red beryl would be prized just for what it is. And what it is, to quote Gem and Gemology’s landmark 1984 article on this Utah stone, “is the rarest of all gem beryls.”

But because this is a far-from-ideal world where hardly any consumers have an acquaintance with it, red beryl is prized for what it isn’t: emerald. Or wasn’t.

Named “bixbite” in 1912 and unsellable ever since as such, a few dealers have recently found they can make mini-markets in this beryl by selling it to collectors as red emerald. Although this tactic infuriates many in the trade, marketers say they have no choice. Being a beryl just doesn’t excite potential buyers. Being an emerald does. Besides, these sellers ask, what harm is done since the two gems are members of the same family? Hmm….

While the two share family ties, the relationship is more like that of cousins than siblings. And there’s the rub. For the past few centuries, the word “emerald,” derived from the Greek word smardagus, has referred to a wide, but by no means complete, gamut of green beryls (today it refers to green beryls with chromium). Before that, however, smardagus included nearly every green gem known. Hence, some gemologists think it stretching terms to suddenly make a word that has long meant “green” to also mean “red.”

But, hey, we’re not taking gemology here. We’re talking gem marketing.

In this sphere, it is kosher to substitute the name of a gem species’ most popular variety for its family name. Or so say defenders of the name “red emerald.” Isn’t, they ask, every variety of corundum, except ruby and padparadscha, called “sapphire”—despite the fact that the original word for sapphire, sapphirus, meant blue? And didn’t the Tanzanian government christen a rare green zoisite with the name “tanzanite”—despite the fact that the name referred solely to the blue variety of zoisite?

Well, if words for blue can take on chameleon qualities, surely words for green can also. “Which would you rather buy: blue beryl or aquamarine?” asks Ray Zajicek, the dealer who coined the name “red emerald” in 1990. “Aquamarine, of course. So why buy red beryl when you can buy red emerald?”

Zajicek is convinced that without the name of “red emerald,” connoisseurs wouldn’t be paying top dollar for this gem. Is greater salability reason enough to play name games with emerald?

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Red Beryl