Book Review: Emerald and Other Beryls
(John Sinkankas)

Reviewed by Stephen J. Bespalko

Lithosphere (September 1996); Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society, Inc.; Fallbrook, CA

This is the second book on a single mineral family that has been reviewed here (the first was Amber by Patty Rice). Although this book discusses more than just emeralds, the green gemstone is by far the principal topic of the book.

Beryl should be of special interest to amateur collectors because it is one of the most valuable gems that can still be collected in southern California from surface deposits -- at least this was possible near Hemet two or three years ago. Also, clear goshenite beryl is occasionally found near Indian Flats Campground, Warner Springs, in San Diego County.

This is a monumental book by the grand master of mineral books, John Sinkankas. The book is expensive and only available in hardcover edition, but for the amateur collector it is worth every penny. This is the best of Sinkankas' works. It shouldn't be difficult to get the author to autograph the book (a must if the book is going to be a gift for some fortunate mineral hunter) since he lives in San Diego and frequents many gem and mineral shows in the county.

The book is organized into three sections: History and Lore, Chemical and Physical Properties, and Beryl Locations. The first two sections comprise approximately one quarter of the book each, with the final section covering locations in 70 (yes, count them) countries. Fortunately, the United States is the country covered in the most detail, with southern California receiving a considerable amount of the attention. There are a significant number of color drawings and photographs, and all are sharp and clear. There are also a nearly countless number of black and white drawings and diagrams -- making this a book that could easily double as a coffee-table edition. To help convey the sheer joy I experienced while reading this book, a few of the more significant highlights will be covered.

The first three chapters cover the mining and use of beryl in ancient times. Unlike most historical overviews, these chapters are full of interesting and humorous material. For example, it seems that until well into the eighteenth century, mineralogists weren't quite as knowledgeable as one might have thought. A drawing from a mineral book written in the 1640's shows plates of quartz crystals labeled as beryl (spelled "beryllorum"). And, who can argue with:

Of all green things which bounteous earth supplies
Nothing in greenness with the Emerald vies;
Twelve kinds it gives, send from the Cythia clime,
The Bactrian mountain, and old Nilus' slime;
And some from copper mines of viler race
Marked by the dross drawn from their matrix base;

You have to read the book to find out what this means, but it will not give the "story" away to let it slip that this was written in 1511.

Some of the more interesting properties attributed to the beryl family stem from the Occult. Fortunately, beryl and emerald are both highly sought for their "good" properties. These include Courage, Dignity, Discretion, and Eloquence. Also, emerald is the way to go if you need to uncover adultery or confer chastity. Although demons are summoned by gazing into a beryl, emerald drives away demons and mermaids. It may also be that the world's first pair of sunglasses were made for Nehru out of emerald!

The second part of the book is decidedly more technical than the first. Even here, where it would be easy to lose the casual amateur, the material is extremely easy to read. Particularly, the chapter on crystallography is probably the best treatment of a single mineral in the literature. It turns out that beryl can develop the same color banding patterns that is occasionally seen in tourmaline. The book describes both the radial banding (along the long axis as would be referred to as watermelon tourmaline) and banding in slices through the long axis (such as that referred to as bi- or tri-color tourmaline). Although no pictures of such specimens are presented in the book, possibly because the source is the former USSR, the mere thought of such a specimen is enough to make the mind reel.

The chapters in the middle portion of the book cover other technical topics such as cutting beryl and identifying synthetic vs. artificial beryl. The distinction between the latter two is that the synthetic material is an attempt at creating the actual gem, whereas artificial beryl is an imitation with a less expensive material such as glass. The final chapter of the section is classic Sinkankas: It is a brilliant description of the geology of beryl deposits, and ranks with the best work in his other highly regarded books (such as Field Collecting Gems and Minerals). With the chapter on crystallography, these are my favorite chapters in all of his books.

The second half of the book contains the descriptions of beryl sites throughout the world. If you are wondering why it is necessary to include information on seventy countries, the answer is simple: The author included a tremendous amount of technical information on the differences among specimens from each of the major gem-producing locations. This includes color, index of refraction, size, and crystal configurations. Although most of us won't be buying gems from anywhere near the majority of sites, the information in this volume provides enough information to make it possible to verify, with a fair degree of certainty, the lineage of most stones suitable for a collection. Put another way, the book is certainly adequate to determine the main characteristics of almost any specimen likely to be of interest to collectors at any level. One caveat is that price is not discussed at all -- so even if you are certain that a specimen is the real thing, you still need to do careful research on what to pay for the stone.

Of course, since no book is perfect, it is appropriate to point out that the wart on this volume is the package of Benson and Hedges cigarettes used for scale in a picture of a monstrous gemmy blue aquamarine crystal (Figure 17). The aforementioned blemish obscures the front of part of the crystal. The aquamarine appears to be about the size of a three gallon glass jug (23 inches by 15 inches) -- making it the most impressive specimen pictured in the book. It is sad that the photographer didn't have the sense to use something more appropriate to establish the immensity of the stone. To add insult to injury, the same crystal appears in another picture on page 388, this time with two hands clutching the stone. Alas, the caption provides some hope for our seeing the stone in a more flattering setting: The stone was known to be intact as of 1980.

To be sure, the problems with this book are minor. It is one of the best mineral books available, whether or not you are interested in beryl.

Emerald and Other Beryls by John Sinkankas; Geoscience Press; ISBN 0-945005-03-2; approximately $60.

Copyright © 1996 by Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society, Inc.

The preceding article was originally published in the September 1996 issue of Lithosphere, the official bulletin of the Fallbrook [California] Gem and Mineral Society, Inc; Richard Busch (Editor).

Permission to reproduce and distribute this material, in whole or in part, for non-commercial purposes, is hereby granted provided the sense or meaning of the material is not changed and the author's notice of copyright is retained.

Last updated: 18 September 2002