What do you know about Brazil? When I think of Brazil, I think of the Amazon rain forest and their capital Rio de Janeiro, where the last Olympics was.
But they have a pretty amazing array of gemstones there, too, so let's talk about that. Brazil is unique in terms of not just the quantity, but the variety. No other country really comes close. When it comes to geology, they hit the jackpot, that’s for sure!
Stunning coastline of Rio de Janeiro
Diamonds in Brazil
Perhaps you think of South Africa for diamonds. And yes, they have their share. But long before diamonds were discovered in South Africa and DeBeers took over the diamond trade, Brazil suppled the world’s diamonds. They were discovered in the early 1700’s by gold miners, and Brazil spent the next 100+ years as the world’s primary diamond source.
Today, Brazil only supplies a small amount of diamonds to the market. Diamond mining is not hugely industrialized, like it is in other counties. In Canada and South Africa, two of the largest diamond producers, the mines are drilled deep into the earth, with plenty of miners, and large corporations (Rio Tinto, for example) behind the effort churn out a lot of diamonds.
That is not the case in Brazil. Instead of being underground, their diamonds are alluvial, meaning they’ve traveled to their current location via water. So they're typically found in riverbeds or near streams by a local miner.
Emeralds and other beryls
Besides diamonds, Brazil, along with their neighbor, Columbia, provide a consistent supply of the world’s emeralds. The mining areas of Bahia and Minas Gerais have been providing us gorgeous green gems for centuries now. Not only are they beautiful, they are big, too! In fact, the Bahia Emerald, which was mined in 2001, weighs over 750 pounds!
Pricing for emeralds varies dramatically. They're very different from diamonds, which have specific cuts, price reports, and a whole wedding industry devoted to them. Just as an example, though, the gorgeous ring below will only set you back about $50,000!
They also have other stones in the beryl family, like morganite.
And aquamarine. Below is a picture of the largest cut aquamarine in the world, currently housed at the Smithsonian Museum of National History. It was found in the 1980’s and named “Dom Pedro,” after Brazil’s first two emperors, Dom Pedro Primeiro and his son, Dom Pedro Segundo. A stunning example of gem carving!
Dom Pedro aquamarine (image courtesy of the Smithsonian)
HStern, local superstar
Flower ring from HStern
Of course, we can’t talk about Brazil and its beautiful gemstones with talking about Hans Stern. A Jewish immigrant who came to Brazil to escape the Holocaust, he became known as the "king of the colored gems." He was determined to market only Brazilian gemstones. So he got to know local miners, trained artisans, and educated people about the route from mine to market. Seeking to eliminate the distinction between precious and semi-precious stones, he said all colored stones were beautiful, and I wholeheartedly agree!
Although Hans died in 2007, his iconic luxury jewelry company, HStern, remains. It represents both Brazil and colored gemstones on the world stage, as it has since 1945. If you are having a conversation about Brazil and jewelry, HStern will be part of it. They are everywhere! At the airport, at your hotel, along the beach, in the city. They have 95 retail stores throughout Brazil, and 18 in Rio alone.
The company has moved away from being known primarily for large colorful gemstones. They are now more design-focused, with frequent artistic and high-profile collaborations.
Amethyst ring from HStern
The wonderful HStern also does something that no other company does – they do tours! Inside their Rio facility, they show you how how the gems are mined, how they are sorted, and then cut. You can see artists sketching and designing, metalsmiths making a ring, and jewelers setting stones.
Amethyst & Iolite
If you’re a fan of purple gemstones like I am, Brazil is home to both amethyst and iolite. Brazil is lucky enough to have the world's largest amethyst deposits, and not surprising, they're currently the world's largest producer of amethysts on the market.
Besides amethyst jewelry, I see a lot of the geodes for sale. It's a great way to see the crystal structure, and there's a lot of variety online.
Amethyst geode heart
Iolite is sometimes called water sapphire, because its pale color often appears watery. The nice thing is that amethyst and iolite jewelry are inexpensive, although iolite can be a bit hard to find.
Citrine, Topaz, & Tourmaline
If you are a fan of yellow or orange stones, there’s definitely something for you! Like citrine.
And topaz. Brazil doesn’t just have topaz, it has the amazing Imperial topaz. Imperial topaz is known for its beautiful color range, said to resemble the setting sun. The beautiful Brazilian city of Ouro Prêto is the world’s only source for imperial topaz.
Imperial Topaz (image courtesy of E. Boehm, RareSource)
Brazil had a gold rush in the early 1700's, and that's how all the gemstone deposits were discovered. And the mining followed after that. For topaz, aquamarine, chrysoberyl, tourmaline, kunzite and morganite.
Tourmaline is one of my favorite gemstones. They come in almost every color, but I love watermelon tourmaline the best.
Watermelon, or bi-colored tourmaline, from Brazil
And now for your viewing pleasure, more lovely Brazilian gemstones.
Earrings featuring kunzite and emerald from Brazil
Alexandrite ring showing the day-night color change
The thing I took away from this post as I was writing it was COLOR. Brazilian gemstones are all about color. They have a virtual rainbow there! I’ve talked before about my love for colored gemstones. What about you? What’s your favorite gemstone from this great country?
This post has been edited and updated since it was originally published on June 23, 2016.