The colours of natural and synthetic beryl (ideally Be3Al2Si6O18) have been attributed either to the presence of chromophore ions partially replacing Al and/or Be (Cr3+, Fe2+/3+, Mn2+) or to the occurrence of colour centres related to the presence of multi-atomic groups. However, no full explanation has been proposed for the blue colour in natural beryl gemstones (aquamarine) despite it being well established that bluish-green synthetic aquamarines containing Fe turn blue when heated for 1 h at 400°C.
A X-ray absorption near-edge spectroscopy (XANES) study at the Fe K-edge was performed on blue beryl crystals from Licungo pegmatite (Mozambique) to ascertain the speciation state of this colouring element, reported in blue sapphire (ideally Al2O3) as a mixture of Fe2+ and Fe3+ in octahedral coordination. The general trend of the spectra is the same when synchrotron radiation (SR) impinges along the c axis of the hexagonal crystal, as well as along the a axis with c vertical. Conversely, a shoulder in the absorption edge is noticed when the incident beam is perpendicular to c, with this axis horizontal in the polarization plane of the SR beam, a reverse in the relative intensities of the two post-edge features is simultaneously observed. Pre-edge features accounting for Fe speciation (valence plus coordination) are identical in all three situations. Considering previous approaches which account for polarization, an explanation is suggested for the special effects observed on the Fe K-edge XANES spectra of analysed blue beryl crystals. Ideas on the origin of the blue colour of this mineral are also presented.