Today's Quiz: Who is Martha Rocha and why is her name forever linked with March's brilliant blue birthstone — the aquamarine?
Back in 1954, Maria Martha Hacker Rocha was a statuesque 18-year-old Brazilian beauty queen. After winning the title of Miss Bahia in her home state, she went on to become the first Miss Brazil and was the runaway favorite to win the Miss Universe pageant.
Although she eventually earned runner-up status to American Miriam Stevenson, Rocha won the hearts of fans all over the world. They were taken by her beauty, class and captivating blue eyes.
Back in Brazil, gemstone merchants were trying to come up with names to describe the various color nuances of aquamarine, the blue member of the beryl family. The rare, intense blue aquamarines from the Santa Maria de Itabira mine in Brazil were called "Santa Maria." Similar-color aquamarines from Mozambique and other countries in Africa were named "Santa Maria Africana." Lighter hues were named after the Brazilian state where they were mined, specifically "Espirito Santo."
Right about the same time as Rocha was competing on the world stage, an incredible aquamarine crystal was found on a farm near Teofilo Otoni, Brazil. It weighed approximately 74.5 pounds and the color was so rich, so intense that the Brazilian gem dealers needed to distinguish it from the rest. They named it "Martha Rocha" as a special tribute to the Brazilian beauty queen with the captivating clear blue eyes.
Even today, gem experts use "Martha Rocha" as a classification of tone and intensity when rating the finest-color aquamarines. Aquamarines are mined in many countries, including Nigeria, Madagascar, Zambia, Pakistan, Mozambique and the U.S., but most of the finest-quality gemstones still come from Brazil.