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What Is Emerald - Gemstone Facts and Information

15 min read

Emerald is simply one of the most desirable, famous and historical gemstones of all time. Part of the Beryl family of gemstones, which also includes Aquamarine and Morganite, Emerald has been mined for around 4,000 years. From Ancient Egypt to the modern day, all those who have gazed on the intense vivid greens of the gem have fallen under its spell, and it can be found throughout time in some of the most stunning pieces of jewellery ever to have existed. Let's delve deeper into the fascinating history of this unmistakable treasure.

THE HISTORY OF EMERALD

Emerald is simply the most famous green gemstone in the world. It holds an allure that has captivated people for thousands of years and inspires generation after generation of gemstone enthusiast. The stone has possibly the richest history, too. Pliny the Elder (23 - 79 AD) was mesmerised by this crystal, as was the Incan Empire in South America (1438 - 1533 AD) who had been using it in their jewellery for 500 years before trading with the 16th century explorers in order to obtain precious metals.

Emerald Infographic

This precious stone has been held in high regard since antiquity. The first known mines were in Egypt, and date back possibly as far as 4,000 BC, incredibly. Cleopatra was said to be hypnotised with the unique charm of this gemstone, and so adorned herself in the very finest Emeralds. The Greeks, who were working at the mines of Alexander the Great, were said to have yielded their gems to the Egyptian Queen too. In 1817, Cleopatra’s mines, which were once thought to be nothing but myth, were re-discovered on the coast of the Red Sea, adding significant credibility to her legend.

Emerald jewellery selection

Its name is derived from the Greek word ‘smaragdos’, a name once given to a number of gems with the colour green in common. The world evolved over time to the current ‘Emerald’, and the given name ‘Esmerelda’ also translates to Emerald. Representative of the colour of spring, Emeralds are said to signify hope, new growth and eternal life. The intense colour of the gemstone has long been associated with the lushest of landscapes. For example, Ireland is known as the Emerald Isle and Seattle as the Emerald City. The association has even crossed over into works of fiction, such as the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz.

Pliny the Elder, the author of ‘Natural History’, wrote of Emerald “...no colour is more delightful in appearance. For although we enjoy looking at plants and leaves, we regard Emeralds with all the more pleasure because compared with them there is nothing that is more intensely green”. Although not a believer in myths, Pliny did go on to say, “And after straining our eyes by looking at another object, we can restore our vision to normal by gazing at an Emerald”. He also correctly identified Emeralds as part of the Beryl family.

Shah Jahan, the architect of the Taj Mahal, wore Emeralds as a talisman and had them inscribed with sacred text. His Mogul Mughal Emerald is noted as one of the most famous Emerald pieces of all time and dates back to 1695. It is an impressive 10cm tall Colombian Emerald and weighs 217 carats. In September 2001 it sold for $2.2 million dollars at auction to an anonymous bidder, though by 2009 it was in the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar. Another renowned Emerald is the 632ct Patricia Emerald, which was also found in Colombia and is named after the daughter of the mine owner. It is still in rough crystal form and is on display in the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Emerald was revered as a holy gemstone by the Incas and Aztecs and was associated with Venus, goddess of love and beauty, by the Romans. Emeralds have long adorned the rich and famous, with Richard Burton memorably buying Elizabeth Taylor a whole suite of exquisite Emerald pieces during the filming of (appropriately enough) Cleopatra in 1962. When these pieces were auctioned after her passing, they broke auction house records. Queen Elizabeth II has a number of incredible Emeralds in the Royal Collection including the Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara and the Delhi Durbar Necklace. There are also 11 Emeralds in the Imperial State Crown, and many of the other Crown Jewels also feature the stone. We travel the world in search of the finest Emeralds from Colombia, Brazil, Zambia and further afield, and each of these valuable gem sourcing communities attach significance and meaning to their green treasure. In 2013, Emerald was chosen as Pantone Colour of the Year such was its immense popularity around the globe.

EMERALD GEMSTONE INFORMATION

Emerald is the birthstone for May and the anniversary gemstone for the 20th, 35th and 55th year of marriage. It is the ideal birthstone for May as its deep bright greens perfectly reflect the new life and regeneration of nature during spring time. Emeralds are a member of the Beryl family of gemstones, making them a close relative of Aquamarine, Morganite, Golden Beryl and Heliodor. Emeralds are coloured green by impurities in the gem’s crystal structure – usually a mixture of chromium and vanadium and sometimes iron. Their colour ranges from pure green to yellowish or bluish green.

Emerald in yellow gold with Diamonds

Emeralds displaying bluish overtones are generally sourced from Colombia. These are highly coveted and considered by connoisseurs to be some of the world’s finest. Unfortunately, these Emeralds are becoming increasingly more rare as mine owners are having to dig deeper and deeper - and with very little success. Other popular sources of Emerald include Brazil, Pakistan, Siberia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Emeralds can vary considerably in their tone too. Some, from areas such as Bahia in Brazil, can be as low as 50% in some instances, but some of the finest Emeralds we’ve ever seen tend to have a tone of around 70% to 75%.

Emerald is one of the few gemstones where the array of inclusions and imperfections are not only welcomed but often serve as part of the beauty of each stone.

To own an Emerald is to own a piece of history, a piece of nature and a work of art. Each one is truly individual. The most endearing characteristic of Emerald is that each stone has its own personality. Every Emerald pulled from the earth is undeniably unique and Emerald is one of the few gemstones where the array of inclusions and imperfections are not only welcomed but often serve as part of the beauty of each stone. These famous inclusions are often referred to as ‘jardin’ (the French word for garden) and they give each piece a distinctive fingerprint, adding to its beauty and making each gem truly one-of-a-kind. We like to think of them as the fingerprints of Mother Nature. An Emerald’s colour is also an important factor as an Emerald must have a perfectly balanced tone of green, not too light or too dark, or it risks falling into the category of Green Beryl.

Emerald in white gold with Diamonds

The gem world is a strange place to reside if you are looking for logic and reason. With so many other green gems available with almost perfect clarity and in some cases greater rarity, it is not at all logical that Emerald is still viewed as the king of the green gems. Its price is often greater than that of Diamonds of a similar carat weight, sometimes by a factor of three for the finest specimens. So when you own an Emerald, treat it as your own work of art, get to know its lines, its patches, its identity and don’t let anyone tell you it is anything other than gorgeous - after all beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some Emeralds have an almost velvety appearance, which along with the unique inclusions of each stone are considered to be part of the gem’s character. As a general rule, a vivid Emerald full of inclusions will normally demand a higher price than a flawless one that is paler in colour.

Emerald jewellery

Because of their brittle crystal structure and mass of inclusions, cutting the gem is a real challenge. Very few gem cutters will even attempt to cut larger Emeralds, and the likes of Tel Aviv in Israel and Jaipur in India (where the vast majority of Gemporia stones are cut) have produced many lapidarists who specialise in cutting Emeralds. Most Emeralds on the market are treated at the time of cutting with wax, oils or resins. Unlike nearly all other gemstones, most treatments applied to Emeralds are not permanent and to maintain the gem’s unrivalled beauty, need re-applying every five to 10 years. For Emeralds from Brazil and Colombia, if they are over one carat in size it’s safe to assume that the gem has undergone treatment. Historically the waxes and oils were added to increase the Emerald’s brilliance by filling its fissures and cracks. Today these non-permanent treatments have been in the main replaced by modern polymers that feature a very similar refractive index to the Emerald. These treatments are so good that most gem laboratories are unable to spot them, so once again, unless your gem is supplied certified, it’s best to assume treatments have been applied. For more information of how to look after Emeralds, see below.

Most people prefer the hue of their Emerald to be a pure green, but most have a secondary colour of either blue or yellow and, occasionally, both can be witnessed simultaneously. Many a gem expert will tell you that the most valuable Emeralds must not feature any blue or yellow secondary colours, however both yellowish or bluish undertones have their advantages. Firstly, if an Emerald has a slightly yellowish tone in natural daylight it should look balanced under indoor or candle light. If on the other hand an Emerald has around 10% to 15% blue within its body colour, then it often makes the Emerald appear warmer and livelier. To answer the question "How much are Emeralds worth?" is not at all straightforward, so click here for our separate article on Emerald valuations. At Gemporia we only source the finest Emeralds. They must showcase the textbook Emerald body colour and the perfect balance of clarity with characteristic inclusions suspended within the stone to make each Emerald a unique treasure.

EMERALD CRYSTAL HEALING

Gemstones are as old as time and in the years since their first discovery they've picked up a lot more than adoring collectors and fascinated mineralogists. Many have gained stories regarding their legend, lore and healing properties, and whilst there's no evidence to suggest that any of these properties are real, it's still interesting to explore the esoteric side of Mother Nature's miracles. It's worth asking ourselves, "If you truly believe in something, does that mean it's true"? Scientifically, the answer is no, but what about on a more personal, spiritual level? If you really truly believe that an item in your house is having an effect on you, are you more likely to feel that effect? It's really not for us to say, but it's a very interesting concept that deserves further research. Once again though, we must point out though that no studies have ever found any therapeutic effects or properties in gemstones, and the following is for your information only.

Emerald has long been thought of as the stone of compassion, unity and unconditional love. It has been used as a healing stone to bring a freshness and re-invigoration to the spirit. It has also been said to imbue its owner with the positive qualities of loyalty, patience and friendship and has been linked with reviving passion, whether that be for a job, a hobby or a person. Countries from which the gem is sourced have their own local interpretations of the stone too. A Zambian man once said that wearing an Emerald was believed to reveal the truth or falseness of a lovers oath and also served to make one an eloquent speaker. In Columbia they say that the Emerald allows the wearer the ability to foresee the future as well as to reveal truth and protect against evil. Emerald is also the zodiac gemstone associated with the sign Cancer.

GEMOLOGICAL PROPERTIES OF EMERALD

  • Colour Green Green (yellowish green through bluish green)
  • Family Beryl
  • Mohs Scale Hardness 7.5 - 8
  • Specific Gravity 2.67 - 2.78
  • Refractive Index 1.560 - 1.605
  • Lustre Vitreous
  • Crystal System Hexagonal
  • Transparency Transparent to opaque
  • Chemical Formula Be3Al2(SiO3)6
  • Composition Beryllium Aluminium Silicate

WHERE IS EMERALD MINED?

Emerald mine map

Where do Emeralds come from? Well, we consider ourselves very fortunate at Gemporia to be able to source Emerald gemstones from right across the globe. We pride ourselves on the quality we source and always bring the very best colour and cut to our dedicated collectors. South America is famous for its fine quality Emerald, and below we visit this part of the world via our Carnaiba Brazilian Emerald. But we also bring you very high grade Emerald from Siberia and Zambia, two locales that couldn't have more extreme climate differences if they tried. There are other sources too, so keep an eye out for those across Gemporia, and for more help on how to choose the perfect Emerald for you, please click here.

EMERALD VARIETIES

Zambian Emerald

Zambian Emeralds are immediately distinguishable from other sources of Emerald by their stunning deep 'green fire', remarkable brilliance (which isn't particularly common in Emerald) and their amazing lustre. Emerald has only been mined in any kind of scale in Zambia since 1976, and the gem very quickly established itself as one of the finest global sources. Emerald has long been known for its characteristic 'jardin' inclusions that are part and parcel of owning this gem, sometimes known as Mother Nature's fingerprint. The finest quality Zambian gems also display remarkable clarity and exceptional colour, with a subtle but very slightly bluer appearance than some of their counterparts. Most Zambian Emerald are mined from an area known as the Fwaya Fwaya Emerald Belt. This translates to 'Look, Look', presumably after the startled response of the first person to dig up one of these unmistakable beauties! Even if you've been collecting Emerald for years, if you don't yet own Zambian Emerald, it needs to be seen to be believed.

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Siberian Emerald

From the near-equatorial climate of Zambia we head to one of the coldest places on the planet. Siberian Emerald combines breathtaking clarity with the perfect tone and saturation of colour - the essential 'Goldilocks' of Emeralds, with everything being just right. From the same area as the impossibly rare (and now depleted) Russian Alexandrite deposit, these stones are among some of the finest Emeralds ever discovered. Siberian Emerald was one of the earliest parcels of gems we were able to source when we began in 2004, and helped us establish our reputation for sourcing very high quality gemstones. The sheer rarity of the gem did however mean an eight year wait before we were able to source our second parcel. Of all the gems we source, this is very high on the list of 'get it when you see it' stones.

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Carnaiba Brazilian Emerald

How could we look at Emerald varieties and not visit South America? Emerald has been found in this part of the world for over 1,000 years, although it was the Spanish Conquistadors in the 1530s that really started to take advantage of the deposits in Colombia. Despite numerous small discoveries, it was actually 1963 before large scale mining was able to commence in the country of Brazil - and the source of this deposit is Carnaiba. These Emeralds are characterised by a lighter colour than those from Colombia but can be found in quite large carat weights with a rich, almost easy-going green fire that is sought after by many collectors. The mine is near the Brazilian state of Paraiba, from which a famous variety of Tourmaline originated, and is just 50 miles from Santa Terezinha, another famous source of Brazilian Emerald.

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Rough Emerald

HOW TO CLEAN EMERALD

Emerald can be oiled to improve its appearance, a treatment which dates back many hundreds of years. Oiling is widely used for Emeralds across the industry, but this does make cleaning Emerald a more delicate operation. Never subject an Emerald to ultrasonic or steam cleaning. They can be cleaned with warm soapy water and a soft brush, although try not to submerge your Emeralds for long. If you feel your stone has lost some shine and character over the years, it may need to be re-oiled. This is a highly specialised process and will need to be done by a professional jeweller. Resist the temptation to use any "do it yourself" guides as any mistakes will be irreversible.

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HOW TO CARE FOR EMERALD

Emerald is a 7.5 - 8 on Mohs scale, so it's relatively hard wearing. That said, harder gems such as Ruby, Sapphire and Diamond will scratch Emerald should they come into contact, so it's always best to keep each individual piece of jewellery in its own box or soft pouch. Don't let Emerald get too hot or let it soak it in water, and if you're not wearing it it's best to keep it out of the sunlight too, though this is more a precaution so don't worry about wearing it if the sun is shining. Take it outside and enjoy that enviable green glow.

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WHERE TO BUY EMERALD

You Emerald has been waiting to find you, its custodian, for an unfathomable amount of time. Its story only really starts when you first see your piece, and when you put the jewellery on and enjoy it for the first time. Whichever tone, whichever source and whichever size appeals to you, one thing is for certain - you will not be able to take your eyes of the mystical green glow of this treasure of the ages.

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