Traditional Gem(s): Emerald, Chrysoprase
Modern Gem(s): Emerald
The emerald was once linked to health and the curing of ailments, as well as being associated with the ability to see in to the future, giving them an almost bewitching, magical reputation.
EMERALD A member of the beryl family, the emerald gets its green colour from traces of chromium. The best stones are a deep, rich green, though the colour ranges from a dark bottle green to grass green; anything paler is known as green beryl or aquamarine, though Russian emeralds have a yellowish tint.
Perfect specimens are rare and very valuable. Emeralds were found in India, Egypt and Central America, but later they were mined in Colombia and in Russia, South Africa, Brazil and Australia.
Take care when you're buying. A Brazilian emerald isn't an emerald at all, but a green tourmaline. Green garnets can also be mistaken for emeralds, while even experts can have trouble distinguishing synthetic emeralds from the real thing.
Emeralds should be treated with care as the surface is easily scratched or chipped, making the stone look dull. The stones benefit from step cutting, which is sometimes known as emerald cut; they lack the necessary fire for a brilliant cut.
The greenest of the green, emeralds were cherished by the Romans above all other gems. Find out what makes this favorite of Cleopatra's so unique.
Emerald, May's birthstone, is among the most revered and expensive of all gemstones. It has long since been regarded as the quintessential green in nature. Pliny the Elder wrote of emerald, about 50 A.D: "Nothing greens greener." The name emerald is derived from the Latin word for green, smaragdus. Its typical color is a beautiful, distinctive hue known, in fact, as emerald green. But emerald can also be light or dark green, bright green or leaf green.
Emerald belongs to the beryl family, which is a crystal structure composed of aluminum and beryllium. Other beryl siblings are aquamarine (blue, blue-green) morganite (pink, peach), goshenite (white) and helidor (yellow, gold). The vivid green color of emerald is attributed to a replacement of aluminum with chromium in the structure of beryl. There are, however, green beryls that are not emerald because they do not contain chromium.
On the Mohs scale of hardness, emerald ranks 7.5-8. While it is a hard stone (harder than quartz and slightly less hard ruby and sapphire), emerald is fairly brittle. This is largely due to inclusions inherent in the material, along which the emerald can split if exposed to sharp impact.
Today, most natural gem-quality emeralds are produced in Colombia, Brazil and Zambia. Emerald is also found in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Madagascar, South Africa, Australia, Russia and the United States (North Carolina). In fact, it has a rich history dating back 4,000 years to ancient Egypt. Cleopatra was famous for wearing lots of emeralds. Colombian emeralds have long held the reputation as being the best, but Brazil, the world's largest producer, has recently narrowed the gap in fine quality.
Recently, emeralds have been grown in the laboratory, and have begun to appear on the market, arousing some controversy. Scientifically speaking, laboratory emeralds are essentially identical to natural ones in color, hardness, brilliance, and even inclusions. Only a gemologist can distinguish between the two, which may be the source of the controversy: The industry knows the difference, but the consumer does not.
Clean emeralds with a soft, damp cloth, warm water and a soft brush. Do not use mechanical cleaners. Avoid chemicals and heat that may dissolve oils used during cutting and processing to conceal inclusions. Have a jeweler re-oil your emerald every few years. Although emerald is harder than quartz, its crystal structure makes it brittle. Avoid impacts. It is important to buy fine emerald from a reputable retailer who will provide, in writing, all pertinent information regarding the gem including enhancements and special care notes.
The soothing green color of emerald was believed to have a calming, healing affect on those who wore it. This makes sense, since scientifically speaking, green color is the least fatiguing on the eyes, because green light is "pure"--in fact, this purity is why leafy plants are green. Green light contains no nutrition, so it's the only portion of sunlight that chlorophyll pigments don't absorb for photosynthesis!
Used in the Middle Ages to foretell the future, emerald also guarded against evil spirits and were believed to cure a range of ailments from poor eyesight to infertility. Historically, emerald has been closely associated with love, since the ancient Romans dedicated this gem to Venus. Emerald has also signified hope, new growth and eternal life since it is the "color of spring." In fact, the French refer to the natural inclusions in emeralds as "jardin," French for "garden."
Emerald is mentioned in numerous Islamic texts that describe the green Garden of Paradise as carpeted in emeralds. But it has its place in the other major world religions, too: According to one version of the legend, The Holy Grail, for which King Arthur's knights searched so futilely, was supposed to have been carved from one large emerald which had originally fallen from Lucifer's crown as he tumbled from grace. And the greatest of the Hindu Moguls, India's Shah Jahan, had inscriptions carved in emeralds to be worn as sacred talismans.
The early Spanish Conquistadores were as greedy for emeralds as they were for gold when they penetrated the jungles of South America, eventually discovering the mines of Colombia, still considered the best source of top-quality emeralds in the world today. Also plundered were the gem treasures of Montezuma's Aztec halls, deep in the heart of Mexico. Among the priceless treasures lost when Spanish galleons shipwrecked on the high seas were probably some of the largest emeralds in the world. The legends of the great lost emeralds live on, from the Inca story of the ostrich egg-sized Emerald Goddess, to modern movies like Romancing The Stone, where a heart-shaped emerald called El Corazon (the heart) is discovered in Mexico (and pursued relentlessly by a Colombian!)
In addition to its place as May's birthstone, emerald is also a recommended gift for couples celebrating their 20th or 35th wedding anniversary. According to Hindu astrology, emerald is the zodiacal gem for Cancer (June 22-July 22); in the Arab tradition emerald represents Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 21).
When judging an emerald's value, its color is of paramount importance. The more vivid the green, the more valuable the stone. There are also attractive lighter green emeralds that are lively and vivid when set in jewelry and darker green gems that make up in rich green color what they lose in brightness. Generally speaking, however, very light or dark emeralds are less expensive. Unlike a diamond, a finely colored emerald is not significantly devalued by inclusions.
The fewer fissures, the more expensive the emerald. Cut natural emeralds of top quality weighing more than two carats are extremely rare and costly. A large deep green emerald with minor blue or yellow secondary coloration that is relatively free of inclusions may cost tens of thousands per dollars per carat.
Perfect natural gems--in color and appearance--are very rare and expensive. As part of the normal fashioning process, most emeralds are immersed in clear oil or resin to minimize the appearance of small fissures. In addition to oil and wax fillers, the trade also uses clear resins to penetrate open fissures surfacing in the gemstone. Hardeners are often added to solidify these liquids to prevent the resin from evaporating, thus making the enhancement more permanent than just oiling or waxing the gem. Be sure to buy from a reputable dealer who will provide, in writing, the processes and treatment that your emerald has received.
Because emeralds are brittle, and can split along their inclusions if exposed to sharp impact, properly designed jewelry should minimize the gem's exposure, especially in rings and bracelets.