“Indeed there is no stone, the colour of which is more delightful to the eye… there being no green in existence of a more intense colour than this.”
Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD), Historia Naturalis
The name Emerald is derived from the Greek ‘smaragdos’, meaning ‘green gem’. Like Ruby and Sapphire for red and blue, this term was used indiscriminately to describe all green gems.
Chemical composition of Emerald
Emerald is a member of the Beryl mineral family (from the ancient Greek ‘beryllos’, meaning blue-green stone), and commonly known as the ‘mother of gemstones’ because of its highly regarded gem varieties. Apart from Emerald greens, other Beryl gemstones include Aquamarine blues, Bixbite reds, Goshenite whites (colorless), Heliodor yellows and Morganite pinks. Emerald is colored by trace amounts of chromium, vanadium and iron, with their relative concentrations causing an extraordinarily beautiful range of pastel to intense deep greens with varying degrees of bluish, brownish, grayish and yellowish tints.
While Egypt’s Emeralds are long gone, since the 16th century and the exploits of the infamous conquistadors Hernando Cortés (who campaigned against the Aztecs from 1519) and Francisco Pizarro (who campaigned against the Incas from 1526), a Colombian pedigree has become synonymous with Emeralds of exceptional quality. Discovered in 1931, Zambia has the world’s second largest Emerald deposit and is also known for producing fine quality. Other Emerald sources are Afghanistan, Brazil, Pakistan, Russia (Ural Mountains) and Zimbabwe.
The history of Emerald
Raw Emerald crystals in the mother rock
This gemstone’s history begins in Egypt; perhaps mined as early as 3500 BC, Egypt’s Emerald mines were located in Egypt’s southeastern desert region and were rediscovered in 1816 by Frédéric Cailliaud, a French mineralogist and explorer. Even Greek miners extracted Emeralds there for Alexander the Great Although Egypt practically monopolized the market, there were also other deposits. The Habachtal region in the Austrian state of Salzburg yielded a few Emeralds, and Roman earrings featuring Emeralds from the Mingora mine in Pakistan’s Swat Valley have been discovered. There is also a legend that the Scythian Emeralds mentioned by Pliny in his ‘Historia Naturalis’ were actually from Russia’s Urals. Cleopatra, last Pharaoh of Egypt, was famous for her Emeralds. She wore sumptuous Emerald jewelry and presented dignitaries with Emeralds carved with her likeness. Emeralds were more than just pretty gems to the Egyptians, they were potent patriotic symbols of national pride. Cleopatra knew this, and when she finally consolidated her power base in 47 BC, she was quick to claim the country’s mineralogical riches as her own.Since Egyptian times, Emerald has been linked to fertility, immortality, rejuvenation, and eternal spring. Pliny bestowed the benefits of Emerald to refresh and sooth strained eyes.
A wonderful example of Russian Emerald
Properties of Emerald
As a Type III gemstone, Emerald has visible inclusions which identify it. These ‘beauty spots’ are caused when the gemstone is formed within metamorphic rock (rocks that have undergone a physical change due to extreme heat or pressure) in the presence of trace amounts of chrome and vanadium. Emeralds’ inclusions and tiny fractures are termed ‘jardin’, French for ‘garden’. An additional characteristic of this precious stone is its unique brilliance. An Emerald luster is often described as ‘silky’, ‘warm’, ‘shining’ and significantly affects color, clarity and cut. The quality of cut plays a critical role; an expert lapidary will ensure the visible inclusions are placed where they do not affect the beauty of the gemstone. The classic equidistant steps of the ‘emerald cut’ are designed to reduce cutting pressure and accentuate Emerald’s satiny brilliance.
The highly sought after AAA Russian Emerald
Varieties of Emerald
Colombian Emerald has become synonymous with Emeralds of exceptional quality, but is difficult to source. This type of Emerald fascinates the world with its green, lively fire and extraordinarily pure crystals. The Nova Era Emerald is extracted from the Brazilian mines of Minas Gerais, and is very similar to Colombian Emerald, with a classic beauty and hues ranging from pale to more intense greens. Trapiche Emeralds are crystals with subtle fibrous inclusions of dark carbon, which expand from a central, naturally occurring hexagon. Another variety is extracted in Russia, where examples are distinguished by their purity and blue-green coloration.
Nova Era Emerald
Care for Emerald
Emerald may be subjected to traditional cleaning methods, but not to steam and ultrasound cleaning. The gemstone should also be checked regularly to determine whether treatment with oils is necessary.