Emeralds are fascinating gemstones. They show the most beautiful, deepest and most brilliant green imaginable: Emerald green. Inclusions are allowed, and nevertheless, in top qualities fine Emerald are even more valuable than diamonds.
The name Emerald was derived from French "esmeraude” which in turn goes back via Latin to the Greek root "smaragdos”, meaning simply "green gemstone”. There are uncountable adventure stories involving this splendid gemstone. Even the ancient Incas and Aztecs in South America, where the best Emeralds are still being found today, worshipped it as a holy stone. However, probably the most ancient occurrences which were known are located near the Red Sea. These gemstone mines were already exploited by Egyptian Pharaohs between 3000 and 1500 B.C., gained fame under he name of "Cleopatra’s Mines”, but had already run out when they were rediscovered.
Many centuries ago in the Veda, the ancient sacred writings of Hinduism, there was written down information on the valuable green gemstones and their healing power: ”Emeralds promise good luck”, or ”The Emerald enhances your well-being”. It does not come as a surprise, then, that the treasure chests of Indian Maharajas and Maharanis contained most wonderful Emeralds. One of the largest Emeralds in the world is the "Mogul Emerald”. It goes back to the year 1695, weighs 217.80 carats and is about 10 cm high. One side is inscribed with prayers, on the other side there are engraved opulent flower ornaments. The legendary Emerald was auctioned off at Christie’s of London for 2.2 million US dollars to an anonymous buyer.
Emeralds have been coveted ever since ancient times. Some of the most famous Emeralds can therefore be admired in museums and collections. For example, The New York Museum of Natural History not only shows a cup from pure Emerald which was owned by Emperor Jehingar, but also a Colombian Emerald crystal weighing 632 carats. The collection owned by the Bank of Bogota contains no less than five valuable Emerald crystals weighing between 220 and 1796 carats. Also in the Irani State Treasure there are guarded some wonderful Emeralds, among them the tiara of ex-Empress Farah.
Green of Life and of Light
Emerald green is the colour of life and of eternally returning spring. For centuries, however, it has also been the colour of beauty and of eternal love. Even in ancient Rome green was the colour dedicated to Venus, goddess of love and beauty. Today there are still many cultures and religions where green holds a special position. For example, green is the holy colour of Islam. All states of the Arabian league sport green banners symbolising the unity of their religion. But also within the Catholic church green holds an important status, as among the liturgy colours green is considered the most natural and elementary one.
Splendid Emerald green is a colour communicating harmony, love of nature and a primeval joy of life. You cannot ever get too much of this unique colour, as Pliny already pointed out "Green is pleasant to the eye without tiring it.”. Green is characterised as fresh and full of life, never as monotonous. And as this colour keeps on changing gradually between bright daylight and artificial lamplight, Emerald green in all its hues and shades will preserve its vivid energy.
Fingerprints of Nature
The vivid brilliance of its colour makes Emerald a unique gemstone indeed. But really good qualities are rare, as inclusions will often spoil the impression - traces of an active history of origin characterising the gemstone. Fine inclusions, after all, do not diminish the value; on the contrary. An Emerald of deep, vivid green with inclusions will be valued higher than an inclusion-free stone of paler colour. Almost endearingly, experts call the many crystal inclusions or fissures which are so typical for this gemstone a "jardin”. The tender green plant-like structures in the Emerald garden are considered as identifying characteristics of a naturally grown Emerald.
Where do they come from and why are they acceptable? In order to answer this question we must look back in history over 65 million years to the times when Emeralds were created. From a chemical-mineralogical point of view, Emeralds are beryllium aluminium silicates achieving the good hardness of 7.5 to 8. Like blue Aquamarine, pale pink Morganite, golden Heliodor and pale green Beryl, Emerald is also a member the Beryl gemstone family. Pure Beryl is colourless. Colours only exist when traces of certain elements are added in the process. For Emerald, traces of chrome and vanadium are mainly responsible for the fascinating colour. These elements usually occur concentrated in the Earth crust at completely different locations from beryllium, and therefore Emeralds should not exist at all. However, in the course of extreme tectonic processes these contrary elements were brought together and created one of our most beautiful crystals in the process of crystallising under enormous heat and high pressure. Due to the tensions involved in the geological conditions there occurred several smaller or larger disturbances during creation. And a view inside the heart of an Emerald, with a magnifying glass or a microscope, will tell us something about the wild and vivid process of creating this unique jewel: there may be smaller or larger fissures recognisable, perhaps there will be a miniature crystal or a small bubble within, and a variety of structures may be discerned. Some of these phenomena had the time to heal out in the growth phase and show the serrated three-phase-inclusions, which are so typical for Colombian emeralds: cavities filled with liquid, often containing also a small gas bubble and tiny crystals.
Obeying the laws of logic, such a history of creation makes it virtually impossible for larger crystals to grow without imperfections. Therefore, then, it is a rare event indeed when a larger emerald of good colour and good transparency is found. And this is why such fine Emeralds are so valuable. But the very fact that Emeralds have a vivid past mean that we like to see traces of this in the stone - provided there is only a fine "jardin” apparent in the stone, and not a wildly overgrown and untamed jungle of a garden, which negatively effects colour and transparency.
The World of Fine Emeralds
Colombia is still the main country of occurrence for fine Emeralds. About 150 mining sites are known there, but not all of these are currently being exploited. The most famous names in this context are Muzo and Chivor, where even in pre-Colombian times the Incas mined Emeralds. The economically most important mine is Coscuez. Estimates ascribe about three quarters of the current Colombian emerald production to the about 60 locations belonging to the Coscuez mine. Colombian Emeralds are set apart from Emeralds of other origin by their especially fine and brilliant green which is not influenced by any bluish tinge. Depending on the place of occurrence, the colour of Emerald may vary. This fascinatingly beautiful colour is highly coveted in the international Emerald trade, so that even visible inclusions which can be discerned with the mere eye are acceptable. But Colombia has more to offer: from Colombian Emerald mines occasionally there come Emerald rarities on the market, like "Trapiche-emeralds” displaying a six-ray-star , or like the extremely rare Emerald Cat’s Eye.
Although undoubtedly the best and finest qualities of emeralds are from Colombia, it would be wrong to suppose that the "birthplace” of a stone automatically guarantees immaculate quality. Fine emeralds are also found in other countries such as the Zambia, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan or Russia. Mainly Zambia, Zimbabwe and Brazil have gained an international reputation for fine Emeralds. From Zambia there are exported excellent Emerald crystals in a beautiful, deep emerald green showing good transparency. Their colour is usually darker than that of Colombian stones and often has a fine bluish undertone. From Zimbabwe’s famous Sandawana mines there come usually smaller, but very fine Emeralds in a vivid and deep green, often with a slight yellowish-green shade. Brazil’s gemstone mine Nova Era at present even challenges the famous Colombian Emerald mines: their production of Emeralds in beautiful shades of green compete in their attractive beauty with the gemstones offered by the neighbouring country. Because of the occurrences found in Africa and Brazil, Emeralds are fortunately available in larger amounts today than in earlier times - much to the pleasure of their fans.
A Capricious Gemstone
The good hardness may well protect Emeralds from scratches to some extent, but its brittle structure and the many fissures can make cutting, setting and cleaning the stone somewhat problematic. Cutting Emeralds always means a new challenge even for experienced cutters, on the one hand because of the high value of the rough crystal involved, on the other hand because of the frequent inclusions. But this does not diminish their fascination with the unique gemstone. They have developed a special cut, especially for Emeralds: the so-called emerald-cut. The clear design of the rectangular or square cut with its bevelled edges underlines the beauty of the valuable gemstone perfectly, while at the same time offering protection from mechanical strain. Emeralds, however, are also cut in many other, usually classical shapes. But if the raw material is veined by a multitude of inclusions, it is often cut as softly rounded cabochon or as Emerald pearls, which are especially popular in India.
Many Emeralds today are treated with oils or natural resins. This is customary in the trade, but it has the effect that the green jewels react often quite sensitively to in-expert treatment. For example, they must not be cleaned ultrasonically. The substances used by the cutter in the process of cutting or applied subsequently seal the fine openings on the surface of the gemstone and these would be removed in the course of such a cleaning procedure - resulting in a rather matted gemstone. Therefore Emerald rings should always be removed before the hands are immersed in any kind of detergent.
A Question of Trust
As Emerald is not only one of the most beautiful gemstones, but also one of the most valuable ones, there are unfortunately a multitude of syntheses and imitations. How can you feel safe that you do not fall for one of these impostors? The best strategy here is to buy your gemstone from an expert of your trust. Especially larger emeralds should only be purchased with an accompanying certificate provided by a renowned gemmological institute, where modern methods of analysis will be employed to assess a stone and separate natural from synthetic Emeralds, and where you will be informed about any treatments the stone was subjected to that you should know about.
And now a last piece of advice for buying Emeralds: other than diamonds, which show their sparkling brilliance even in sizes below one carat, a coloured gemstone should be preferred in larger sizes. There does exist beautiful jewellery set with smaller coloured stones as decorative accents, but Emeralds like other coloured gemstones will best display their brilliance in larger dimensions. How big your perfect Emerald should be - this depends on your personal preferences and also on your purse. Really big Emeralds of good quality are rare. In these cases the price for an Emerald of top quality will be higher than the price for an equally large diamond of the same weight. After all - Emerald is a gemstone with a unique fascination …