For over 6,000 years, emeralds have mesmerized people with their gorgeous green glow. Endless stories have been written about the nature of emeralds, from ancient Egyptians believing they represented fertility, to the modern age where they are coveted as signs of wealth, nobility, and associated with various energies in new age mysticism.
These have been desirable throughout time and today serve as the May birthstone, a stone for focus, and hold other forms of mystical attraction. Emeralds have been mined to some degree or another in every continent on earth, yet they remain among the most rare of popular gemstones.
Emeralds hold a timeless and evocative place in the human consciousness. In this article we will seek to explore the nature of the emerald, it's nature via both scientific and mystical exploration, it's care, where to mine them, and where to buy emeralds
What is an Emerald?
Scientifically speaking, emeralds are a gem quality stone in the family of the beryl mineral group. Emeralds are fairly hard, reaching a 7.5 to 8 on the Moh's scale of hardness, this is what makes it ideal for shaping facets and setting into jewelry for everyday wear.
The name "emerald" comes from an Old French term "esmeralde" which merely means "green gemstone." This is evolved from Vulgar Latin "esmaraldus" which came from the older Latin "smaragdus" that was taken from ancient Greek pronounced as "smaragdos" that has roots in the Semitic languages. It is likely that this was brought from Egyptian linguistically after the Semitic peoples migrated out of Egypt and back to the Eastern and Northern areas of the Mediterranean as Egypt is the oldest known location of Emerald use in jewelry.
Within the beryl group of minerals is blue aquamarine, pink morganite, golden heliodor and pale green beryl. These different hues are created when trace elements become added to the beryl matrix. In the case of aquamarine, a bit of iron creates the sea-blue tones. However, in emeralds, the vibrant green is the result of chromium and vanadium entering the beryl matrix. This chemical mix which miraculously results in the beautiful gems we call emeralds occurs across many rock matrices from igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rock substrates throughout the world. See the section "Where are Emeralds Mined?" for more details on this.
Even though Emeralds are on the harder end of the Moh's scale, it can be a brittle gem because of how common fissures and inclusions are. Even skilled gem cutters experience an intense challenge when cutting and shaping emeralds. Due to the nature of the emerald, a rectangular or square cut with beveled corners was invented over time and named "the emerald cut" precisely because it was crafted to meet the challenges of the stone and to enhance its natural beauty.
As mentioned previously, the emerald is a green-hued form of beryl crystal, in its most pure state, beryl's chemical composition is Be 3Al2Si6O18 and it is commonly referred to as "goshenite". Because it is color and not mineral composition that defines the green beryl as an emerald rather than merely green beryl the determination of what IS and what IS NOT an emerald has been hotly contested over the years. The consensus among jewelers and gemologists seems to be that the distinct hue is a green tone that falls in the range between blush green and slightly yellowish green. The color must also be rich, rather than pale or weak saturation. A weaker tone would be called "green beryl" while a greenish blue would be "aquamarine" and a greenish yellow would be "heliodor."
Because of this confusion and disagreement, there has been a proposal to qualify emeralds as ONLY those stones whose green hue is caused by the presence of chromium in the gem matrix while those colored by vanadium would strictly be labeled "green beryl". However there is still a great deal of debate. Ultimately the emerald is agreed upon to be a Beryl gem in the green tones mentioned above. Other countries seem to have no problem calling any beryl with green tone an emerald while the debate continues in the United States.
The primary reason for this debate is that calling a gem "emerald" rather than "green beryl" has a powerful impact on the marketability and price point of the gem.
Along with the gems ruby and sapphire, emerald rounds out the "big three" of colored gemstones. These big three colored gems are responsible for more sales and jewelry production than all other colored gemstones combined. In fact, the United States imported more emeralds alone in 2015 than the total of all other colored stones outside the big three.
There exists a rare variety of emerald called a trapiche emerald, this has an interesting pattern of six zones that pattern out with a black shale matrix separating the sectors. The cross section appears as a wheel with six spokes. These are uniquely found along the eastern region of Columbia's Emerald mining region. This is caused when fluid is over-pressured and then released in a way that causes rapid crystallization of the emerald, trapping the black shale matrix with the growth sectors of a natural emerald crystal.
Aside from naturally occurring variants of the emerald, there are many methods of producing synthetic emeralds in a lab. Synthetic emeralds were first produced in the mid 1800s by crushing low grade, non-jewelry quality emeralds into a fine powder, then heating them into a supersaturated solution under pressure and forcing them to recrystallize. In the 1930s, Carroll Chatham perfected the process in such a way that commercial quantities of synthetic emeralds could be produced and Chatham Created Gems paved the way for mass produced synthetic gemstones to enter the market. These synthetic gems are not fake gems made of glass or of some other material like Cubic Zirconia made to have the same color as emeralds. Rather, these created gemstones are chemically identical to natural gemstones.
While synthetic gemstones are worth less than natural gemstones, most people cannot tell the difference even upon close examination. Under a microscope, however, the differences become clear. A synthetic gem crystallizes rapidly as opposed to most natural emeralds which crystallize slowly. This rapid crystallization produces bubble-like wave patterns from a hydro-thermal process or a chevron pattern that repeats symmetrically throughout the gem. Because the difference is microscopic, these lab-created emeralds are often sold right beside natural emeralds in jewelry stores across the United States.
Synthetic emeralds will have superior clarity and a more uniform appearance than natural stones at the same price point. For this reason, many emerald lovers are happy to have the synthetic gem stone as it allows them a more beautiful stone than they could afford in a natural gem.
In What Countries are Emeralds Mined?
Unlike most gemstones, emeralds can only form when two different rock types fuse with one another through heat and pressure and then these hydro-thermal liquids cool following the surge in pressure. For this reason there are deposits of emeralds which form due to metamorphic rock that is already billions of years old fusing with younger granite rock that is only a few million years old. Meanwhile there are emeralds which evolve through sedimentary rock deposits which are typically heterogeneous in nature anyway. For this reason, emeralds can have the same chemical composition, but have completely different properties based on where in the world they were formed and subsequently mined.
While we know emeralds were used for jewelry and ornamentation for nearly 6,000 years, the oldest purpose built emerald mines that can be identified are at Mount Smaragdus in 1500 BCE and shortly thereafter in what is now Austria and India around the 14th century BCE. Throughout the ages of empires, the emerald mines in Egypt were accessed and exploited. When Cleopatra was queen, she was intensely enamored with the green hue and pushed emerald mining into overdrive, producing a legacy of the gem for herself and for Egypt. In the early 19th century when these Egyptian mines were rediscovered, they had been completely exhausted and now only ruins lie where legacies began.
It isn't known exactly when the Incas and Aztecs began mining in Columbia, Brazil and a few other small pockets in what is now South and Central America. However, it was the Conquistadors of the 16th century who looted the people that brought attention to the cache of emeralds. It was an emerald bracelet sent to Spanish royalty which piqued the interest of this new stone source. The Spaniards continued searching the land until they found the mining source. A large volume of the stones from Columbia were sent to India for processing. India had been mining and cutting Emeralds since the 3rd century BCE and had become highly renowned in shaping the stones.
During the Spanish Conquest of what is now South America, the city of Manta was said to have held an emerald the size of an ostrich egg which was adored as a goddess named Umina. According to Spanish records, this was only displayed on high holy days and the people would bring gifts to the goddess. Pedro de Alvarado, Garcilasso de la Vega and their crews were said to have plundered the offerings of smaller emeralds; however the massive Umina evaded them and has fallen into legend.
Meanwhile, Hernando Cortez, the famed conqueror of Mexico stole massive chunks of emerald from the Aztecs. However, the ship carrying his prize was wrecked and only stories returned to Spain of huge emeralds carved into the shapes of flowers, fish and other natural shapes used in temples.
Interestingly enough, it was through European invaders taking the raw stones to India for cutting and shaping for sale in Europe and the Iberian peninsula that put Colombian emeralds in central focus. The global emerald trade was begun! It was because of this act that Columbia became the nexus point for most of the world's emeralds. Royalty from around the globe began demanding South American green emerald stones to adorn jewelry of all sorts, from rings to necklaces, bracelets to brooches, and even crowns!
Since Colombian mines were controlled by Europeans in fairly recent history, they remain the largest producer of emeralds. The over 150 deposits across Columbia, mined at Muzo, Coscuez, and Chivor produce anywhere from 50-95% of the annual global production of emeralds (fluctuating by year of course). Columbia is also the only place in the world where trapiche emeralds are known to exist.
The other major source of emeralds in in Zambia, the second largest producer of emeralds in the world provides about 20% of the gem quality stone production. The Kagem mines are situated about 28 miles (45KM) southwest of Kitwe and extracts the gems from the Kafubu River deposits. In the first 6 moths of 2011 alone, they produced nearly 3.75 tons of emeralds. This makes the Kagem mine the largest single emerald mine in the world.
Zambian emeralds are highly prized due to their exceptional clarity and deep color. Zambian emeralds are still surging in popularity since the source was discovered in the 1920s but not properly explored and tapped as a resource until Gemfields purchased the rights in the 1970s. Today the mine owned by Gemfields stretches 41 square kilometers.
In 2018 a massive emerald dubbed "Inkalamu" (Lion) was discovered in these mines. Inkalamu weighed in at a whopping 1.1 kg and 5,655 carats. It was praised for remarkable clarity and golden green hue. However, Gemfields was not overly impressed as in 2010 they had already unearthed a King Kong sized emerald which, at 6,225 carats, was dubbed "the elephant".
The United States is not generally well known for producing emeralds as there are very few (on a global scale) that have been mined in the USA. However, from around 1894 until the 1990s, the mines of North Carolina have produced sporadic high quality emeralds. Tiffany and Company owned what is now known as The Crabtree Emerald Mine in Spruce Pine, NC. Fine, clear emeralds were drawn from this mine including tons of emerald bearing pegamite that was marketed as an "emerald matrix" for slab and cabochon cutting. Many of the Cabochons out of North Carolina display emerald and tourmaline prisms against a white matrix of quartz and feldspar. The mine appears to be exhausted, however several high quality specimens are known to come from there from time to time.
The more popular mines near Hiddenite, North Carolina are continuing to yield quality emeralds. From 1995 until 2010 over 20,000 carats of emeralds came out of the mines operated by North American Emerald Mines. The largest of these was a 6 inch long 1,869ct crystal that is valued at $3.5 million and is displayed at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. In 2009, a farmer found a massive emerald on his property just 14 feet below the surface which was 310 carats and dubbed the "Carolina Emperor". The cut weight of the Carolina Emperor was only 64.83ct but that still made it the largest cut emerald ever found in North America. The quality of the Carolina Emperor has been compared to the one owned by Catherine the Great. It is now owned by the NC Museum of Natural History and is valued at over $5 Million.
As it is plain to see, even a location which does not produce a large volume of emeralds, can still produce spectacular specimens worthy of royalty and adoration. For this reason, gem collectors and jewelers continue to look with interest at locations around the world that produce emeralds even in smaller quantities. These include mines in Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Madagascar, Pakistan, and Russia. These are all known for having very fine emeralds, though smaller in size. Each country produces emeralds with their own unique tonal qualities. as the specific mineral influence in the beryl changes slightly worldwide. Brazil, notably, is the only place outside of Columbia where the trapiche emeralds can be found.
Finally, it is worth noting that in 2015 a sizable deposit of Emeralds were discovered in Ethiopia and their exceptional color and clarity may rival those in Zambia. Speculation is that the emeralds of Ethiopia may be the greatest emerald discovery in over a century.
How is a Colombian Emerald Different from a Zambian Emerald?
Since Columbia and Zambia are currently the two biggest suppliers of all the world's emeralds, most people are curious about the difference between emeralds mined from the two nations.
Every emerald source has unique properties, without diving too far into the geological rabbit hole, the beryl mineral group is greatly affected by trace minerals present in the crystal growth areas. Emeralds, as mentioned before, are caused when beryl crystals are tinged a beautiful blue-green (emerald green) by chromium and vanadium. Other trace minerals alter this tone or the clarity of the crystal slightly from one location to another.
The major differences between Colombian and Zambian emerald are as follows:
Zambian emeralds tend to be darker than Colombian and have a slightly blue undertone due to trace amounts of iron.
Colombian emeralds have more noticeable "jardins" which are caused when Chromium (which gives emeralds its fluorescence) disrupts the crystals structure with inclusion patterns. This makes each gem quality emerald even more unique. By contrast, Zambian emeralds have far fewer inclusions. While some believe the inclusions give character to the gem, others prefer more clarity.
Generally speaking, Colombian emeralds are more expensive when compared to similarly sized Zambian ones because of the long history and prestige of the Colombian emerald look. However, due to the high volume of inclusions, Colombian emeralds are more difficult to cut and this contributes greatly to the price. This is because the inclusions require a much greater skill level and volume of labor to prevent cutting away the best color layers of the stone.
It is important, however, to bear in mind that when choosing an emerald for one's collection or for jewelry that personal taste factors greatly and while one collector may covet Colombian emeralds, another may prize Zambian emeralds. Both are valid in their views. Gem selection in many ways is highly subjective, but later we'll look at what you can think about when shopping for an emerald or emerald jewelry.
What Makes Emeralds a Popular Gemstone for Jewelry?
Emeralds have a hardness on the moh's scale of 7.5 to 8 on a 10 point scale (due natural variation between different gems) which make it ideal to be turned into jewelry as the hardness level lends to greater durability without being brittle.
As mentioned before, the emerald is known to have natural inclusions, many of these are visible with the naked eye and this makes the emerald fascinating to be cut into rounded cabochons or beads. Because of these inclusions, it is standard practice to treat emeralds with oils, waxes, resins, polymers and other substances which penetrate into the fractures caused by inclusions to seal them and make the emerald more brilliant.
The "Emerald Cut" which is rectangular or square cut with beveled corners is designed to bring out the beauty of the gem while protecting it from strain of being set. This shape emphasizes the color depth and richness of the emerald by leading the eye into the depth rather than drawing to the sides as other cuts do. The cut is a natural choice because of the shape of a "perfect" emerald is a tall, six-sided crystal, so the rectangular cut allows the gem cutter to obtain the most beautiful and interesting face of that crystal shape.
However, all of these technical elements of fascination are modern reasoning for the popularity of emeralds. Because of the uniquely green tone that has just a hint of blue and the natural fluorescence of emeralds, they have captivated the attention of people for over 6,000 years and that is only based on writings that we have proof of! The 6000 year old papyrus extolling the virtues of the emerald is itself referencing another, ostensibly older document!
Cleopatra famously coveted the green gem and pursued efforts to obtain as much as possible, mining Egyptian deposits to exhaustion. Elizabeth Taylor, who coincidentally played Cleopatra on the silver screen, also had an obsession with emeralds as they complimented her unique eye colors. Elizabeth Taylor's famous emerald pendant sold in 2011 for a record-breaking $280,000 per carat for a total sum of $6,578,500! In ancient Greek and Roman culture we see the emerald being prescribed by great thinkers such as Aristotle for channeling healing energies.
So we can see that the emerald has captivated the attention of humans for thousands of years based solely on the scientifically measurable and quantifiable aspects of unique color, shape, and complexity of inclusions and patters that nature provides. However, there is the inexplicable mysticism that surrounds this green beryl gem and that can only be understood by diving into the mystical attributes of the emerald.
What are Mystical Properties of Emeralds?
Before looking into what has been said about emeralds, please note, dear reader, that this writer does not wish to replace medical advice from a physician with the use of emeralds. We share this information only as a source of knowledge for why emeralds have captivated mankind's attention, not to instruct people in any form of mysticism or crystal healing magics.
Aristotle was known to prescribe the use of emerald amulets to prevent epilepsy, the gem would be worn around the neck or as a ring for adults. He urged people to have their children wear emeralds to ward off epileptic fits as he believed that the energy patterns emitted from the gem would align their minds to ward off the "falling sickness" as it was called.
The emerald is referred to as a "seeker energizer crystal" by those who practice crystal focus based mystical arts. A seeker is said to contain the crystal energy structure that aligns natural energy of the crystal itself to the power of the human mind in ways that help one to find new horizons and capabilities. They are like energy compasses. People who fancy themselves to be an adventurer, hunter, explorer, or wanderer are advised to wear emeralds. Professionals who are scientists, researchers, writers, politicians and other leaders of professional or social circles are also advised to rely on the focal energies of the emerald. This explains why so many members of royalty, heads of state, and affluent people throughout history have sought out the stone for prominent wear and display.
The emerald is said to help boost intellect, enhance memory, and elevate analytical power of the individual. Because it also has the power of an energizer, it is also able to enhance the powers of other stones that it is placed with to act as a conduit of focus for energies. This allows the people using the emerald and other gems partnered with it to have enhancements in whatever they are meant to do. This is because the unique green-blue tone of emerald puts them in harmony with the universal energy of life and creation. So it connects and enhances all things.
Since the emerald is said to be in harmony with the universal energy of life and creation, crystal healers have recommended that emeralds be used to help eliminate depression and insomnia as it increases mental ability and energizes the mind with focus while soothing anger and gives peaceful dreams. The emerald harmonizes positive influences of Mercury, so the domains of Mercury such as eye sight, learning, teaching, communication, etc are all improved.
The emerald is said to be connected to the heart chakra, so chakra practitioners may suggest using the emerald to revive passion. Often this is done by wearing an emerald pendant concealed within one's clothing near to the heart. As a tumbled rather than faceted gem, the emerald is said to promote good self esteem and is suggested for teenage girls who are often plagued with bullying and teasing.
Indian astrology and mysticism outlined in the Vedas declare that emeralds are the gem of good luck and which improves one's well-being. The Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan, who build the Taj Mahal was known to have sacred texts inscribed on emeralds which he then wore and used as talismans for specific luck in tasks and everyday life.
In Indian lore, the Sanskrit word "marakata" is derived directly from the Greek word "smaragdus" which we know to be derived from Egyptian. So we see the most ancient civilizations of Greek and Indian connected directly to Egypt for the name of emerald, lending further proof to the idea that Egyptians were the first to utilize and promote the emerald over 6000 years ago.
Indian mysticism continues to promote the concept that the emerald is a sacred stone of the planet mercury and that it brings wisdom to the wearer. This has led Indian astrologers to prescribe the use of emerald for anyone who has the planet Mercury in their birth charts. Those who have a Gemini, Virgo, Libra, Capricorn, or Aquarius ascendant in their charts ought to wear the emerald as a lucky stone and astronomical remedy. Anyone born under Geminis and Virgo should also use this sacred green stone of emerald. However, even authors who have spent many years of research advise that persons who wish to use stones connected to their astrology should consult a person who specializes in Vedic astrology for the right match and method of wear.
Mystical gem experts agree that the first emerald one wears for energy focus should be 3ct or larger in size and it should be set in either gold or bronze (bronj). The first day you wear a new emerald ring or pendant/amulet/tabiz should be on a Wednesday and it should be first placed on your body immediately at sunrise or two hours after sunrise.
Western birthstones and zodiac representations historically placed the emerald with June, however now it has shifted to represent May, the sign of Cancer and magnifies the spirituality of Taurus and Capricorn.
In Feng Shui Emerald is said to represent the energies of wood. Therefore, for Feng Shui, the emerald would focus the energies of growth, expansion, new beginnings, health, and nourishment. It would bring abundance and keep the household growing and vital. The recommendation from Feng Shui experts is to place emerald in the place where a new project is being worked on, in the room of a small child. It should be placed in the east or southeast corner of a room.
When considering the modern appreciation of the emerald through mysticism, it is worthwhile to reflect upon the ancient lore of Egypt. Even though very few still adhere to the ancient Egyptian mysticism, it is from Egypt that all emerald lore seems to derive.
Egyptian mystics considered the emerald to be a symbol of eternal life. Matrix emeralds or similarly colored stones were used in amulets bearing engraved texts and prayers from the Book of the Dead. These were then placed on the body for burial. The uat (Papyrus scepter) is cut from matrix emerald and placed on the necks of mummies to symbolize eternal youth and the hope was to help the dead have greater enjoyment in the afterlife.
It was a first century Egyptian magician, Hermes Trismegistos, who carved the words which supposedly held the key to all magic "As Above, So Below" on a pure emerald tablet. It is easy to see how the Ancient Egyptian treatment of emeralds spread and connect to the way emeralds are perceived in cultures all over the world.
In ancient customs, people believed that the emerald was born of pure white and then it matured to the meadow-green bluish hue over time as it gathered more cosmic/divine energy. This is likely due to the way a Beryl crystalline structure could be seen as a clear/white crystal that then changes to an emerald as the chromium and vanadium element traces influence the hue of the stone.
The Emerald has a place in Judaism as the fourth stone for the breastplate of the high priest as mentioned int he book of Exodus. It is worth noting, however, that some translations place the emerald as the third stone, engraved for the tribe of Levi. Jewish legend also states that an emerald was one of the four precious stones given to Solomon by God which endowed him with power over all creation.
For Christians, the Book of the Revelation of St. John, the writer compares the rainbow around the throne of God as being like an emerald (Rev. 4:3). Therefore, early Christians used the emerald to symbolize resurrection into the new life. Christian emerald jewelry was fashioned to represent hope, and the revelation of truth.
How Should I Take Care of Emerald Jewelry?
As we have mentioned before, emeralds have natural inclusions. This makes them fascinating as a stone, however, the pits do give opportunity for dirt, oils, and other things to enter and soil the stone. Therefore, a lover of emerald jewelry should take great care to ensure that the stones do not become filthy as the process of cleaning them, if done incorrectly, could irreparably harm the stone.
Emeralds will attract grease and detergents equally, for this reason it is ESPECIALLY important to make sure one does not leave emerald jewelry on while washing dishes. It should go without saying, but one should not wear emerald jewelry while engaging in physical activity such as yard work, athletic exercises and games, or general housework.
Understand that nearly every emerald sold in today's market has been enhanced in some way with colorless oils or resins. This is a very standard practice, and this is why extra care must be given to your gorgeous green gem. Otherwise detergents would strip away the resins and oils which would leave your emerald looking very flat and dull.
Avoid any ultrasonic cleaning bath, steam cleaner, acetone or general purpose cleaner. Excessive heat is also a bad idea, if it's too hot for you, then it's too hot for your emerald. Jewelers can usually provide a decent cleaning service and can advise you on a schedule based on how frequently you wear your emerald jewelry.
The best advice aside from a professional cleaning is to use room temperature running water and an extra soft toothbrush to gently clean the underside of the emerald to remove the accumulation of grease and dirt. You can immediately see an emerald brighten after a proper cleaning. If you feel the emerald is especially dirty, seek out a mild cleaner that is designed for use with emeralds. Once you are satisfied with the cleaning, rinse the emerald with warm (NOT HOT!) water and pat it dry, let it rest and air dry completely before wearing.
Where Can I Buy Emerald Gemstones and Jewelry?
Gemstones such as emeralds are graded using four basic parameters of color, clarity, cut, and carat weight. These are known as "The Four Cs of Connoisseurship" and inform a prospective buyer on the key elements to consider when buying a colored gemstone. A fine emerald should have a pure, verdant green hue with a high degree of transparency in order to be considered among the best.
When buying an emerald online from the United States, it is hard to know who to trust, so for this reason it's best to use a website that you can verify is from a business based in the United States. This is because many businesses outside of the USA could sell you a synthetic emerald or merely green beryl without disclosing the truth of the gem and face no repercussions. So dealing with an American based company like Gem Avenue, based in Charlotte, NC is the safest bet.
Another key thing to note is the images on the website. If a website has an inventory of 20 emeralds all cut the same way, but you cannot pick the specific one you want, that could be a problem. Additionally, if you see the same image of an emerald show up on multiple websites. That indicates that what you will get is not the same stone that you are looking at. Websites like Gem Avenue show the specific gem that you are buying, this is not only a key to trust and honesty, but it helps to verify exactly what you see is what you will get.
The primary rule in buying jewelry is to buy what you like. So do not be intimidated with the burden of "keeping up with the Joneses" or of getting the absolute best emerald possible. It's perfectly legitimate to choose an emerald colored stone of another sort such as peridot or tourmaline. Many people who love jewelry but have to face the reality of a tighter budget have been perfectly happy with emerald colored Cubic Zirconia.
A reputable jewelry business like Gem Avenue can help you regardless of what your budget may be. You can shop with Gem Avenue for a high quality natural emerald, or find an alternate gemstone that perhaps has a different color of green that you like better. Gem Avenue also has a wide variety of green colored Cubic Zirconia.
There is a solution for every budget and every taste with a quality American based gem and jewelry company like Gem Avenue. If you live near Charlotte, North Carolina, you could even visit their showroom and select the stone or jewelry of your choice and be even more certain of your selection.