My earliest recollection of emeralds dates back to when I was around 10 years old, looking at my beautiful mother getting ready for parties. She would bring out her jewels to match and wear with her clothes while I would sit and admire her trying on different jewels. But what really caught my eye was this beautiful green stone. It looked so surreal on her. That’s the reason emeralds hold such a special place in my heart—because it was mother who introduced me to them.
Emeralds are one of the oldest gemstones known to us, tracing back to more than 5,000 years ago. The name ‘emerald’ is derived from a Persian word, ‘Zomorrod’ which means green.
It belongs to the same family as beryl, which in its purest form is colourless. Beryl is a mineral which comes in different varieties. It has traces of other minerals and impurities which are responsible for its colour. When beryl is coloured by natural minerals, chromium, and vanadium, it is called an emerald.
The hardness of emeralds on the Mohs Scale (scale used to measure the hardness of gemstones) is 7.5 to 8. It is a relatively fragile stone compared to its counterparts, like the diamond, which is 10 on the scale.
One of the earliest emerald mines was discovered in Egypt in the year 330 B.C and the oldest emerald is estimated to be 2.97 billion years old.
Emeralds have been associated with many dynasties and royalties across the world but the one person that comes to mind when we talk about emeralds is the queen of Egypt, Cleopatra. She was known for her love of emeralds. There is in fact a famous story, relating to emeralds, about her and her beloved Mark Antony. Cleopatra was so fascinated with emeralds that one day, when Mark Antony was going to war, as a reminder of her love for him, she cut a 97 carat emerald in half and gave one half to him and kept the other.
During this era, emeralds were used not only as jewellery in the royal family, but also had a very significant role in the burial rituals. When a king died, an emerald was placed on his chest so he could be reborn as a king again in his next life. There is also a legend that stated that an emerald was one of the four precious stones given by God to King Solomon.
Emeralds represent rebirth, prosperity, fertility, and are believed to bring strength and security to a person’s life. It is also said to have a positive effect on people with depression and other emotional issues.
By 300 B.C., the Greeks mastered the art of jewellery making with coloured stones and this carried over to the emerging Roman Empire. Greek jewellery and its design were influenced by many cultures due to the extensive rule of Alexander the Great. One of the last Roman Emperors, Nero, was known to watch a gladiator game through a flat emerald stone because of its soothing effect on the eye.
Emeralds are found in many parts of the world, like South Africa, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Malawi, India, Australia, and Pakistan, but the best and finest quality emeralds are from Colombia, Zambia, and Brazil.
Emeralds are graded on 4 C’s: clarity, colour, carat, and cut.
Colour—This is the most important of all the 4 C’s, especially in emerald, to determine the price and quality of the stone. The perfect colour is bluish green to pure green. When it comes to the colour of the emerald, it is a very personal choice. Important aspects of colour is hue, colour, saturation, high saturation stones are called vivid coloured stones.
As we know, one of the best emeralds come from Colombian mines and are said to have some uniformity in colour. They are coloured by a natural mineral called chromium, which gives the beautiful colour to the stone.
Emeralds that come from Zambia are coloured by a mineral called vanadium, and they have a bluish-green or greyish-green colour. Brazilian emeralds are also coloured by vanadium and are dark green, but have very heavy inclusions in them.
Ireland is sometimes referred to as the “Emerald Isle” because the lush green fields are the same colour as the colour of the vivid emerald. Sandawana Emeralds in Zimbabwe are known for their small and vividly coloured emeralds. One of the best Colombian coloured stones is ‘Duke of Devonshire’ from the Muzo mine from Columbia. Its 1,383.93 carat uncut emeralds are displayed in the London Museum of Natural History.
Clarity—It is the second most important thing to look for because this has a direct effect on the price. Like any other gemstone, emeralds also have inclusions, these are the only gemstones that have dense inclusions. These fissures/inclusions come in different sizes and forms—some look like bubbles and others look like roots of plants. For this reason, emeralds are called jardin.
There are some emeralds which have minimum inclusions—these are very rare to find and are expensive. When we are looking to buy an emerald we must always avoid the inclusions on the top or on the surface of the stone. It is better to find an emerald which has inclusions deep inside the stone.
It is a common practice to treat emeralds, but it is very important as a buyer to know the extent and kind of chemicals used for the treatment. The seller should always disclose the type of treatment because it affects clarity, colour, and the price of the emerald. It is a very old practice to treat emeralds with natural oils. Earlier, they were treated with natural oils like the natural cedar oil, which is colourless and did not affect the colour and clarity of the stone. In today’s time, with growing technology, the methods of treatment of emeralds have changed.
GIA (Gemology Institute of America) has classified the treatment of emeralds into three types: Minor—this treatment is very minimal and does not affect the colour or clarity of the emeralds. Moderate—this treatment is very moderate and affects the clarity moderately. Significant— this treatment has a complete and obvious effect on the clarity and colour.
Emeralds are usually graded with an experienced naked eye. If there is no inclusion seen, it is graded as flawless. These are extremely rare to find and are very expensive.
Cut—No gemstone comes out of the mine looking the way it looks on any jewellery piece. The cutter has to evaluate all the aspects of the stone, especially in emeralds as it is most difficult to cut because of the heavy inclusions, making it very fragile to cut. The most desirable cut is ‘step up’ or the ‘trap cut’, which is called classic emerald cut and it is the safest cut for emeralds.
Carat weight—In the olden days, carob seed (known to have uniform weight) was used to measure the weight of the stones. Originally, the carat weight was used only for diamonds but in the 20th century, it was standardised by the United States of America, and the metric carat was adopted in 1913. It is now an important unit of measurement in coloured gemstones as well. 1 carat is equal to 0.2 grams. If a 1 carat stone is weighed in America, throughout the world it should ideally weigh the same. The carat weight differs from one stone to another.
Gemfields is the largest supplier of emeralds in the world. One of the most well known French jewellery designers, Van Cleef and Arpels, are known for their love of emeralds.
The first ever engagement ring was given to Queen Victoria by her beloved Prince Albert in 1840. This era was also the beginning of birthstone jewellery. Emeralds are the birthstone for the month of May and are a perfect wedding anniversary gift for the 20th and 35th commemoration.
Christie’s has auctioned one of the most expensive and finest Colombian emeralds, the Rockefeller Emerald (18.04 ct), for 5.5 million, costing $305.000 per carat. The buyer was none other than Harry Winston. The AGL (American Gemology Laboratories) classified this stone as exceptional because it is all natural, without treatment, and has a distinct colour of the Colombian emerald.
In the simple words of philosopher Rumi, “Love is an emerald, its brilliant light wards off dragons on this treacherous path.” - Zakia Bilgrami Farooqui