Wednesday, May 4, 2011

May Emeralds, "Nothing Gets Greener"

Image via Mad Mariner

Hooker Emerald Brooch, set by Tiffany. 75.47 carats
Image via Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

17th century carved emerald and diamond brooch.
Image via Palagems

The Chalk Emerald, 37.8 carats.
Considered one of the world's finest emeralds due to it incredible clarity and color.
Image via Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Hm? What?

Oh hello. Guess I was just kind of lost there for a minute.

I can remember being at the Pecos River in West Texas when I was a kid, thinking that it was the most beautiful green there could possibly be on the face of the earth. I was young and naive then and believed that I had seen it all at age eleven. I knew nothing about emeralds.

I have lost the source for this incredibly beautiful photo. Please let
me know if it's yours as I would love to give you credit. Thanks.

Emeralds get their name from the old French word "esmeraude" and the Greek "smaragdos" which simply means "green gemstone." The oldest finds are from the Red Sea in Egypt but these mines, active between 3000 to 1500 BC were depleted by the time they were rediscovered in the early 19th century and now only produce lesser quality emeralds. These mines later became known as the Cleopatra mines and were thought to be the only source of emeralds in the world until 1558 when the Spanish discovered emerald mines in Columbia.  Some of the gems found there by the Spanish remain the largest stones ever found.

Cleopatra Mine. Image via Tour Egypt

Emeralds from South America are now highly sought after, particularly gems from the famous Muzo mine. Muzo emeralds, with their rich bluish green color, are considered the finest emeralds in the world. Emeralds are now mined in several locations through the world, including Brazil, Pakistan, Russia, Australia, South Africa, India, Norway, and the United States.

In 50 AD, Pliny the Elder wrote of emeralds, "Nothing gets greener." Emeralds may range in color from yellow green to the highly desirable bluish greens and it is an emeralds color that will influence its value more than other consideration.

Image via AZ Emerald

Image via Gehna Bazaar

Let's be perfectly clear on this- emeralds are green. Yellow emeralds, heliodor, are yellow beryl, colored by iron. Pink emeralds are morganite- beryl colored by manganese (Mn2). Red emeralds are beryl colored with a more intense manganese (Mn3) and while fairly rare, they are not emeralds. And on it goes. Emeralds are green. Don't fall for any other marketing ploy. Emeralds are green.

So what is an emerald? Well, emerald is composed of the mineral beryl and while pure beryl is colorless, emeralds get the lovely green color from trace amounts of chromium. In the early 1960's, the Geological Institute of America included vanadium-bearing beryl as an emerald though these stones are not recognized as emeralds by the UK or Europe. Vanadium emeralds are more of an apple greenish color.

Image via Molecular Expressions

Emeralds are actually fairly hard but nearly all emeralds contain surface fissures, inclusions, and other flaws referred to as "jardin", meaning garden, which describes the silky web-like or mossy appearance of the tiny inclusions found within the emerald. Inclusions and flaws are expected in emeralds and do not necessarily detract from their value. Flaws are so evident, in fact, that emeralds are generally graded by the naked eye instead of with a jeweler's loupe as say for a diamond. They are considered flawless if there are no flaws visible to the naked eye. A flawless emerald is very rare and would be way out of my budget. Because of these internal features, emeralds can be rather fragile. In fact, nearly all emeralds are oiled, a process that introduces a clear oil, usually cedar oil, into the stone to make the inclusions less pronounced and increase clarity. By industry standards, there is nothing wrong with oiling but it is an enhancement and should be fully disclosed. You should actually assume that your emerald has been oiled but it doesn't hurt to verify, especially when you're dropping a fair amount of green for your stone. Green-tinted oil is not acceptable.

Inclusions in an emerald. Image via Geminary

So you probably think that a gemstone of such beauty and rarity as emeralds, often considered more valuable than diamonds, would have a ton of lore and mystery accompanying it. Well, you would be right. Oh, where to begin.....

The emerald has always been seen as a symbol of fidelity and during the Middle Ages it was believed that it would keep a woman chaste. The emerald was believed to change to a dull hue if the wearer had been unfaithful. Mysteriously, emeralds did not seem to have this effect on men. Hm- interesting. In various cultures it was also stated that emeralds enable people to foretell future events if put on the tongue or worn on the left side of the body. It has long been associated with love, devotion, and adoration. It was also once believed that emeralds would change the depth and hue of its color to alert the wearer of impending danger. Kind of goes with that whole infidelity thing. Emeralds are supposed to make the wearer unconquerable but also friendly and likeable. It is said to cure laziness, which could help with being unconquerable.

The Mogul Emerald from India- 217.80 carats. Carved with Islamic prayers and flowers.
Sold at auction for $2.2 million USD in 2001 to an undisclosed buyer.
Image via Gemstone Universe

Emeralds were considered a holy stone and were worshipped as such by the Incas. They were believed by other cultures to protect from epilepsy, give eloquence and intelligence to the wearer, and sooth illnesses of the eyes. Emeralds were once crushed into a fine powder and made into an eye lotion. These healing properties were said to help with almost every part of the body, from skeleton to skin, from the kidneys to the liver. If a mother-to-be wore emeralds her child would be kept safe during childbirth.  A mixture of ground emeralds and laudanum, derived from opium, would cure fevers. The list of ailments that emeralds were believed to cure is a long one: colic, burns, ulcers, headaches, tension, influenza, high blood pressure, heart disorders, cancer, dysentery, syphilis, nausea, vomiting, indigestion, asthma and anemia. The excuses some people won't use to get an emerald!

$50,000 emerald crystal
Image via The Ganoskin Project

OK- hold onto your hat ...

Image via Jewelry Expert

A trapiche emerald is a very rare kind of emerald found at only three mines in Columbia. In short, a trapiche emerald is one with black impurities that form a six-rayed star within the stone. Unlike astrecism, the spokes of a trapiche emerald are carbon impurities that grow from a central hexagon of beryl, sometimes colorless, as the gemstone forms. These are rare and intriguing stones and you're gonna pay a big wad of bills for one of these. Almost never do you see a faceted trapiche emerald but rather the cabachon shape.

Trepaiche Emerald ring by Paul Farmer.  Image via Paul Farmer, Goldsmith

Once you get your emerald, you must take good care of it. Don't wear it when you are playing sports or doing other tough physical work. Even knocking an emerald ring against a stainless steel sink can damage the stone. You'll need to either remove your ring or not wash dishes.  Due to its fragile nature,  great care should be taken even when cleaning. They should not be soaked as water may seep into the inclusions and dissolve the oils used to treat your emerald. This will cause your gem to become more brittle. Never immerse your emeralds in an ultrasonic cleaner as they could literally shattered before your eyes. How sickening would that be to see happen? At the very least, ultrasonic cleaners can remove the oils and weaken the stone. Do not use steam cleaning or expose to sudden or high temperatures. Don't use strong cleaners with petroleum or any organic solvents, even jewelry solutions, as the chemicals are not compatible with the oils used in the stone. Use room temperature water and a mild dish soap with a SOFT toothbrush. Rinse well and pat dry. Clean your emerald(s) only when necessary, never more than a few times a year. It is possible to have a competent jeweler re-oil you emerald after 2 -5 years of wear though I have seen it stated that you should re-oil after every cleaning. Supposedly the non-jeweler like myself can do that if the right oil and a cotton swab. I'm not making an recommendations here.

Just in case you need an excuse, emeralds are also used for the 20th, 35th, and 55th wedding anniversary.

Let's wander through some emerald green on this lovely spring day ...

The Mackay Emerald. Great excuse to go to the Smithsonian.
Image via Travellers Point

Those incredible trapiche stones agian. Image via Emerald Passion

Image via C. Ostrovsky

Image via XYZ Stones

Image via Tiara Time

Um .....  I want a tiara. OK, there-- I said it. Because, you know, it would look so pretty on my fuzzy head while I washed dishes or weeded the garden. They're just so, you know- pretty and extravagant. And even though Harry is still single, I've already found my prince. But, well, farm boys don't often have royal titles so my mother-in-law didn't give me a tiara when we got married and now here I am, all sparkle-lusty, without a tiara. At this point I would even settle for the cheapie little $4 million dollar doggy tiara. Look- emeralds!

Image via Tiara Time
Edwardian bracelelt. $3,4000. Image via The Three Graces

My sister has a May birthday. So does my mom. Mom is a gardener to the core and her favorite flower is Lily-of-the Valley, with its gorgeous emerald green leaves. So I think of her when I think of emeralds. Sort of appropriate since I think a good mom is a precious gem, though none as priceless as mine. I do hope you feel the same about your own mom or someone you've found to stand in for her.

Image via Awesomeology

I must admit that emeralds aren't necessarily my favorite gemstone- I'm just funny about green (throw some pink beside it, we're good). But in a pinch I could learn to tolerate them. Especially with emerald green butterflies in the world.

Happy Birthday to all of you lush, gorgeous May babies.


  1. I loved this little lesson! Thanks a lot for putting it together.
    Seems like emeralds are not necessarily a girls best friend- first they cure lazyness, and then they shatter in the sink? tsk tsk But they certainly are a pleasure to look at.

  2. Now this post makes my Birthday complete! Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! I thank you once again for all your hard work on this series.

    I actually received emerald earrings for my birthday from my Mom! They are not the gem grade but the massive material. Not transparent - opaque and a darker green but the material has been faceted and the facets sparkle in the sun. Apparently jewelry made from the massive material is much more affordable.

    I love them and it was a huge surprise.

    And now your fabulous post! I had no idea emeralds were so fragile. But you can bet I will take your advice and take much better care with them than i otherwise might have done!!!!

  3. You know, the nice thing about emeralds is that no one really gets snobby about emeralds that aren't perfect sparkling specimens. The inclusions are expected and make them "emeraldy". I think the "jardin" is pretty. So enjoy those beautiful earrings, Pam. That you received them from your mom makes them priceless. Happy Birthday.