Prized by Cleopatra and loaded with meaning, the elegant, exciting emerald is a stone with a story. Here’s a history lesson — and what to look for if you’re going green.
If stones had memoirs, the emerald’s would be a page-turner. The word emerald itself is derived from the Latin esmaralda/esmaraldus, a variant of the Latin smaragdus, which was via the Ancient Greek smáragdos, for “green gem.” Roman historian and naturalist Pliny the Elder described emeralds in his book Natural History, written in 77 A.D. “No color is more delightful in appearance,” he opined. “For although we enjoy looking at plants and leaves, we regard emeralds with all the more pleasure because, compared with them, there is nothing that is more intensely green … Nothing greens greener.” That rich green brings to mind the regeneration of spring and has long symbolized love, rebirth and fertility. Emeralds were mined in Egypt as early as 330 B.C., though the oldest emeralds are almost three billion years old. Cleopatra’s passion for emeralds was legendary. The queen even claimed ownership of all the emerald mines in Egypt during her reign. The ancient Egyptians used emeralds both in jewelry and in their elaborate burials: Mummies were often buried with emeralds as a symbol of protection and eternal youth.
The emeralds the ancients adored were nowhere near as beautiful as those mined today. The modern emeraldbounty began almost five centuries ago, when Spanish explorers arrived in the New World. Moctezuma presented Cortés with a staggering emerald crystal, much larger and finer than any ever seen before. The Aztecs and Incas believed emeralds empowered the owner with foresight and they were regarded as amulets of good fortune. The Spaniards spent years searching for the source of the mines of these glowing green gems. In 1537, Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada learned that the source of the emeralds was located at Somondoco, meaning god of the green stones. They found it — finally — in what is present-day Colombia.
Colombia remains the world’s largest and most famous emerald source. Colombian stones have the highest reputation. However, Brazil, Zambia, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe have emerged as major sources, as well. Smaller, irregular amounts are produced from Madagascar, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Canada, Russia and others.
Emeralds are adored for their rich, distinctly green color of the beryl mineral family. Emeralds have been one of the most desirable and valuable colored stones for more than 5,000 years. An emerald can have a bluish-green to green to a slightly yellowish-green color. Stones with faint saturation that appear lighter are referred to as green beryl.
An emerald is most often cut in a rectangular step-cut, which is now popularly known as the emerald cut. Smaller sizes are also found in rounds, ovals, pear shapes and marquise cuts. You may have to look a while for an unusual shape in a larger size. Due to their rich color, emeralds are also spectacular when cut in a smooth-domed cabochon cut.
Emeralds, among the rarest of gems, are almost always found with birthmarks, known as inclusions. Some inclusions are expected and do not detract from the valueof the stone as much as with other gemstones. However, you should look to make sure that fissures do not go too deep into the stone, so that it might be weakened enough to break if it were hit accidentally. The fissures that are
characteristic of emeralds are traditionally filled with oil or resin to make them less visible. You should assume that your emerald has been improved in this way, unless it has a laboratory certificate indicating otherwise. Such rare stones command a considerable premium.
Emeralds have many special qualities, but colored-gemstone professionals generally agree that emeralds are primarily about color. Emeralds have been the standard for green among colored stones for thousands of years. Just like other colored gemstones, a well-trained eye is needed to identify the variations that make considerable differences pertaining to value.
The sought-after emerald colors are bluish green to pure green, with vibrant color saturation and a tone that is not very dark. The most-prized emeralds are highly transparent. Color is evenly distributed and lacks color zoning. Emeralds are a variety of beryl. If their hue is too blue or yellow, the stone is not emerald, but instead a different variety of beryl. Thus, the value would drop accordingly. Trace elements, chromium, vanadium and iron produce the color in emeralds. The presence — or lack of — these factors and their relative amounts establish the color of the emerald crystal. As with all colored gemstones, origin plays a role in determining value. Mines from Colombia, such as Muzo, Chivor and Coscuez, produce emeralds with intense green color and warmth. Mines from Zambia tend to produce emeralds with a more bluish-green color and a cooler cast.
The value of a gemstone is often associated with its carat weight, and cutting emeralds requires considerations concerning inclusions, durability and color. Rough from Colombia presents its challenges from its coloring agents. The surface often has a more intense color and cutting may result in a lighter material.
Emeralds generally contain inclusions that are visible to the naked eye. Emeralds without visible inclusions are exceedingly rare. An emerald’s inclusions are often referred to as jardin, French for garden, since the inclusions often resemble mossy or gardenlike foliage. Inclusions in emeralds are like fingerprints: They give each stone a unique personality. In colored stones, transparency and clarity are closely linked. This is especially true for emeralds. The trade accepts eye-visible inclusions in higher-quality emeralds — but, when the inclusions have a negative effect on transparency and clarity, they also dramatically reduce value.
Emeralds are available in a range of sizes, the smallest sizes varying from 1 to 5 millimeters with weights from 0.02 to 0.50 carat. One to five carat stones are popular as center stones. Like with all great stones, the prices of emeralds can increase dramatically as the size increases.
To schedule a viewing of these rarefied stones, contact
deBoulle at 214-522-2400 or 713-621-2400.