Emerald is the modern-day birthstone for the month of May.
Origin & Facts
The name emerald comes from the Greek smaragdos via the Old French esmeralde. It basically means "green gemstone." Sorry, nothing more exotic than that.
The emerald is a member of the beryl family. The beryl family is comprised of many stones including the aquamarine, pink morganite, rare red bixbite, yellowish-green heliodor and colorless Goshenite.
Emeralds get their fantastic, rich green color from small deposits of chromium, vanadium or iron in the gemstone. By weight, emeralds are the most valuable gemstone in the world. The very finest emeralds can be more valuable by weight than diamonds.
However, unlike other types of beryl, which are virtually inclusion-free, emeralds contain inclusions. Because of these "flaws," their value can decrease accordingly. Such inclusions generally take the form of cloudiness, feathers, fissures, bubbles or cracks. On a more positive note, an emerald of a very fine color, but host to many inclusions, is still considered more valuable than a pale, virtually inclusion-free emerald. Unfortunately, some of the cloudy sections can lessen the saturation and even distribution of the color.
In the case of emeralds, color is truly everything. Gem dealers even have a term of endearment for a highly-included emerald, calling it jardin, paying homage to the lush and fertile grounds of a garden.
The beryl family has a hardness of 7.5 on the 10 point Mohs scale of hardness. But this score is mutable and is often decreased in the emerald because of the number and type of inclusions. This is why the emerald is often referred to as "soft," when in reality it would be very hard indeed if not for the presence of the inclusions.
Emeralds originate from several places on the globe. However, emeralds found in Zimbabwe are among the oldest gemstones anywhere in the world. Those emeralds are older than those found in Pakistan which were 9 million years old. Wow! It is accepted that because emeralds came about during some seriously rough plate tectonic shifting, the inclusions are explained and are not necessarily detractors as long as the color is outstanding. They did not form quietly. Therefore very large, very transparent emeralds of very good color are extremely rare. And extremely pricey.
It is likely that you know of Colombia as the top producer of emeralds. This smallish South American country has about 150 known deposits, however, not all of them are being mined. Muzo and Chivor are two very famous sites that were mined by the Incas in pre-Colombian times. Coscuez, however, produces almost 75% of Colombia's emeralds today.
Colombian emeralds are known for their pure-green color. This is to say, that the Colombian emeralds lack any blue or yellow tinting or shading. Because only Columbian emeralds produce this rare and spectacular color, when you buy a Colombian emerald, you are buying for the color. It may have inclusions, yes, but you've got the color.
Fine, high-quality and vibrantly-colored emeralds are also found in other countries. In South America, Brazil has an excellent reputation for emeralds. The Novo Era Mine operation produces emeralds that are nearly indistinguishable from the Colombian emeralds for their desirable green color. As well, Brazil produces emerald cat's eyes, which are remarkably rare.
In Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe are accepted as top-quality producers. Zambian emeralds are darker and often have a blue tint, but offer good transparency. Zimbabwe's Sadawana Mine is famous for its smaller, but very intense green emeralds with a yellow tint.
Legend, Healing & Folklore
The legends, healing and folkloric tales surrounding the emerald are numerous.
The deep, lively green of the emerald calls to mind nature, enduring love and life itself. The ancient Romans attributed green to Venus, goddess of beauty and love. The human eye is attracted to green, and it is said we never tire of seeking greener pastures. To me, green always seems new and full of life, and is always pleasing to see.
According to legend, the emerald can not only ward off evil spirits, but it can also guard the chastity of the person who wears it. Emeralds were also indicated in the treatments for myopia, dysentery and epilepsy.
The Incas and the Aztecs of South America, where the emerald is indigenous, regarded the emerald as a holy gemstone.
In India, the Vedas (the holy scriptures) say that the precious green gems possess healing properties,
"Emeralds promise good luck..."
"The emerald enhances the well-being..."
Indian royalty, known to us as maharajas and maharanis collected amazing riches and amassed great, heaping piles of treasures. Among them some of most incredible emeralds known to man were collected, including The Mogul Emerald, the only known emerald of the Mogul Period.
The Mogul Emerald is dated near 1695, is 10cm tall and weighs 217.8 carats. It is engraved with an intricate floral design including a rosette with poppies and foliage on one side and has an Islamic prayer inscribed on the other. It was sold at auction five years ago in London for $2.2 million (US) to an unknown buyer.
Because of the numerous historical contexts in which the emerald is found, many specimens have made their way into museums and royal collections. For example,
The New York Museum of Natural History, for example, has an exhibit in which a cup made of pure emerald which belonged to the Emperor Jehangir is shown next to the 'Patricia', one of the largest Colombian emerald crystals, which weighs 632 carats.
The collection of the Bank of Bogota includes five valuable emerald crystals with weights of between 220 and 1796 carats, and splendid emeralds also form part of the Iranian National Treasury, adorning, for example, the diadem of the former Empress Farah.
The Turkish sultans also loved emeralds. In Istanbul's Topkapi Palace there are exhibits with items of jewellery, writing-implements and daggers, each lavishly adorned with emeralds and other gems. (Gemstones.com)
(note: I've seen the Topkapi Jewels in Instanbul twice. I'd go see them again. AMAZING stuff!)
Insofar as Biblical references are concerned,
According to Rebbenu Bachya, the word "Nofech" in the verse Exodus 28:18 means "Emerald" and was the stone on the Ephod representing the tribe of Judah. According to other commentaries, "Nofech" meant "garnet". Another stone, "Bareqet", representing the tribe of Levi, is instead thought to be the emerald. (Wikipedia.org)
The Roman emperor Nero was said to have been so fond of emeralds, that he watched gladiator matches through glasses made from them. (Wikipedia.org)
Today, the vibrant green is the holy colour of Islam, with many Arab states representing green on their flags. Green is also held in high regard with the Catholic Church, where it is considered to be very natural, and therefore a basic, elemental liturgical color.
(photo from Gems & Gemology)