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Emerald is an elegant and sumptuous gem whose name is recurrently used to evocatively describe the richest of greens and the lushest of landscapes. This is a rare and valuable stone, found only in a handful of locations across the globe as the conditions required for its formation are actually highly unlikely. Emeralds have excited imaginations since antiquity and have been used to make some of the most lavish jewellery pieces in history. Furthermore, this is a stone used in crystal therapy to comfort, reassure, soothe and even to rejuvenate.
What is Emerald?
Emerald is perhaps the most valuable and precious variety of the mineral Beryl. Its dazzling green colour, which has rendered it a highly sought after gem throughout the centuries, is caused by traces of chromium and, at times, vanadium. Emeralds usually crystallise in perfect hexagonal prisms with a flat base, and are found in sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks in a limited number of locations worldwide.
Characteristics of Emerald
Emerald is characterized by its distinct green colour which ranges between a slightly yellowish to bluish green. In order for a gem to be classified an Emerald, the stone must have a rich colouring and fall within said colour range. If the specimen falls outside the spectrum and, for example, displays a lighter green colour or a weak saturation it is ‘Green Beryl’, if it has a greenish yellow hue it is a ‘Heliodor’ and if it is greenish blue it is an ‘Aquamarine’. Emeralds measure a hardness of 7.5 -8 on the Mohs scale. Despite being classified a hard gem, it is actually quite brittle. This is due to the numerous inclusions and surface fractures common in most Emerald gems which weaken the stone making it subject to breakage. It can easily develop internal cracks when subject to extreme temperature changes or if struck with a certain force. Most cut Emeralds are treated with oils or resins which will enter fractures making them less obvious; though these treatments improve the appearance of the gem, they do not make it more durable. Consequently, due to their fragility, Emeralds are best worn on special occasions rather than daily. Also, they are better suited for pendants and earrings (as typically subjected to less abrasion and impact), than bracelets or rings.
As briefly mentioned above, most Emerald gems present flaws; flawless gems (usually from Colombia or Zambia) are incredibly rare and are therefore extremely valuable. That said, collectors often prefer Emeralds with minute flaws over flawless ones as fractures and inclusions become a proof of authenticity. Nevertheless, gems can be treated with oils, resins or synthetic lubricants in order to hide the flaws, this is actually a common practice in the industry. Special care should be taken when cleaning treated stones. Ultrasonic cleaning, steam or harsh soap can remove the oiling treatment exposing the hidden internal flaws. A gentle wash in warm water and mild soap, to be done only when needed, is preferred.
Types of Emerald
Brazilian Emerald – Emerald was first discovered in Brazil around 1920 and in the 1960s gained worldwide reputation of an affordable, lacklustre-quality gem. Today however, Brazilian Emerald has radically upgraded its image thanks to finds made in the 1980s in several locations which are producing the best Emerald Brazil has ever mined.
Cat Eye Emerald – A very rare variety characterized by chatoyancy, an optical effect displayed only by paler Emerald stones. This type of Emerald has mainly been found in Brazil.
Colombian Emerald – Regarded the highest quality, purest Emerald variety in the world, a single carat of Colombian Emerald can be valued up to one million Euro. What makes these gems exceptional is that they are the only Emeralds on earth found in sedimentary rather than igneous rock. When forming, a saline solution found within the sedimentary host rock, would wash out impurities such as iron (which could cause a crystal to be cloudy), creating truly exceptional gems. Dark green gems, only found in the deepest mines of Colombia, are considered the most beautiful, rare and valuable.
Trapiche Emerald (also known as Star Emerald) – This variety presents black carbon impurities which create an eye-catching six-rayed star pattern. The star design is not a case of asterism, rather it is caused by impurities filling the crystal junctions, thus forming the unique pattern. It is long believed that that Trapice Emeralds are found exclusively at the Muzo and Penas Blancas mines in Colombia. The name Trapiche comes from ‘trapiche de caña de azúcar’, the grinding wheel traditionally used by indigenous peoples in Colombia to process sugarcane.
Zambian Emerald – Mined in Zambia, these Emerald stones are characterised by very good transparency and colour. While Colombian Emeralds are said to have a more intense and warmer colour, Zambian Emeralds generally have a cooler, more bluish green colour.
Where can Emerald be found?
Emerald is a rare gem, found only in a limited number of locations worldwide. The conditions for the formation of this precious stone are highly unlikely as beryllium, the main chemical element contained in Emeralds, occurs in very small amounts in the Earth’s crust. This makes it unusual for enough beryl to be present in one location to form a mineral and also, in the same place, find traces of chromium and vanadium, responsible for the green colour.
The only four countries which today reliably produce commercial amounts of this precious gem are: Colombia, Zambia, Brazil and Zimbabwe. Other countries such as Italy, Nigeria, Madagascar, Afghanistan, Russia, Canada and Pakistan have a minor, often more irregular, production.
Colombian Emerald is mined mainly in the departments of Boyacá and Cundinamarca on the eastern ridge of the Andes (in the Muzo, Coscuez and Chivor mines), and accounts for 70-90% of the world’s Emerald market. Zambia is the second biggest world producer of Emerald (with its Kagem Mines, in the Kafuby River area) accounting for up to 20% of the global market.
Synthetic and imitation Emerald
Because of the scarcity and elevated value of Emerald, there has always been a market for synthetic or lab-created gems. The first synthetic gem was produced in the mid-19th century, but it was not till the 1930s that it began to be produced in commercial quantities. A commercially successful method of synthesising Emerald was invented by the American chemist Carroll Chatham. By 1935, he had grown his first true Emerald, a 1 carat gem which is currently on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.
Growing a synthetic crystal is a complex and prolonged process. It can take up to a year to grow a marketable Emerald gem. Furthermore, some of the elements used to create the synthetic gem can evaporate before others have even melted, making it extremely difficult to melt all components together. Chatham resolved this issue by creating a solvent called the ‘flux’, a mixture of chemicals which made it possible to melt all components together. He would then suspend minute seed crystals into the incandescent flux to grow the Emerald gem. Lab-created Emerald has the same crystalline structure and chemical composition as Natural Emeralds. When compared, the former has a more uniform appearance and superior clarity, as the lab environment allows for the creation of flawless stones, with fewer fractures or inclusions. For this reason, they are sold alongside natural Emeralds in a great number of jewellery stores and many people purchase synthetic Emeralds for their lower cost and also for their attractive appearance.
Aside from synthetic Emerald, ‘imitation’ gems are also often manufactured to serve as substitutes to natural Emerald. These are stones which have a similar appearance but an entirely different chemical composition or structure, such as green glass, green cubic Zirconia, green Yttrium Aluminium Garnet or synthetic Green Spinel, to cite a number of the more commonly used imitations.
World famous Emerald masterpieces
Hooker Emerald Brooch – Designed by Tiffany & Co., it consists of an open-end circular platinum band studded with 109 round brilliant cut Diamonds which forms the setting for the Emerald at the centre of the jewel. A further ten pairs of baguette cut Diamond project from behind the Emerald towards the band. The large Emerald weighs 75.47 carats, is astoundingly free of inclusions for its size and is bevelled square cut (which confers it the appearance of a series of concentric squares within the stone). It was extracted in Colombia sometime in the 16th or 17th century and was sent to Europe by Spanish conquistadors to be cut and polished. The gem subsequently became part of the crown jewels of the Ottoman Empire during the reign of the last Ottoman Sultan to rule with absolute power (it was mounted into a belt buckle). In the early 20th century the gem was smuggled to Paris and later acquired by Tiffany & Co, who initially set it in a tiara first and later re-set it into the brooch. This was purchased by Janet Annenberg Hooker (hence its name) in 1955 and in 1977 was donated to the Smithsonian Institution of Washington D.C. where it has been on display since 2010.
Spanish Inquisition Necklace – A remarkable necklace featuring 15 large Emeralds from Colombia and 374 Diamonds, probably originating from India. The Emeralds are considered to be some of the finest in the world due to their exceptional clarity and richness in colour, the largest of which weighs 45 carats. The upper half of the exquisite necklace features a single silver-threaded strand studded with numerous smaller Diamonds, while the lower half presents a double strand with a chandelier-like pendant. The two lower strands feature large oblong antique cut Diamonds, more modern brilliant-cut Diamonds and 9 large barrel-shaped Emeralds. What is also of note is that a number of the Emeralds and Diamonds were delicately strung onto strands of silver through a tiny hole drilled through their centre, which must have been no easy task without modern tools. It is believed that the stones were cut in India sometime around the 17th century, which makes them the oldest known cut gemstones in the National Gem Collection (at the Smithsonian Institution). Not much is known about the necklace’s history, it is uncertain for example, how the Emeralds made their way from Colombia to India. It is unclear why it became known as the ‘Spanish Inquisition Necklace’, though it is thought it would have belonged to Spanish Royalty at some point in its long history. What is known is that the first recorded owner was the Maharaja of Indore (India), who purchased it in the early 20th century. It was then bought by an American collector and was sold on once more before being donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1972.
Crown of the Andes – Encrusted with its 453 gorgeous Emerald stones, weighing a total of 1,521 carats, this is a votive crown originally made for a statue of the Virgin in the Cathedral of Popayan, Colombia. The crown is 34.5cm (14in) high with a 52cm (20.5in) circumference and weighs 2.2kg (4.8lbs). Originating, at least in part, in the 16th century, it is said to include Emeralds belonging to the last Inca emperor, Atahualpa. In particular, it features a stunning 45 carat gem named the ‘Atahualpa Emerald, after the emperor. In 1936 it was sold to an American businessman and as of 2015 the crown belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Elizabeth Taylor’s Emerald suite – Created by Italian designers Bulgari, this legendary Emerald Suite was bought by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (her then husband), while filming Cleopatra in Rome. The suite comprises a magnificent necklace, a pendant brooch, a ring, a flower brooch, a bracelet and pendant earrings. The pendant brooch features a step cut Colombian Emerald of 23.44 carats and when in 2011 it was sold at Christies’ it set a record price for an Emerald per carat (it sold for an astounding $6,578,500 / €5,065,445). The necklace is mounted with 16 step cut octagonal Colombian Emeralds, mounted on platinum and surrounded by brilliant-cut and pear-shaped Diamonds. The actress received the necklace as a wedding gift from her husband and was then immortalised wearing it in 1966, when receiving an Oscar for Best Actress.
Properties of Emerald
Emerald is appreciated worldwide for its rejuvenating qualities, thought to combat aging and revitalise tired organs. It is often used to treat a vast number of organs including the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, gall bladder and even the spine and muscles. It provides remarkable support when recovering from infectious illnesses, averting fever, headache or allergies. Its soothing green colour, makes it a fabulous gem for treating the eyes; a bath in water and Emeralds is known to be soothing for the eyes and may even alleviate eye infections.
From a more emotional point of view, Emerald can help alleviate emotional heaviness, nourishing us with the energy of hope and transmitting a sense great encouragement. It is an invaluable support in healing heartbreaks, overcoming life’s misfortunes and clearing negative patterns of victimisation. It does so by strengthening our emotional as well as physical heart centres, bestowing freshness and vitality in our hearts and also love and compassion (for the self as well as for others).
Especially when carried or worn in tumblestone form, Emerald can promote good self esteem and restore confidence. It is particularly effective on young girls or teens who are lacking confidence or feel somehow inferior to their peers.
This is a marvellous gem for activating one’s artistic creativity as it has an invigorating effect on reflection, thought and philosophy, bringing intensity and focus to one’s creative processes and work.
In particular, Emerald provides remarkable support in the workplace. Holding a natural Emerald, especially in tumblestone form, for five minutes a day helps strengthen memory, stimulates rapid recall of facts and inspires eloquence. It is also beneficial in stimulating understanding and cooperation within a team. Furthermore, this splendid gem is known to enkindle success in business (for older women in particular) and is of great support in the course of litigation, trials and legal affairs.
Emerald is the birthstone for the month of May (a fitting choice it seems as the gem’s colour is reminiscent of new spring growth).
This gem is said to resemble the energy patterns activated by the Heart Chakra (or Anahata, positioned near the centre of the breastbone). This is the wellspring of all emotions, and governs one’s interaction with the world. It regulates what we choose to resist or embrace, thus balancing our inner selves and how we relate ourselves to our surrounding environment. Emerald is able to stimulate the ‘high heart’, found just above and to the left of the Heart Chakra, this helps us practice compassion and respectful understanding of other people.
Should the Heart Chakra be out of balance, one could feel either controlled or controlling within a relationship, and perhaps become a little too critical of the little foibles or imperfections of others. A further consequence of an unbalanced Anahata is that one could experience excessively strong emotional reactions to ordinary stimuli from everyday life. An Emerald’s green energy is able to unblock and rebalance this chakra, making our own emotions and needs clearer to ourselves. This can result in being able to deal with both the peaks and troughs of emotional relationships, accepting and understanding their changes.
Gorgeous Emerald is known for being a powerful stone for reviving passion, whether this is for a person, an interest of even a job. It is also an excellent stone for attracting romantic love, if worn of carried out of sight near the heart. It is said to be able to call back an estranged love: a message can be ‘recorded’ in the stone by holding the gem close to the lips and speaking the words into it, and the Emerald should then be sealed in an envelope and handed to the person in question.