Saturday, April 16, 2016

Emerald, May Birthstone

Emeralds are part of the mineral family known as beryl. Remember, diamonds are not the world’s most valuable gems. There is another gemstone, which is even more rare and cost more than a fine diamond of the same size: the emerald. The emerald proved to be a protagonist that faceted and bewitching as any human character from Cleopatra to Angelina Jolie and Elizabeth Taylor. The most beautiful pieces of emerald jewelry could be found in at the Victoria and Albert Museum in England, at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Emeralds were very popular during the Art DECO period of the 1920s and 1930s. A stunning bracelet made by Cartier and purchased by Edwina, the Countess of Mountbatten in 1928, one of the best dressed women of the world. Today, the Colombian mines continue to be the premier source of the best emeralds of the world; the largest amounts of emerald production come from Brazil and Zambia. Smaller deposits delivered from Zimbabwe, Pakistan and also from Hiddenite, North Carolina, in the United States, a small limited scale. About 1830 emeralds were discovered in the Ural, northwest of Sverdlovsk. Emeralds have been found in Austria, Norway, and near Emmaville, N.S.W., Australia. (Moore, 2014) It looks like the world’s 4,000-year love affair with emerald has only just begun.
The word emerald delivered from a Persian word that means “green gem.” During the history, it changed from Greek to Latin as ‘smaragdus’ to ‘esmaurde’ and ‘esmralde, and later, in 16th century to ‘esmeralde.’ Green is the color of Spring and has long symbolized love and rebirth. As the gem of Venus, it was also considered to aid in fertility and ease of childbirth. Emerald was once believed to cure diseases such as cholera and malaria. Wearing an emerald was believed to reveal the truth or falseness of a lover’s oath as well as make one an eloquent speaker. The legends endowed the wearer with ability to foresee the future when emerald was placed under the tongue.

Cleopatra, Egypt’s tempestuous female monarch was as famous for wearing Emeralds in her time as Liz Taylor is for wearing diamonds in our time. Emeralds have been associated long time with royalty and status as centerpieces of Russian crown jewels, part of the collection of the Iranian State Treasure and favorite of Indian Shahs. Shah Jahan of India is famous for building the Taj Mahal building inscribed his collection with sacred texts and used them as talismans. The color green is secret in Islam, which is why an emerald made such as perfect surface on which to inscribe a religious text.

Emeralds are ancient gemstones. According to the oldest book of the world, the Papyrus Prisse, “but good words are more difficult to find than the emerald, for it is by slaves that it is discovered among the rocks.” This book is 4,500 years old, but the passage was copied from a writing 1,000 years prior. The book was probably referring to the Egyptian mines. The Cleopatra Mines were lost for thousand years, only rediscovered in 1818.

Ancient Egyptian mummies were often buried with an Emerald carved with the symbol of verdure, flourishing greenness, on their necks to symbolize eternal youth. In Rome, the Roman Emperor Niro would watch gladiator games through the flat emerald crystals. The Roman scholar and historian, Pliny recorded: “Indeed, no stone has a color that is more delightful to the eye, for, whereas the sight fixes itself with avidity upon the green grass and foliage of the trees, we have all the more pleasure in looking upon the emerald, there being no gem in existence more intense than this.” The wonderful green color of the gem was believed to lift depression, reduce stress, promoted mental clarity, and warding off evil spirits. Green was the color of the Roman goddess of love and beauty, Venus. In astrology, Venus is the ruling force over the sun sign of Taurus, April 21 to May 21, perhaps it is why the emerald is designed as the birthstone of Spring, for May.


When discovered in Colombia, emeralds were prized by Incas and Aztecs. The emeralds of Incas were described as being large as egg of an ostrich. Sixteenth century violence became part of the history, when Spanish looted thousands of emeralds in the mines in South America. The explorer Pizarro, in his conquest of Mexico, found plentiful emeralds of surpassing beauty. The contemporary writer d’Acosta states that many stones were ruined by the Spanish soldiers who followed by the priest advise to test stones on their genuineness, and smashed them with hammers. The Spanish, who treasured gold and silver far more than gems, traded emeralds for precious metals. Their trades opened the eyes of European and Asian royalty to emerald’s majesty. Once discovered, South America is on the gemstone map to supply the green beautiful emerald stones to adore bracelets, necklaces, rings, and crowns.

The deeper and more vivid the color of green, the more valuable the gemstone. The most valuable and beautiful Emeralds exhibit an intense bluish hue in addition to their basic bold green color. 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 value of the stone as much as with other gemstones.

Recommended list for reading and discussion:

Ethan, Eric. (2011) Emeralds. – Gareth Stevens Publishers. – 24 pages. (Gems: Nature’s Jewels)

Hardy, Joanna and Jonathan Self, Franca Sozzani, Hettie Judah. (2014) Emerald: Twenty-One Centuries of Jewelled Opulence and Power. – Thames and Hudson. – 272 pages.

Moore, Paul B. (2014) Emerald. In AccessScience. -  McGraw-Hill Education.

Ward, Fred and Charlotte Ward. (2010) Emeralds. – Gem Book Publishers. – 64 pages.

 (Fred Ward Gem Books)


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