Once prized by Inca kings, pharaohs, Spanish conquistadors and the Mughal rulers, emerald remains coveted by enthusiasts around the world. Emerald is the strong bluish-green to green variety of beryl. Trace elements that cause emerald’s colour are chromium and sometimes vanadium.
Emerald’s name comes from the ancient Greek word for green (smargdos). Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79), author, philosopher and naturalist of ancient Rome, described the gem in his book, Natural History, as “… nothing greens greener.” He also noted that its beneficial properties were ideal for lapidaries, who “have no better method of restoring their eyes than by looking at the emerald, its soft, green colour… removing their weariness and lassitude.”
The ancients believed that emerald was imbued with magical powers: it offered protection against evil spells and was a cure for cholera and malaria. Wearing an emerald had other virtues – it exposed lovers who made false promises and endowed speakers with eloquence.
Cleopatra was reputed to have a passion for emeralds and used emeralds from the historic Egyptian mines in her royal adornments. The Spanish settlers in South America traded emeralds and appreciated their beauty. Their admiration for it sparkles in the legendary Crown of the Andes, which was assembled and kept in Popayán, Colombia in the mid-1600s. It has 442 emeralds, including a 24-carat emerald purportedly confiscated from the Inca emperor Atahuallpa.
Emerald’s green is unique among gemstones. The most desirable colours are bluish-green to pure green with strong to vivid colour saturation and medium to medium-dark tone. The relative strength of an emerald’s hue, tone and saturation are the principal determinants of value.
Emeralds are known to generally have more growth characteristics than most other gemstones, and these inclusions are often referred to as “Jardin.” from the French term, meaning garden. Peering through a microscope, such scenes are indeed reminiscent of a lush green garden. Eye-clean stones are very rare. The most prized emeralds are highly transparent with even colour distribution and no eye-visible colour zoning.
Surface-reaching fractures or fissures in emeralds are often filled with oils, or oil-like substances, that can make the fissures appear less noticeable. The treatment increases the transparency of the gem. Since oil treatments can leak or oxidize over time, more stable fillers like paraffin and resins are sometimes used.
Emerald Sources and Production
Colombia, Brazil and Zambia supply the majority of emeralds. Colombia has been the source of the finest emeralds for more than 500 years. Muzo, Chivor and Coscuez are three of its noteworthy mining sites.
Jaipur is one of the world’s largest cutting centres for emeralds. Indian appreciation for emeralds is ancient, as the Mughal rulers coveted the vivid green colours. India became one of the principal destinations for the gems following their discovery in Colombia by the Spanish conquistadors.