Columnists Diana Jarrett The Story Behind the Stone: The legacy of Emeralds

The Story Behind the Stone: The legacy of Emeralds

Some gems came into popularity with the advent of global travel via the Grand Tours of the mid nineteenth century. And the ferocious interest in past cultures such as ancient Egypt made popular by Dr. Howard Carter's persistent archeological efforts which uncovered King Tutankhamen's booty opened up new avenues for exotic gems.
Roman era 250 - 400 AD gold bracelet with emerald, sapphire and glass cabochon. Courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, CA.

Emerald claims a pedigree nearly as old as recorded history however. Nearly two millennia prior to when the renowned ruler Cleopatra walked the earth; emerald mines in the Middle East gave up these green stones which adorned royal jewelry and artifacts. Ruins unearthed in early cultures of Central and South America also produced these nearly transparent verdant stones which were featured in regal wear of their day.

For modern jewelry lovers, the trinity of colored stones has remained at the top of colored gem sales; these are ruby, sapphire and emerald. Of course some of the interest in this lies with the fact that emeralds are universally understood as being valuable. Also green is appealing to the eye - in every culture. It is subliminally associated with rebirth - new life and the spring season.

Classic old diamond graders, using a northern exposure to assist their accuracy in grading diamonds, will not grade past noon - as they determined that the eye is not so "fresh" then and will not be as sensitive to detecting the ultra-subtle differences in color grades. It is also known that these old timers would keep an emerald in their pocket to occasionally view it, thus resting the eye from the tensions accumulated in diamond grading.

The modern collector finds emerald to be soothing to look at all the time. But they may not know much about their composition or what makes them unique. A member of the colorful beryl family, emeralds' composition is aluminum beryllium silicate. Experts separate the true emerald from green beryl - which in some instances may be difficult to determine. However, vanadium contributes the green coloring for gems categorized simply as green beryl.

Important couture emerald ring set in 18k yellow gold and platinum from Philip Zahm Designs features a 4.63 ct Zambian Emerald and 1.28 cts total weight diamond accents including half moon diamonds on each side. Courtesy Philip Zahm; Photography: Mark R. Davis.

Emeralds stand out for certain inclusions that are normally associated with the beryl variety. That sounds like an unattractive trait of course, but the Jardin (garden in French) is such an expected characteristic of emerald, jewelers would be suspect if it did not occur in the stone they are inspecting. These naturally occurring branch-like internal inclusions signify that the stone in question grew naturally in the earth. Of course there will always be the rare emerald nearly void of such inclusions, and its value will reflect such rarity.

Columbia is considered to be the top site producing the world's finest emerald; however Brazil is a large producer of beautiful quality crystals as well. For those born in May, their birthstone is emerald, and it couldn't fit the season better - nature is also turning green all around.

Graduate Gemologist and Registered Master Valuer Diana Jarrett is also a member of the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers (NAJA). She's a frequent lecturer at conferences and trade shows. Jarrett serves as Colored Stone Editor for Rapaport Diamond Report; with other works regularly appearing in trade and consumer publications. Contact her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or visit her website:


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