“Who first beholds the light of day
In spring’s sweet, flower month of May
And wears an Emerald all her life
Shall be a loved and a loving wife”
A beryllium aluminum silicate with traces of chromium or vanadium oxide, which give it its rich and legendary array of green tones, emerald is regarded as one of the most valuable gemstones on earth, which has, at various intervals, been deemed more desirable than either diamonds or rubies. The magnificent green of the emerald with its unique luminosity, symbolizes life, epitomizing the beauty of recurring springtime, the color of beauty, constant love and eternal joie de vivre.
In ancient Rome, green was the color associated with Venus, the goddess of beauty and love, and even today, green occupies a special position in many cultures and religions, one of which is the Catholic Church, where green is regarded as the most natural and elemental of the liturgical colors.
Pliny, the Roman scholar of the first century AD, described the beauty of emeralds in his own words;
“Indeed, no stone is more delightful to the eye, for whereas the sight fixes itself with avidity upon the green grass and the foliage of the trees in spring time, we have all the more pleasure of looking upon the emerald.”
Pliny wrote of a legend describing a sculptured marble lion with eyes of emeralds placed on the tomb of King Hermias on the Cyprus Island. The emeralds were described as so bright as to scare away the fish around the Island. Fishermen allegedly replaced the emeralds with common green stones and the fish returned!
The name emerald derives from the Greek ‘smaragdos’ originating from the Old French ‘esmeralde’, meaning ‘green gemstone’. Emeralds were first discovered more than three thousand years ago in south eastern Egypt. The mines in that region were exploited between 3000 and 1500 B.C. by Egyptians and were later referred to as ‘Cleopatra’s Mines’. The latter had been already exhausted by the time they were rediscovered in the early 19th century.
Like the enticing blue aquamarine and the tender pink morganite, emeralds belong to the large gemstone family of beryl. Pure berylium is colorless and but the elements chromium and vanadium are responsible for the fascinating colors found in beryl family precious stones.
It is interesting to note that the traces of vanadium are concentrated in entirely different parts of the Earth’s crust from beryllium only through intensive tectonic processes and erosions have these elements found each other and crystallized to produce the most beautiful gemstone we globally identify as emerald. A glance through the magnifying glass into the interior of an emerald tells us something about the eventful genesis of this unique gemstone, revealing small or large fissures and perhaps the sparkle of a mini-crystal or a small bubble. Such fine inclusions, signs of the turbulent genesis characterizing this sensitive gemstone, do not by any means diminish the high regard in which emerald is held. Quite to the contrary, such inclusions, referred to poetically and affectionately as ‘jardins’ by French gemologists, often enhance the color and beauty of the gemstone and an emerald of intense and lively green color still has a higher value than an almost flawless emerald of a paler color. The tender and small green plants in the emerald ‘garden’ are regarded as features of the identity of a gemstone, which has grown naturally.
The turbulent genesis of the emerald impedes the undisturbed formation of large and flawless crystals, hence the very great value of high quality, relatively flawless emeralds. In spite of a good hardness protecting the emerald from scratches, its brittleness and its numerous fine fissures render its cutting and setting both a delicate and difficult challenge, even for skilled gem-cutters. The familiar ‘emerald-cut’ was in fact developed to meet this very challenge, as the clear design of this rectangular or square-cut with its beveled corners can best illustrate the beauty of this valuable gemstone, while at the same time protecting it from mechanical strain. Emeralds are also cut in classical shapes, in gently rounded cabochons and into various shapes of emerald beads, particularly popular in India.