A viridescent wonder of nature steeped in lore for over 4,000 years, the emerald has entranced humankind with promises of good fortune, protection, love and rebirth. From Egypt’s Queen Cleopatra to the incomparable actress Elizabeth Taylor, few seem immune to the emerald’s bewitching beauty.
Amongst all the intriguing tales and legendary figures lie other not-so-flattering rumors regarding emeralds that can make understanding these precious gemstones difficult. So, let’s separate emerald fact from fiction and dispel some of the more common misconceptions about emeralds.
Emeralds are too “soft” to wear.
Gemstone hardness is measured on the industry-standard Mohs scale of mineral hardness, which measures the scratch resistance of a mineral. The scale ranges from 0 to 10 with 10 being diamond, the hardest known naturally-occurring substance on Earth. On the scale, emerald comes in at an impressive 7.5 to 8, which is in the same range as hardened steel.
What has led to this untruth are the characteristics, known as inclusions, that are found in every emerald. Inclusions are the tiny imperfections in a stone that make up it’s clarity characteristics. The term “clarity” is used to describe the presence, or lack, of these inclusions. It is understood and expected by gem and jewelry professionals that all emeralds have inclusions, some more than others. In fact, gemologists often discuss an emerald’s particular pattern of inclusions using the phrase “jardin”, the French word for “garden”. Large amounts of these inclusions occurring in one spot on an emerald make those points more prone to breakage, but the emerald itself is not. That makes emeralds of superior clarity, such as this 13.63-carat Colombian emerald, exceedingly rarer and desired.
If it’s pretty, it must be treated.
It is true that the vast majority of emeralds on the market today are treated, which is a practice accepted industry-wide. When talking about emerald treatment, in particular, we are referring to “oiling,” or the practice used to fill internal fractures in an emerald with oil or resin so as to reduce the visibility of inclusions and improve the color.
However, there does exist the scant handful of emeralds that possess excellent clarity and color all on their own. Commonly referred within the gem trade as “no oil” or “unoiled” emeralds, these rarities, such as this monumental 19.69-carat Colombian emerald, are certified by industry-trusted organizations, like the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), to have undergone no such treatments.
Furthermore, while jewels like diamonds are examined and evaluated for their clarity under 10x magnification, emeralds are graded using the naked eye. Transparent or “eye clean” emeralds that have not been oiled are incredibly scarce, therefore command great attention and price on the market.
Emerald? A green gem is just like any other green gem…right?
Sure, there are lots of green gemstones in the world, such as peridot, tourmaline or demantoid and tsavorite garnets, and have a beauty all their own. But emeralds possess a particularly striking shade of green that is unlike any other gemstone green jewel in the world.
Color is the defining characteristic of an emerald, and it is color that is the key determiner of an emerald’s value. That unique color is thanks to the presence of chromium, and sometimes a bit of vanadium and iron. The presence and exact percentage of each of these elements dictate the color of the emerald. The most valuable emeralds present a very slightly bluish green to pure green with a vivid color saturation and rich tone. The color should be evenly distributed throughout the stone, with no light or dark patches, known as “color zoning”. Pale greens or yellowish greens are valued far less and are classified simply as another variety of beryl (the gem family of which emeralds belong, along with aquamarines and morganite), and are often simply called “green beryl”.
So yes, if you’re just looking for a green stone, there are plenty to choose from. But if you’re searching for that particularly luminous, superb green, then emerald is your jewel of choice.
Emeralds, no matter where they’re mined, are all the same.
Emeralds are found in a multitude of locations around the world, including Madagascar, Israel, Russia, India, Zambia and Brazil. Each locale is known for different traits typically found in their emeralds, and gemologists are able to use different techniques to identify an emerald’s place of origin, such as examining the particular percentages of the elements chromium, vanadium and iron present, which, as discussed previously, impacts emerald color. For instance, emeralds originating from Zambia tend to have a bright, more bluish-green coloration thanks to the higher presence of iron, while Brazilian emeralds slightly darker tone is due to the percentage of vanadium. It is important to note, however, that these are generalizations and do not necessarily hold true for all natural emeralds from these respected emerald mines.
Of all these countries, Colombia above all is renowned for the beauty and richness of their emeralds and is historically the location of some of the most important emeralds ever discovered. Colombian emeralds tend to have more trace amounts of chromium in relation to other emeralds, which typically gives them the pure, bright, saturated green so beloved in these timeless gemstones. A perfect example of this is seen in these carved Colombian emerald and diamond earrings. 19.17 carats of Colombian emeralds are intricately carved, allowing a maximum amount of light to pass through and display the true radiance of their green color.
As you can see, not everything you hear is true. So when you're searching for just the right gemstone, it's always advisable to consult with a trained gemologist or jeweler who can give you the facts you need to make the best, well-informed decision possible.
Our selection of antique emerald jewelry includes emeralds from Colombia in various carat sizes and types of jewelry. Browse our emerald jewelry if you are looking for a statement piece, from an antique emerald engagement ring to an emerald necklace inspired by the Mackay Emerald.