Emerald is one of the earliest known coloured gemstones, having been prized since antiquity. Its name comes from the Greek word “Smaragdus” which means green. The earliest known emerald mines were in Egypt, about 3000BC, from a location near the Red Sea that would later be known as “Cleopatra’s mines”. Cleopatra was known to have a passion for them, and used them in her royal jewellery.
Legend holds that wearing emeralds makes one more intelligent and quick witted, and they were believed to cure illnesses like cholera and malaria. They are also thought to enhance the clairvoyance of the wearer! It is the birthstone for May, perhaps because of the association of green with new spring growth. It is also the gemstone for twentieth and thirty-fifth wedding anniversaires. The ancient Romans dedicated the colour green to Venus, the goddess of love.
Emerald is a member of the beryl family; this puts it in the same family as Aquamarine, Heliodor and Morganite. Though Beryl is normally colourless, emeralds take their green colour from trace amounts of Chromium and sometimes Vanadium. The largest emerald ever found is a massive 15,000carat stone discovered not long ago in Columbia. It is priceless.
Most emeralds possess inclusions, giving them a soft, mossy appearance. The name for this is “garden”, from the French word “Jardin”. This does not necessarily detract from its value, as long as the inclusions do not weaken the stone. It is the rich, deep colour of the stone, above all, that is prized. Indeed, some of the most valuable emerald in the world are have inclusions. The best colour is an intense, deep green. In very top quality, emeralds can be even more expensive than diamonds.
Most high quality emerald comes from Columbia; there are also good commercial mines in Zambia, and deposits in Brazil, China, Russia and Afghanistan.
Generally emeralds are cut in a step fashion; this is so common that the cut is called “Emerald Cut”. If the stone has many inclusions, it may be polished into a Cabochon (domed finish).