Who can forget the 115-carat emerald ear pendants and 65-carat emerald ring that Angelina Jolie wore to the Academy Awards in 2009? It was the start of the rise in popularity for the luscious green gem. Emeralds took over the red carpet during the recent 2018 awards ceremonies as Hollywood’s A-listers accessorized their gowns with this stone that is said to symbolize hope, the future, growth and rebirth.
MYTHS AND LORE
Emeralds are the birthstone for May and are connected to the astrological sign of Gemini and the Goddess Venus. Associated with both the 20th and 55th wedding anniversaries, emeralds are believed to promote domestic bliss and fidelity, while signifying unconditional love. The maharajahs of the Indian Mogul Empire wore emeralds as a talisman for good luck. And the gems are thought to calm the mind and emotions. They are also one of the oldest known gemstones; the first emerald mines were in Egypt dating back to about 330 B.C. The precious gems were known to be a favorite of Cleopatra.
Besides all of that, an emerald is a beautiful green gem that is found in several places around the world, with the most desirable emeralds coming from Colombia in South America and Zambia in Africa.
Emeralds are a form of beryl that get their color from trace elements of chromium, vanadium and iron. The amount of each element in the stone — which grows in a hexagonal formation — will determine whether or not the emerald is yellowish green, green or bluish green. Chromium and vanadium give the beryl its green color, while iron adds a blue tint.
Natural emeralds are quite hard, measuring 7.5 to 8 on the Mohs’ scale of gemstone hardness, with ten being the hardest. Generally, natural emeralds have delicate, swirling fissures inside the stones that are known as “le jardin” — the garden — because the inner world of the gem looks like it is filled with vines. Le Jardin is part of the charm of natural emeralds, however, it can also make them vulnerable to chipping or breaking if they are knocked about. When an emerald is used as the center stone of a ring, it is best to have diamonds or other gemstones surrounding it as not only a design element, but as a way to protect the emerald from damage.
Emeralds from Colombia are considered to be the finest in the world. The green of Colombian emeralds comes from a higher presence of chromium.
The gems were mined by the indigineous people of the area, dating back to about 1000 A.D. The Spanish Conquistadors arrived in Colombia in the 1500s, conquered the area and took the stones back to Europe, where they became very popular.
The emerald mines are located in the western foothills of the Eastern Andes mountain range about 60 miles northwest of Bogotá. There are three main mines in the area – Muzo, Coscuez and Chivor.
- Muzo Mine emeralds are the most saturated and considered the best green.
- Coscuez Mine gems are brighter green with a yellow undertone with visible fissures and cracks.
- Chivor Mine emeralds have fewer inclusions than stones from the other mines, but the color is a lighter bluish-green.
On the other side of the world, in the landlocked African nation of Zambia, emeralds were discovered in 1928 by geologists from the Rhodesian Congo Border Concession Company. During the 1970s, several emerald deposits were found and production ramped up. There is currently a steady supply of the gems coming out of Zambia, which produces about 20 percent of the world’s emeralds.
- Emeralds from Zambia are rich in iron, giving them a blue undertone; the green comes more from the element vanadium.
- Zambian emeralds are generally cleaner and more saturated in color than their Colombian counterparts.
- The emeralds from Zambia have a higher refractive index giving these stones greater brightness.
It is rare to find untreated emeralds. Most are oil filled, which means that the filler goes into any surface fissures to make them less visible. More technologically advanced resins are also used as fillers.
CARING FOR EMERALDS
Emeralds are gems that require tender loving care. They should not be exposed to high heat, nor should they be steam cleaned or put into an ultrasonic cleaner.
Instead, use a mild detergent and warm water to clean your emerald. You may also want to use a small soft brush, such as an old toothbrush, to fully clean your emerald. Emeralds should not be cleaned too often.
Whether it’s your birthstone, or you just like green, it may be that emerald is the gem that will bring you good luck and calmness whenever you wear it.