If you’re celebrating a birthday this month, we’ve got good news. Your birthstone is the beautiful emerald, a popular, in-demand gemstone that perfectly encapsulates the bright, summery vibe that May also embodies.
Here’s everything you might need to know about emeralds — no matter when you were born.
What Technically “is” an Emerald?
Emeralds are technically a type of the mineral beryl. Related to aquamarine and morganite, emeralds are set apart from regular beryl by their color. Trace metals and impurities, as well as chromium and vanadium, give emeralds their distinct dark green hue, which makes them textbook emeralds versus just plain ol’ green beryl.
Unlike other gemstones, the impurities that can give emeralds their color do not detract from the stones’ value. The deeper an emerald’s green hue, the more valuable it’s considered. The rarest, and therefore most valuable, emeralds are often more of a deep green-blue than a straight green.
Emeralds are relatively hard, though their inclusions can result in some brittleness that makes the gemstones subject to breakage.
Emeralds can be found in Colombia, Brazil, Afghanistan and Zambia. The world’s largest emerald, however, was discovered in Madagascar, weighing in at more than 1,181 pounds and measuring more than four feet long.
Emeralds in History
The oldest emeralds date back to South Africa, more than 3 billion years. Emerald mining, however, mostly dates back to the Ancient Egyptians, who were mining emeralds as early as 330 B.C.E. Notably, Cleopatra is known for her emerald jewelry and ownership of all emerald mines in Egypt during her rule. Emeralds were often used in Egyptian royal jewelry and burial adornments.
Later on, in 100 C.E., Pliny the Elder described emeralds in his Natural History, saying that “nothing greens greener” than an emerald. He also noted that “its soft, green color” was “comforting” and could remove “weariness and lassitude.” Emeralds were also mentioned in the Bible, as a precious stone given to King Solomon to grant him power over the world.
However, emeralds were also prized in the Western Hemisphere. Colombian native peoples boasted mines that were incredibly well hidden from the conquistadors, protecting their wealth for a time. The Incas used emeralds in jewelry and religious ceremonies.
Gemstone lore surrounding emeralds has historically stated that emeralds could cure diseases, or make someone tell the truth, or even, as so many gemstones were rumored to do, protect a wearer from
the evil eye.
Today, Colombia is the largest producer of emeralds, with estimates saying that the country produces anywhere from 50% to 95% of the world’s entire emerald inventory. Mining in the country has increased substantially over the last decades. Elsewhere, emerald mining is popular in Zambia, the second-largest producer. The famed Egyptian mines of history, though, are in ruins and abandoned.
Synthetic emeralds are now available as well. These are made via either flux-growth or hydrothermal processes. In the former, chromium, beryllium and other elements are dissolved into molten flux and beryl crystallization occurs. In the latter, components are dissolved in acidic solutions at high temperatures, before cooling, to allow crystallization to occur.
Famous emeralds include the Chalk Emerald ring, which features a Harry Winston-designed setting and a 37.82-karat emerald surrounded by 60 pear-shaped diamonds. The emerald was once owned by Indian royalty and now rests in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. The Gachala Emerald similarly lives at the Smithsonian Institute, where it was donated by Harry Winston; the emerald was discovered in Colombia in the 1960s and is 858 carats and two inches long.
The Bahia Emerald is famous for the controversy surrounding the stone. Discovered in 2001 in Brazil, it features nine seperate-but-connected crystals. Reported stolen and seized in Los Angeles in 2008, disputes regarding the gemstone’s ownership are ongoing. More than a dozen people and/or corporations claim to own the gemstone, in addition to the Brazilian government.
What to Look for in an Emerald
If you’re looking to buy an emerald, there are a few things that you’ll want to take into consideration, as well as a few things that make emerald evaluation differ from that of other gemstones.
Much like diamonds are graded on quality for the 4 Cs — carat weight, color grade, clarity grade and cut grade — emeralds are often looked at the same way. However, while diamonds are often considered most valuable depending on clarity and lack of color, emeralds are considered most valuable the more color they have overall.
That doesn’t mean that an emerald should be so colored that its clarity is affected, though. Ideally, a valuable emerald should have no color zoning and the color should be evenly distributed throughout the entire stone. Likewise, the coloration shouldn’t prevent you from seeing all the way through the stone. Clarity is key. Along those lines, you likewise want a cut that’s going to enhance the color of the emerald.
Taking Care of Your Emerald
If you do purchase a piece of emerald jewelry, you’ll want to take precautions to care for it appropriately.
While emeralds are very hard and durable, they are also very brittle. This means that, as with all your other gemstones, you’ll want to store your emeralds separately and solo, in an air-tight, soft-lined jewelry box that ideally protects your jewelry from temperate fluctuations, moisture, light and other elements that could potentially damage your collection.
Since emeralds — even very valuable ones — often do contain oil or resins that help to address fractures or other impurities in a stone, emeralds should not be cleaned with steam or ultrasound cleaners. These can both cause the oil and resins used to dissolve or otherwise deteriorate, weakening the stone. Before taking any piece of jewelry to a jeweler for cleaning, it’s wise to ensure the jeweler has specific experience with your type of jewelry and gemstones.
When cleaning emerald jewelry at home, use warm water and a mild dish soap. Don’t soak the emerald in the water, however. Just wipe the gemstone using a water and soap-dipped jewelry cloth.
It’s a good idea to routinely inspect your jewelry both on your own and via the help of a trained gemologist or jeweler, to keep up on any repairs or maintenance you might need. When wearing emerald jewelry, stay away from excess heat and light (including sunlight). Don’t wear your emerald jewelry when engaging in activities that might involve sweating, or chemicals of any kind. Similarly, don’t subject your emerald jewelry to harsh temperature changes, if you can help it.
Need to Know More?
Need to know more about all things emerald? Whether you’re just brushing up on your gemstone knowledge or you’re in the market for a new piece of jewelry or a standalone gemstone, you should check out the Yamron blog and subscribe to the Yamron newsletter for insider tips on buying, trading and collecting fine jewelry and timepieces. As a subscriber, you’ll also get access to Yamron Magazine Monthly, as well as Yamron’s unlisted inventory and content. You can also stop by our showroom to see our emerald collection.
Gemological Institute of America
American Gem Society
The Australian Government: Geoscience Australia
The Natural Emerald Company