Emerald is the most precious stone in the beryl group. The name comes from the old French word ‘esmeralde’, which was derived from the Greek word ‘smaragdos’ meaning ‘green stone’. By definition, emerald is any medium to dark green beryl colored by chromium. Green beryl colored only by vanadium is not considered to be true emerald, but rather as simply green beryl. Since the 1960s, the American jewelry industry changed the definition to include vanadium colored beryl as ’emerald’, but in the UK and Europe, they are still not recognized as such. The historical green color of emerald is unparalleled in the world of gemstones and it is considered as one of the most ‘precious four’ of all gemstones, which also includes sapphire, ruby and diamond. Although emeralds are one of the most valuable gemstones available today, most are very heavily included, rendering their resistance to breakage as generally poor. According to GIA, emerald is a Type III clarity gemstone, which means that even good quality emerald used in fine jewelry today is in the I2 to I3 range.

Although Colombia is the most famous source for ‘deep green’ emeralds, emerald deposits are mined from many locations around the world. Recent decades have seen emerald production increase as a result of newly discovered deposits in South America, Africa and across Europe. Today, Brazil and Zambia are among the leading producers of fine emeralds, following Colombia. Brazilian emeralds are prized for their excellent clarity and slightly yellowish green color, while Zambian emeralds are desired for their slightly bluish green color, which is similar to that of Colombia’s ’emerald-green’ emeralds.


Emerald Color

With emeralds, even more so than other colored gems, it is the color that is the chief determinant of value. By definition, emeralds are a medium to darker green to blue-green and sometimes slightly yellowish-green beryl. Emeralds owe their fine green color to traces of chromium and/or vanadium impurities. The most popular and valuable color is a slightly bluish green in a medium dark tone with strong to vivid saturation, however, too much blue can decrease the value.

The term “Colombian emeralds” is often used to describe vivid, slightly bluish-green stones of a medium to medium dark color, regardless of their geographic origin. Emeralds of a lighter color are sometimes called “Brazilian emeralds”, even if they were mined in Africa.

Emerald Clarity and Luster

Emeralds have a vitreous (glass-like) luster when cut and polished. Although their clarity can occur from translucent to opaque, transparent specimens are most desirable and are much more valuable. Clarity is important, but inclusions are tolerated more in emeralds than virtually any other gem. Unlike other beryl gems, emeralds often contain inclusions and other flaws. These flaws are not looked upon as negative attributes for emeralds, as they would be for other gemstones. Indeed, these flaws are considered part of the character of the stone and are used to assure the purchaser of a natural stone.

Emerald clarity is graded by eye, unlike diamond, where 10x loupe magnification is used to grade clarity. If an emerald has no inclusions that are visible to the naked eye, it is considered flawless. “Eye-clean” stones will command the highest prices, especially those with ideal color grade.

Emerald Cut and Shape

Emeralds are most often cut in a special cut designed just for this gem; “the emerald-cut”. The emerald cut is a step-cut or trap-cut featuring a rectangular or square shape with truncated corners. This cutting style maximizes the beauty and color of the stone, whilst protecting it from mechanical strain and internal stress. Emeralds are also cut into a variety of other traditional shapes such as pear, oval and round. Lower grade materials are often cut en cabochon or into beads. Highly transparent and clear materials are sometimes cut in brilliant-style.

Emerald Mythology

Innumerable fantastic stories have grown up around this magnificent gem. The Incas and Aztecs of South America, where the best emeralds are still found today, regarded the emerald as a holy gemstone. However, probably the oldest known finds were made near the Red Sea in Egypt. These gemstone mines, exploited by Egyptian pharaohs between 3000 and 1500 B.C. and later referred to as “Cleopatra’s Mines”, had already been exhausted by the time they were rediscovered in the early 19th century.

World-famous Emeralds

One of the world’s largest emeralds is the so-called ‘Mogul Emerald’. It dates from 1695, weighs 217.80 carats, and is some 10cm tall. One side of it is inscribed with prayer texts, and there are magnificent floral engravings on the other side. This legendary emerald was auctioned by Christie’s of London to an unidentified buyer for 2.2 million dollars on September 28th, 2001. 

Emeralds have been held in high esteem since ancient times. For that reason, some of the most famous emeralds are to be seen in museums and private collections. The New York Museum of Natural History, for example, exhibits a cup made of pure emerald, which belonged to the Emperor Jehangir, next to the ‘Patricia’, one of the largest Colombian emerald crystals, which weighs 632 carats.

The collection of the Bank of Bogotá includes five valuable emerald crystals with weights of between 220 and 1796 carats. Splendid emeralds form part of the Iranian National Jewelry Treasury, adorning, amongst other things, the majestic diadem of the former Empress Farah. The Turkish sultans also loved emeralds. In Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace there are exhibits of items of jewelry, writing implements and daggers, each lavishly adorned with emeralds and other gems. The Viennese treasury contains a vase, 4.5 inches (12 cm) high, with a weight of 2205 carats, which was cut from a single emerald crystal.

Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, has so much jewelry that she has a special room to keep it in, said to be about the size of an ice rink, and situated 40 feet beneath Buckingham Palace. This does not even include the British Crown Jewels, which are kept in the Tower of London. The Queen’s personal jewelry is conservatively valued at $57 million and most of it was received as gifts. The fabulous gems in her collection include the “Cambridge and Delhi Dunbar Parure”, a fantastic suite of emerald jewelry which includes an emerald diadem.

Elizabeth Taylor also had a well-known jewelry collection. As an engagement present, Richard Burton gave her an emerald and diamond brooch, which she wore with an emerald necklace he gave her as a wedding present. Earrings, a bracelet, and a ring followed.

Source: Gem Select