Emerald belongs to the beryl family of gemstones (beryllium aluminium silicate) and is one of the ‘precious’ gemstones. The beautiful rich deep green colour of emerald is due to the presence of traces of chromium and vanadium.
The chemical elements present in emerald do not occur naturally in the same geographical areas. Emerald is formed in metamorphic rocks when violent geological events occur which brings together beryllium, chromium and vanadium. Due to its dramatic formation, emeralds often contain inclusions and minute fractures or fissures. These are called ‘jardin’, due to their likeness to garden foliage.
For thousands of years, emeralds have been treated with oils and resins to make the fissures less obvious, and to enhance the clarity of the stone. The deep green colour is the most desirable, with paler emeralds sometimes being called ‘Green Beryl’.
The name emerald comes from the Greek ‘Smaragdos’, which means green stone. In ancient times, it referred to all green stones. Emerald is a hard gemstone, at 7.5 on Mohs’ scale, but it is brittle, so knocks must be avoided. The famous ‘emerald cut’ was developed for this gemstone, to alleviate the amount of pressure used during the cutting process.
HISTORY & MYTHOLOGY
Historically, Egypt first produced emeralds. Now the main emerald producing country is Columbia but fine quality emeralds are also found in Brazil, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, India, Zambia, Madagascar, Afghanistan and Russia.
Emerald has been cherished as a gemstone for at least 4000 years. The earliest emerald finds were near the Red Sea in Egypt. Emerald was a favourite gemstone of Cleopatra who wore particularly lavish emerald set jewellery. The mines were named ‘Cleopatra’s Mines’ when they were rediscovered in the early 19th Century.
The Incas and Aztecs of South America regarded the emerald as a holy stone. In ancient Rome, the Romans dedicated the stone to Venus, the goddess of beauty and love and associated emeralds with fertility and renewal. Green is a special colour in many religions and cultures and is the holy colour of Islam. In the Catholic Church, green is thought of as the most pure of the liturgical colours.
Emerald is the birthstone for May and is also associated with the zodiac sign of Taurus (April 20 – May 20) It is also known as the 20th and 35th wedding anniversary stone. A gift of emerald is considered to be a sign of love and devotion.