Emerald: May's Birthstone

Modified: April 2011
by Jerry Sisk, GG; Co-Founder, Jewelry Television®

Highly prized for its rich green colors, emerald has been cherished for thousands of years. Considered a precious gemstone and one of the original “Big 4” (diamond, emerald, ruby, and sapphire), emerald has maintained a major presence among gems throughout history.

Early records show emerald being mined in Egypt prior to Cleopatra's time. Associated with life and eternal youth, emeralds played a major role in the Egyptian culture. The Romans also prized emeralds, associating them with fertility and rebirth. While times have certainly changed, the desire to own this rich green gemstone has not.

Famous Emerald Mines

Some of the most famous emerald mines are found in Colombia. The Chivor, Muso, and Cosquez mines, while remote and nearly inaccessible, are famed for their top quality rough. These mines were so highly valued by indigenous cultures that the source of their intense green treasures was never divulged to the conquistadores. Yet we don’t have to rely on Colombia alone… Emeralds have been found in Brazil, Zambia, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and numerous other countries. In recent years, substantial deposits of emeralds have been found in Canada and China. Amazingly, emerald has even been discovered in Tanzania, home of the exceptionally popular tanzanite.

Regardless of the source, emeralds are in high demand and regarded as one of nature’s greatest gifts to man. Known as the birthstone for May, emerald is also associated with the 20th wedding anniversary. However, the gift of emerald is an exceptional prize for any occasion.

Emerald Color and Clarity

A member of the beryl gem group, emerald owes its intense, vibrant greens primarily to one trace element--chromium. While some vanadium and iron may be present, chromium is the key to emerald's green beauty. Without any trace elements at all, this stone would be colorless beryl.

Emerald's colors may range from bluish-green to yellowish-green, and emeralds typically have many internal characteristics that are visible to the eye, known as "jardin." However, these characteristics should not dissuade you from purchasing an emerald. The element that gives emerald its color--chromium--is also responsible for the “jardin” or “garden” seen within the stone. Inclusions are a way of life with emeralds and are an accepted consequence of emerald formation. As a matter of fact, larger, extremely clean emeralds of intense color are so rare that they may exceed the price per carat of the finest diamonds of similar size. Color is by far the single most important aspect in the grading of emeralds.

Emerald Cut

Most commonly seen in the traditional "emerald cut," emeralds have been cut into a wide variety of shapes. However, unlike many other gemstones, fine emeralds are not normally “calibrated” to fit into standard jewelry castings. The cutter or lapidary tries to maximize his return on weight, since the stones are always sold at a negotiated price per carat. In addition, if quality is equal, one larger finer emerald is considerably more valuable per carat than two or three smaller stones of equivalent weight.

Emerald Treatments

While most emeralds are oiled to improve appearance, this process is considered a normal and acceptable practice. Some dealers go beyond oiling and perform fracture filling, a treatment that does need to be disclosed prior to sale. Some unscrupulous dealers have even resorted to colored oils to improve emerald's color, a practice that is totally unacceptable in the gemstone trade.

Jewelry Television® prides itself in offering a wide range of emeralds from various localities around the world, both in loose form and mounted in jewelry.

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Emerald Gemopedia

Modified June 2011
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