Emerald History

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The Emerald has been a gem of fascination in many cultures for over six thousand years. They have graced Crown Jewels and embellished the thrones of some of the oldest dynasties in history. As a symbol of wealth and power they are unsurpassed. With their sparkling green luster they are considered to be more precious than diamonds. And, carat for carat, they are the most expensive gems in the world. They are Emeralds, the most precious of all gems.

According to Indian mythology, the name emerald was first translated from Sanskrit as “marakata,” meaning “the green of growing things.” The name Emerald is believed to come from an ancient Persian word, translated to Latin as “smaragdus,” and eventually over time, corrupted to “emerald.”

Records show that the stone was known and sold in markets in Babylon as early as 4000 BC. It is a stone that was worshiped by the Incas and mentioned in biblical information about the apocalypse.

The earliest reference to emeralds in Western literature come from Aristotle. He was a great fan of the gemstone and wrote that owning an emerald increases the owner’s importance in presence and speech during business, gives victory in trials, helps settle litigation, and comforts and soothes eyesight.

The world’s source of emerald supplies has traditionally been Egypt. The first known avid collector of Emeralds was Cleopatra. Remains of "Cleopatra's Emerald Mines" were discovered about 1817, along the Red Sea coast, some 440 miles southeast of Cairo. For thousands of years the famous Cleopatra mines were worked by the Egyptians and then the Romans and the Turks.

In ancient times emeralds held a real fascination for the people. In addition to their exquisite beauty, they were coveted for their supposed magical and healing powers. Emeralds were, in fact, considered to be a cure for many diseases. They were also believed to be able to heighten fertility and sexual desire in females.  The ancient Egyptians believed the emerald stood for fertility and rebirth. As a result of such claims, Emeralds were greatly sought after and a profitable trade was established between Egypt and nations as far away as India.

Emeralds were also believed to reveal what was true or false and was said to be a sure antidote for enchantments and spells. They were also to give eloquence in speech and make people more intelligent and honest. It is believed that emeralds contain the energy that is necessary to bring creative form to your work. They also help one express love, devotion, and adoration.

Legend has it that Hernando Cortes, the conqueror of Mexico, tried to bring huge chunks of Emerald that he took from the Aztecs back home with him. However, one of his ships was shipwrecked, and delicately carved Emeralds in the shape of flowers and fish and other rare Emeralds, including an Emerald the size of a man’s palm, became lost forever.

Emeralds also adorn the Russian crown jewels. The Iranian State Treasure contains an exquisite collection of Emeralds, as well as the Emerald tiara of ex-Empress Farah. Shah Jahan, one of the moguls of India that built the Taj Mahal, loved Emeralds so much that he had sacred texts inscribed into them and used these gemstones as talismans. The ancient writings of Veda, the sacred text of Hinduism, testifies to Emerald as being the “gem of good luck” and the “gem that improves one’s well-being”. These “Mogul Emeralds”, as they are known today, can be found in modern museums and collections.

Alexander the Great had a large emerald set into his girdle. In 800 AD Charlemagne was the undisputed ruler of Western Europe. His vast realm covered what are now France, Switzerland, Belgium, and The Netherlands. It included half of present-day Italy and Germany, part of Austria, and the Spanish March ("border"). He loved and had a large collection of emeralds. Henry II, when he was made King of Ireland in 1171, was given a large emerald ring. Queen Elizabeth II had an amazing collection of emerald jewelry including an emerald diadem.

In modern times, Marlene Dietrich wore her own collection of dramatic jewelry set with huge cabochon emeralds (two bracelets and a clip brooch) in many of her movies. We have also seen the elegant Elizabeth Taylor in her emerald jewelry in National Geographic's emerald story. Richard Burton gave her the emerald and diamond brooch as an engagement present, which she wore with an emerald necklace he gave her as a wedding present. Earrings, a bracelet, and a ring followed. Some of the emeralds in Taylor’s set were from the Grand Duchess Vladimir in Russia. John F. Kennedy gave Jacqueline Bouvier a 2.88 carat diamond emerald ring.

What to look for when buying an Emerald.
  • Cut: Due to their crystalline structure Emeralds are most commonly cut in Square and Octagon shapes. Round and Ovals cuts are also widely available. Fancy cut are very uncommon in Emeralds. 
  • Color: Emeralds occur in a variety of green colors, from a light luminescent blue/green to deep rich emerald green. Chromium and Vanadium are what give Emeralds their extraordinary color.
  • Clarity: Emeralds should have inclusions. Specks of carbon, fractures, cloudiness and silk inclusions are all common and should be seen in a natural minded from the earth Emerald. Silk inclusion can not be created in a lab and is an excellent sign the Emerald you are looking at is the real thing. An Emerald that is large, very green and has no flaws is highly suspicious.
  • Cost: Small light Emeralds can be purchases for just a few dollars.  Large Emerald can cost many thousands of dollars!
  • Care: Emeralds should be cleaned with a soft, dry cloth. You should never clean an emerald with an ultrasonic cleaner. Ultrasonic cleaners can easily damage you gem.  Emeralds are heat sensitive, avoid sudden temperature changes as emeralds can lose their color when strongly heated. Do not wash Emeralds in hot soapy water, this can dry them out.
  • Treatment: Oiling, the oils seep into the breaks and fissures in the gemstone to 'soften' the appearance of flaws. This is done to nearly all Emeralds. Cedar oil is a favorite since it has the same refractive index as Emerald.



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