Emerald's lush green has soothed souls and excited imaginations since antiquity. Its name comes from the ancient Greek word for green, "smaragdus."
Pliny the Elder described emerald in his Natural History, published in the first century AD: "...nothing greens greener" was his verdict. He described the use of emerald by early lapidaries, who "have no better method of restoring their eyes than by looking at the emerald, its soft, green color comforting and removing their weariness and lassitude." Even today the color green is known to relieve stress and eye strain.
Legends gave emerald the power to make its wearer more intelligent and quick-witted. It was once believed to cure diseases like cholera and malaria. Its color reflects new spring growth, which makes perfect choice of a birthstone for the month of May. It's also the gemstone for twentieth and thirty-fifth wedding anniversaries.
The first known emerald mines were in Egypt, dating from at least 330 BC into the 1700s. Cleopatra was known to have a passion for emerald, and used it in her royal adornments.
Emeralds from what is now Colombia were part of the plunder when sixteenth-century Spanish explorers invaded the New World. The Indians had already been using emeralds in their jewelry and religious ceremonies for 500 years. The Spanish, who treasured gold and silver far more than gems, traded emeralds for precious metals. Their trades opened the eyes of European and Asian royalty to emerald's majesty.
Emerald is often mined and sold under peril - the natural resource Colombians cherish is also coveted by underworld drug traders. The availability of fine-quality emerald is limited, and emerald was plagued in the late 1990s by negative publicity about treatments commonly used to improve its clarity.
Emerald is the most famous member of the beryl family. It has a hardness of 7.5 to 8 on the mohs hardness scale, and has a toughness of poor to good.
Fracture Filling — Filling surface-reaching fractures with colorless oils or resins to improve clarity. (Routine — Not Permanent)
Dyeing — Adding a colorant to the oils or resins used in the fracture filling process to improve color. (Rare — Not Permanent)
Coating — Covering a light-colored beryl with a green plastic to create an emerald imitation. (Rare — Not Permanent)
Colombia is one of the largest commercial producers of emerald. Fine Colombian emeralds are highly regarded for their excellent color. Zambia is also a commercial source of emeralds with good clarity. Other sources include Afghanistan, Brazil, Pakistan, Russia, and Zimbabwe.
Care and Cleaning
Emeralds are routinely treated with colorless oils or resins to improve clarity. To clean emeralds, only warm soapy water should be used. Avoid the use of harsh detergents and vigorous scrubbing.
Simulants, synthetics and alternatives
Emerald imitations can be made from green glass or synthetic spinel triplets.
Synthetic emeralds may be grown using the flux of hydrothermal method.
Emerald alternatives include alexandrite, demantoid garnet, diopside, jadeite, Peridot, sapphire, tourmaline, tsavorite garnet, and zircon.
Text from GIA Essential Colored Stone Reference Guide, ©1999.
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