Emeralds, revered ever since 3500BC when the enchanting deep emerald colour was un-earthed in the first recorded emerald mines in ancient Egypt. Ever since, these beauties of the beryl species have been classed as mystical in nature and have found their way into the wardrobe of some of the most powerful people in human history.
Today I am going to be talking about emeralds; one of my most favourite gemstones. I will be uncovering their ancient past, the sometimes bloody roads some have taken in order to obtain their beauty, and even talk a little bit about how these gemstones have found their way around the necks of the most empowered women in human history.
What is an emerald?
Emeralds come from the species known as beryl, which may sound familure to some as it's the same species where the gorgeous aquamarine gemstone comes from. The difference between these two gemstones are the trace elements that are also found inside the stone, which dictate the colour.
The first emerald mine (that we know of) was established in Egypt in 3500BC. This is when they rocked the ancient world and became a symbol for wealth and power and were believed to hold mystical powers, bestowing them upon the wearer. In Egypt; emeralds were believed to be the stone of spring thanks to it's lushious green. The ancient Egyptians also believed that emeralds stood for rebirth, furtility and youth; this lead to mothers being burried with an emerald around their necks so that they may have eternal youth in the after life. They would also wear one as apart of a talisman in life, so that they could attract the powers of fertility to better the odds of falling pregnant and bearing strong and healthy children.
Queen Cleopatra was famous for wearing emeralds as a ruler of Egypt for their mythological properties of warding off evil, granting the protection of the gods, blessing you with good fortune, granting you mystical powers like strengthened memory, intelligence and even the ability to predict the future. It is no wonder that with a list of all these potential benefits, queens and even empresses over the years have showered themselves in the most beautiful emeralds the market has to offer. Another ruler famous for her emeralds is Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, the country's longest-ruling female leader.
What makes a great emerald?
Finding a fantastic emerald is incredibly rare, currently in the modern world, the best emeralds can be found coming out of South America and Columbia especially. The mines in these regions are particullary revered for their emeralds thanks to the specific mineral compositions of the host rock which the emeralds are found in, granting them their world-renowned deep green colour.
Apart from colour, perhaps the largest player in the quality of an emerald is its clarity. For those that don't know, emeralds are known for their inclusions, it's extremely rare to find one without; driving the price per carat of these beautiful stones even further.
These inclusions seen in an emerald are caused by how the gemstone is formed in the earth. The inclusions are sometimes referred to as jardin (French for garden) due to it's pairing with the colour of the stone, representing a lushious lawn or shrubbery at times.
Another factor that plays into the quality of an emerald is of course its cut. Because of how, where and whos supervision emeralds are mined, they often do not leave the country where they are mined until after they have been cut and polished to be sold wholesale into the jewellery capitals of the world like London, New York and Paris. This means that design houses don't get a say in how the stone is cut, it's all down to those who own the mines.
Because those who own the emerald mines want to make as much profit out of the material the mine produces, you will often see emeralds cut into an emerald cut. Due to it's crystal structure, an emerald cut on an emerald is the safest bet to maintain it's structural integrity and beauty; almost guranteeing that you will have an emerald to sell after the cutting process. This makes alternative cut emeralds worth more, due to the fact that the emerald when it came from the mine, had to be of greater quality than others to survive the cutting process and still maintain it's beauty. One of the best cuts you could get in an emerald, boosting up it's price, I would have to say is the brilliant cut. Because of how light reflects inside of a brilliant cut stone, the cutter can't really work their magic on the cutting wheel to make the most out of it; with a brilliant, the colour has to be in the stone no matter how talented the cutter is. This is often the sign of a very rare, and high quality stone, especially if it has very few inclusions.
Where do emeralds come from?
As we have found out, some of the best emeralds money can buy come from Latin America, especially Columbia. However the path these stones have to take in order to get from the mine and into the fine jewellery that we know and love; is one of great controversy. In Columbia especially, the emerald trade is completely dominated by cartels. A few families that owned some of the first profitable mines in the country established so much wealth with the bounty they had unearthed that they were able to afford better professionals, equipment and cutters to completely dominate the trade from mine to showroom, cutting overheads and increasing the profit margin further.
With such great wealth being produced by these mines, it's no wonder that the cartels that own them are rather fierce. Some operate completely legally, however of course there are those that are not afraid to use force when necersary. I personally have heard many stories about how wholesale buyers have gone to the country on multiple occasions to buy amazing emeralds and only a day later, the seller has been shot in an attempt to steal the emeralds by a rival. It's for this reason that it's not a foreign concept to have some sort of armed protection around offices where wholesale emeralds are sold, bringing a thin, chaotic, volatile limbo.
Though I assure you, these are the more dramatic of scenarios. The emerald trade in Columbia is more than safe if you stay out of the very gray, shady backroom offices. Some of the cartels may even offer you armoured vehicles to tour the whole operation, including going down into the mine to see the source, if you work in the trade.
how can I get an amazing emerald without breaking the bank?
As we said before, the best emeralds you can get colourwise will be coming out of the material found in Columbia; known for its rich, deep green. The one thing for me that ruins an emerald is the clearly visable inclusions in the stone, however this could be a feature which you adore. Because of how the inclusions in emeralds are all different, the emerald you choose to purchase will be unique to you and no other emerald in the world will look exactly the same, think of the inclusions like a finger print for the stone.
However if inclusions in the stone are not for you, the best way to get that extremely expensive flawless emerald look is to of course treat the stone. Some emeralds have inclusions which reach the surface of the stone and run deep inside, causing noticable feathers and fissures, especially if these are at the heart of the table (The central flat surface at the top of the cut gem). These inclusions are easier to treat than others because of how they can be filled without drilling into the stone; but with a combination of oiling, waxing and/or impregnation, you can get a better final result. The oil for example fills the gap (inclusion) in the stone to the point it can become invisible or hardly noticeable to the naked eye.
If that's the case, that treatments can make the stone look more 'complete', then why is it not done more often? Well the answer is, it is; most emeralds on the market have been treated in some way to improve the odds of making a sale in the market. As a rule of thumb for most consumers is: if it has a crack in the middle of it, it's not that pretty. In most cases, I think that's true, inclusions in stones mess around with it's brilliance and luster and doesn't make the stone 'pop'. However on the other hand, because it's such a unique trait in emeralds that they almost always have inclusions, treating it would seem rather cheap in a way because it's trying to look like something it's not; and definitly decreases the value of the stone because of the foreign substances you have had pumped inside.
Emerald is one of my personal favourites, it plays a vital role in mythology and has a past that stretches back all the way to 3500BC when the first recorded mine was established in ancient Egypt. Not only has this stone found it's way into the day to day for some of the most empowered women in human history, even today; but its lush beauty is definitly something to admire no matter the quality and has most definitly without question earned its place in any jewellery collection.