The Gem of Royalty: Why Emeralds Are One of the World's Most Valuable Gemstones
Emeralds have inspired sentiments of beauty and luxury for centuries, known for their intense green color and shimmering crystalline structure. As May's birthstone, its jewelry is also a ubiquitous springtime gift. Dating back thousands of years, we will explore the historical significance of emeralds and their use in jewelry and why they are often considered more valuable than diamonds.
The Green Jewel of the Nile
The name emerald originated from the Greek word "smaragdo" and was then translated to "esmeralde" in Old French. It simply means "green gemstone." One of the most famous wearers of the emerald was Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. Her extensive jewelry collection contained many precious gemstones, but it is often believed that emeralds were among her favorites. It is also the primary gemstone in other royal jewelry collections, including the Chalk Emerald of the Baroda State, which is now owned by the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.
What Are Emerald Gemstones?
Emeralds are a type of beryl mineral gemstone first discovered in Egypt around 2000 B.C. They were mined during these ancient times for jewelry-making purposes and have since been found in select mines worldwide. Today, Columbia is the biggest producer of emeralds. There are several varieties of emeralds in Columbia and throughout South America.
The emerald has a Mohs scale hardness of 7.5–8, which means it is relatively durable for everyday use. Because emeralds are so rare, they are often more expensive per carat than diamonds. This gemstone may be priced twice that of a diamond for fine jewelry, depending on the gem quality (determined by its color, carat, clarity, and cut).
Significance of Emerald
Emeralds are well-known around the world for their signature green color. Some have a slightly bluish tint, while others are characterized by a warm olive undertone. Because of this color, they are a staple in many celebrities' wardrobes and historical royal jewelry collections.
In Indian mythology, the emerald is a symbol of the goddess Minakshi. This goddess is the tutelary goddess of the Madurai district and has a magnificent temple in her honor, known as the Minakshi Amman Temple. It is rumored that Minakshi was made of emerald and is a symbol of divine feminine beauty.
Even today, Hollywood trendsetters adorn themselves with this magnificent stone: Angelina Jolie wore a pair of emerald earrings to the 2008 Academy Awards ceremony to symbolize her hope for world peace.
The emerald is the birthstone of May and the gemstone for the astrological sign Cancer. A gift of emerald is thought to be symbolic of love and the desire for a loved one's safe travel and speedy homecoming. It is often given as an anniversary gift due to its long-held associations with love, lust, and eternity.
Emeralds Around The World
Due to the scarcity of emeralds, the more significant cuts of these gemstones are highly prized and often preserved for museum collections. Some of the most famous emeralds around the world include:
- The Bahia Emerald — This is one of the largest raw cuts of emerald globally, weighing in at approximately 752 pounds or 1,700,000 carats. It contains the largest single shard of emerald ever discovered. Since its discovery in Brazil in 2001, this emerald has transferred ownership several times. Nearly lost during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster, it was recovered after the flooding and moved to a safer location. Experts estimate the Bahia Emerald's value at approximately $400 million.
- The Gachalá Emerald — At the time of its mining in 1967, it was the largest and most valuable emerald in the world. It was found in the Vega de San Juan mine in Gachalá, Colombia, and then sold to a wealthy American jeweler, who donated it to the Smithsonian Institution.
- The Mogul Mughal — Weighing in at 217.80 carats, this sacred emerald is one of the oldest preserved emeralds in a collection today. It is dated as far back as the year 1695 AD and features ancient Islamic illustrations and engravings in Naskh script. It was first mined in Columbia but then sold to the Mughal Empire of India. It was sold in 2001 for the lofty price of $2,131,277. Now, it resides in the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar.
- The Henckel von Donnersmarck Tiara — Princess Katharina was the recipient of a stunning emerald and diamond tiara, gifted to her by her husband, Prince Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck. The incredible tiara was composed of eleven rare, pear-shaped Colombian emeralds, weighing more than 500 total carats. Commissioned in 1900, it was the highest ever auctioned tiara, fetching an astounding $12.7-million.
These only scratch the surface of the rare and magnificent emeralds found in today's gemstone collections. However, an emerald doesn't have to be this rare or expensive to capture the essence of beauty for its owner. That is why emerald gemstone jewelry is one of the most popular options to gift a loved one or treat oneself to something truly beautiful.
The Allure of Emerald Jewelry
When most people picture luxury jewelry, they think of diamonds. Flawless emeralds with lighter hues are actually considered less valuable than deeply-colored stones with fine inclusions. Emeralds have a very different crystalline structure than diamonds, so the cut is significant for this stone. It even has a jewelry cut named after it—the emerald cut—which perfectly displays its depth of color and beautiful clarity. The emerald cut is a rectangular shape that helps to saturate the green tones and showcase more prominent emerald pieces in a beautiful, eye-catching setting.
Emeralds are used for all types of jewelry, from stately pendants and earrings to luxury bracelets and even alternative engagement rings. Because they are so hard to come by, larger cuts of these stones are the most prized. They typically become a centerpiece in one's jewelry collection, only worn for special occasions because of their value.
Emeralds can still be found in all price ranges if looking for the right style. Raw emeralds present a beautifully saturated green tone and are often used in smaller jewelry pieces such as rings and pendants. If you are looking for an emerald jewelry piece on a budget, a raw cut stone may be your best option.
Emerald Care & Preservation
With a high Mohs rating, emeralds are considered highly durable and ideal for jewelry making. You'll want to take extra precautions to not damage your jewelry piece, for it will not be easy to replace due to the limited quantities worldwide.
Exposure to heat, water, and harsh chemicals can all damage or ruin the color of your emerald jewelry. It is important to keep your emerald jewelry pieces in a protective jewelry box to reduce sunlight and household chemicals exposure. You should never submerge your emerald jewelry in water for long periods, such as during baths or while swimming. It is also recommended to remove it during physical activity or when washing your hands. This will help not only to protect the gemstone but keep your setting in prime condition.
Like many other gems, emeralds can suffer from exposure to makeup or sunscreen. The oils in these products can build up residue on the stone, which can be challenging to clean. It can also damage the setting and potentially loosen the stone, causing it to potentially fall out. Always clean your jewelry after wearing it and look for signs of aging to ensure your treasures last a lifetime.