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Emerald Gemstone Facts and Photos

rough green beryl mineral on display in a museum display cabinet.

1. What is Emerald?
2. Grading Emerald Gemstones
3. Article Pictures
4. Shop Emerald

What is Emerald?

Emerald is a green variety of the mineral beryl.  Its magnificent colour is caused by trace amounts of chromium, vanadium and beryllium.

Flawless emeralds are incredibly rare.  The vast majority are small, heavily included and feature surface reaching fissures and fractures.  These often cause stones to break very easily.  For this reason emeralds are often treated to fill cracks and to improve clarity.

Numerous treatments have been devised over the years to hide or disguise flaws.  The finest grade emeralds command staggering prices.

Although lower grade gemstones are available worldwide in abundance, fine grade emeralds are extremely rare.

The history of emeralds can be traced back to ancient Egypt where it was mined as early as 1500 BC.

The name comes from the Latin word 'esmaralda' (feminine) or 'esmaraldus' (masculine), a variant of the Latin word 'smaragdus' which originated in ancient Greece. 'Smaragdos' means 'green gem'.

Cleopatra loved emeralds and often covered herself in them during official occasions.  Her palaces are believed to have been lavishly decorated with them. 

Having stated the stones were only fitting for Egyptian royalty, the emerald mines were made her personal possession.  Her portrait was often engraved onto larger stones which were then gifted to her favourite ambassadors.

green beryl variety emerald

Columbia mines more emeralds than any other country.  The finest stones come from mines around Muzo which is known as the emerald capital of the world.

The next largest producer is Zambia.  In October 2018 a 5,655 carat stone was found at Kagem which is the world's largest emerald mine.

The 'Gachalá Emerald' is one of the largest and most famous emeralds in the world.  It weighs 858 carats and was found in the Muzo mines of Colombia in 1967. It's named after the town of Gachalá where it was discovered. 

Another famous stone is the Duke of Devonshire Emerald.  Also discovered in Muzo it weighs 1,383.93 carats.

The Gachalá Emerald is housed in the Smithsonian Institute in the U.S, the Duke of Devonshire Emerald is in the Natural History Museum London.    

Being lighter in weight than diamond and sapphire means an emerald of the equivalent weight would be considerably larger.

On Mohs scale of mineral hardness emerald grades 7.5 to 8.  Although hard it's also very brittle.

A mineral's hardness is often confused for toughness but the two characteristics are not the same.

Emerald is the modern birthstone for the month of May.

free standing upright emerald mineral specimen on display in a museum display cabinet.

Grading of Emerald Gemstones

Several characteristics are taken into consideration when grading coloured gemstones.  Colour is generally the most important.  With that said, in emeralds clarity comes a close second followed by richness of colour, saturation and tone.

Despite being the green variety of the mineral beryl not all green beryl is emerald.  Before a stone can be classified as emerald it must go through rigorous testing.

During this process the cut, shade, depth of colour, clarity and carat weight is assessed. 

When assessing the clarity of a diamond a loupe is used for closer inspection.  This small powerful magnifier is held close to the eye.  Inspection of an emerald however is often done without any magnification.  If no visible inclusions can be seen it's classified as flawless.

Article Pictures

Photos are clickable and redirect to the original image.  The piece at the top of the page is housed in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C (photo Stone Mania ©).

The emeralds in the second two pictures are in the Natural History Museum Los Angeles.  Photos courtesy of Stan Celestian.   

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