Emerald Stone | Properties and Meaning



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



Emerald Green Variety of the Mineral Beryl

Emerald which is a distinctive and highly sought after stone is the green variety of the mineral beryl.  Its unmistakable colour is caused by trace amounts of chromium and the chemical element vanadium.  Flawless gemstones are incredibly rare and the vast majority are small, heavily included and feature surface reaching fissures and fractures which means they have a tendency to break.  For this reason many are treated in order to fill cracks and to improve clarity.  Numerous treatments have been devised over the years in order to hide or disguise flaws and fine grade emeralds can command staggering prices.

Although commercial grade emeralds are available worldwide in abundance, fine grade material is extremely rare.  The history of this grass green coloured gemstone can be traced back to Ancient Egypt and is known to have been mined as early as 1500 BC.  The name comes from the Latin esmaralda/esmaraldus which was a variant of the Latin word smaragdus which originated in Ancient Greece. Smaragdos means green gem.  Cleopatra who reigned shortly before the birth of Jesus loved emeralds and often covered herself in them during official occasions.  Her palaces are believed to have been decorated with them and having stated they were only fitting for Egyptian royalty,  the emerald mines were made her personal possession.  Her portrait was often engraved into larger stones which were then given to her favourite ambassadors.



green beryl gem sitting in rock matrix

National History Museum Los Angeles



Columbia mines more emeralds than any other country and most of the world's finest gemstones come from mines around Muzo which is known as the emerald capital of the world.  The next largest producer is Zambia and a 5,655 carat emerald was found in October 2018 at Kagem which is the world's largest emerald mine. 

Being lighter in weight than diamond and sapphire means that an emerald stone of the equivalent weight would be considerably larger.  On Mohs scale of mineral hardness emerald grades 7½ to 8 which is relatively hard for a gemstone but it's also brittle so will break quite easily.  During the Spanish conquest of Peru the invading Spaniards tested stones by grinding and pounding them hence thousands of emeralds were destroyed because they were deemed to be worthless simply because they were too soft.



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

National History Museum Los Angeles



Grading of Emerald

Several characteristics are taken into consideration when grading coloured gemstones but colour is generally the most important.  Having said that with emeralds clarity comes a very close second followed by richness of colour, saturation and tone.  Despite being the green variety of the mineral beryl not all green coloured beryl is classified as emerald.  In order to qualify gemstones undergo rigorous testing during which cut, shade and depth of colour, clarity and carat weight is assessed.  Another interesting fact is that when assessing the clarity of a diamond a loupe (small powerful magnifier) is used but when inspecting an emerald it's generally done with the naked eye and if no visible inclusions can be seen it will be classified as flawless.



Our Photos

The photos on this page are clickable and link to the original photographs.  Our first photo features an exhibit on display in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C.  The second two exhibits are in the Natural History Museum Los Angeles.  Both photos are courtesy of Stan Celestian.   



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