Emeralds are the birthstone of May and associated with the astrological sign of Taurus and Gemini. This post presents a new outfit in this gemstones’ colors and reviews various interesting aspects of emeralds facts.
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In May, we see a lot of emerald pieces in jewelry stores. Antique emerald rings typically are set in 14 K or 18 K yellow or white gold or in platinum. These rings are unique master pieces of gemstone cutting and goldsmithing craftsmanship.
Contemporary pieces like the buckle in the outfit photos, and especially cheap zodiac signs are often set in Sterling silver. Sometimes you can see gold-plated pieces. Cheap silver birthstone jewelry is often mass-produced. Sometimes it may be customized by engraving of the wearer’s name.
Emerald is a beryl gemstone. It consist mainly of beryllium, aluminum, silicon, and oxygen (Be₃Al₂SiO₆). Pure beryl is colorless. The medium or darker green to bluish-green color of emerald is from impurities of chromium (Cr), vanadium (V), or both. The bluish tone is due to iron (Fe) and increases with increasing Fe amount. Prior to the discovery of large deposits of beryl stones with vanadium in Brazil 1963, only beryl with Cr was called emerald.
Carat weight, color, clarity and cut determine the value with color being the most important factor.
The specimen form in different environments. Some form in hydrothermal veins other in magmatic pegmatites. In the former, these elements are dissolved in hot water that flows in the veins. When the solution cools down and reaches the right pressure-temperature conditions, beryl crystals start to form one molecule at at time. Think of it like the formation of ice at the freezing point at atmospheric pressure in your fridge. However, here pressure and temperature are much higher than in the ice crystal formation example.
The beryl crystals that form in magmatic pegmatites also require the right temperature-pressure conditions (see photo below). Beryl grows in hexagonal crystals like snow crystals do.
Gemstone experts can tell the local of uncut, untreated (raw) emeralds by their color, size and clarity as well as by the mother rock. Zambian specimen, for instance, formed in pegmatites, while the Columbian specimen crystallized in relatively low temperature thermal fields.
The American chemist Carroll Chatham created the first synthetic emerald in 1935. This 1-carat Chatham is now on display at the Smithsonian Institute.
Beryl is found in metamorphic rocks (i.e. the rock came under high pressure and temperature), volcanic deposits or in fractures and cracks in granite rock. Major sources are Colombia and Brazil followed by Zambia, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, and Nigeria. Ethiopia also has high quality emeralds. Notable mines exist also in Afghanistan, China and India. In Europe, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Russia, Spain and Switzerland have places with emeralds. US states with emerald finds are Connecticut, Montana, Nevada, North and South Carolina. In 1997, emeralds were discovered in the Yukon Territory.
Ancient astrologers believed that gemstones hold metaphysical properties. This believe may be why we today associate zodiac signs or months with birthstones. Emerald mines existed in Egypt from at least 330 BC until the 18th century. Ancient Egyptians considered these gems could ease childbirth. For them these stones were also a symbol of fertility, eternal youth and rebirth. Archaeologist have found mummies that wore emerald necklaces! Cleopatra was known to have a passion for emeralds and used them in her regalia. To get the best pieces, she took the ownership of the Egyptian mines.
The stones also had a place in mythology. Romans believed that gazing into these stones would relieve stress and eye strain. In medieval times, people believed that emeralds have healing power. They believed that it could cure insomnia, depression, cholera, and ailments of the heart, eyes, pancreas, backbone, lymph nodes, intestines, kidneys and thymus as well as detoxify blood and strengthen the immune system.
Cortez brought back huge emeralds from his voyage to South America, which made them popular with Royals at the European and Asian Courts. In one of them, he had engraved with Matthew 11:11. A fellow voyager believed that this engravement was unethical and had caused the death of the French King!
The Queen Mom wore a Greville Bequest emerald diamond necklace at important state affairs during her lifetime.
Lately, the green beauty has become one of the gemstone trends in engagement rings.
Who doesn’t remember the collier, diadem and earrings with diamonds and the green pendant that Elizabeth Taylor got from Richard Burton? The pendant sold for $6.5 Million in 2011!
And what about the stunning 115-carat pear-shape drop earrings Angelina Jolie donned at the 2009 Academy Awards? The very simple design of the setting by Lorraine Schwartz made the stone the statement of Angelina’s outfit.
In 2019, Queen Elizabeth II donned a never seen before necklace that matched her diamond with emerald drops tiara and earrings at the Diplomatic Corps reception. All magazines dwelled about it.
The Mac Kay is one of the named beauties named after Clarence Mackay. Cartier set it in an Art Deco diamond-and-platinum pendant. This necklace was Mackay’s wedding gift to his wife, Anna Case, who was a prima donna at the New York Metropolitan Opera from 1909 to 1920.
One of the largest uncut stones is the Duke of Devonshire Emerald with a weight of 1,383.93 carats.
Despite Beryl has a hardness of 7.5–8 on the Mohs-scale, their resistance to breakage (toughness) is typically poor. Recall most of them have a lot of inclusions. Most emeralds used in jewelry are oiled and slightly heated to fill pores and (already naturally existing) cracks with oil to increase the color and stability as well as to improve the look.
Grease removing detergents dissolve this oil fissures. Thus, take ring with these stones off when washing the dishes or hand laundry. If you need to clean them rub the stone with a (mild soapy) cloth and then rinse them with water. Visit a professional jeweler once in a while for a “refresh” and check of the sponges that hold the gem.
Emeralds easily crack. This means when you wear them everyday, make sure to take them off when you perform work that could lead to a hit on the green gem. Exposure to extreme temperatures (e.g., continuous sunlight, tanning bed, sauna, etc.) also can create cracks.
Store your emerald jewelry in soft cloth or pouches alone. Never ever store them together with other jewelry or in a rugged box. Doing so could cause scratches.
A variety of the beryl is the aquamarine. The look of the day is inspired by the colors of these gemstones. Well, I guess the value would be low. The color is not grass-green and not even. There are veins. And there is no clarity. LOL.
Schumann, W., 1976. Edelsteine und Schmucksteine. Alle Edel- und Schmucksteine der Welt 1500 Einzelstücke. Bestimmungsbuch. BLV, München.
Schumann, W., 1990. Mineralien aus aller Welt. Bestimmungsbuch. BLV, München.
Seim, R., 1981. Minerale. Neumann Verlag, Leipzig.
Yukon Geological Survey, 2014. Emeralds in the Yukon Territory.
Photos of me: G. Kramm
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