The emerald has been a gem of fascination in many cultures for over six thousand years. It is so prized, that carat for carat, a fine emerald may be two to three times as valuable as a diamond. According to Indian mythology, the name emerald was first translated from Sanskrit as “marakata,” meaning “the green of growing things.” The name we know it as now is believed to come from an ancient Persian word, translated to Latin as “smaragdus,” and eventually over time, corrupted to “emerald.” Records show that the stone was known and sold in markets in Babylon as early as 4000 BC. It is a stone that was worshiped by the Incas and mentioned in biblical information about the apocalypse. The earliest reference to emeralds in Western literature come from Aristotle. He was a great fan of the gemstone and wrote that owning an emerald increases the owner’s importance in presence and speech during business, gives victory in trials, helps settle litigation, and comforts and soothes eyesight. He also stated “An emerald hung from the neck or worn in a ring will prevent the falling sickness (epilepsy). We, therefore, commend noblemen that it be hanged about the necks of their children that they fall not into this complaint.”
Many cultures throughout time have believed the emerald to be an enormously powerful stone in different ways. The Chaldeans believed the stone contained a goddess. And in the Islamic faith, an amulet of an emerald might be engraved with a verse from the Koran. The ancient Egyptians believed the emerald stood for fertility and rebirth. In Ancient Rome, Nero supposedly watched gladiator fights through a large transparent emerald as he found the color to be calming. In some legends of King Arthur, the Holy Grail is described as being fashioned from an emerald. In China, Thursday was the day for wearing green and emeralds for good luck. However, various countries in the East and West varied in opinion on which day the emerald would bring good luck. The Romans once considered light-colored Emeralds to be unripe, and believed that an Emerald becomes a darker shade of green as it matures.
There have been many beliefs that the emerald brings goodness into one’s life. The Roman magician Damigeron stated in the second century BC that an emerald “influences every kind of business, and if you remain chaste while you wear it, it adds substance to both the body and the speech.” The second century Mahabharata also commended the stone. The emerald has always been seen as a symbol of fidelity. During the Middle Ages it was believed that it would keep a woman chaste. Not surprisingly, the same was not believed to be true for a man. In various languages, it was also stated that emeralds enable people to foretell future events if put on the tongue or worn on the left side of the body. Emeralds were also believed to reveal what was true or false and was said to be a sure antidote for enchantments and spells. They were also to give eloquence in speech and make people more intelligent and honest. It is believed that emeralds contain the energy that is necessary to bring creative form to your work. And it was once believed that a high quality emerald would change hues to alert the wearer to impending danger. They also help one express love, devotion, and adoration.
It was known that Emerald was a favorite gem of Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, and the Emerald mine in Upper Egypt, rediscovered a hundred years ago near the Red Sea, was one of the earliest Emerald occurrences in the human history. Emeralds also adorned Russian crown jewels. The Irani State Treasure contains an exquisite collection of Emeralds, as well as the Emerald tiara of ex-Empress Farah. Shah Jahan, one of the moguls of India that built the Taj Mahal, loved Emeralds so much that he had sacred texts inscribed into them and used these gemstones as talismans. The ancient writings of Veda, the sacred text of Hinduism, testifies to Emerald as being the “gem of good luck” and the “gem that improves one’s well-being”. These “Mogul Emeralds”, as they are known today, can be found in modern museums and collections.
Legend has it that Hernando Cortes, the conqueror of Mexico, tried to bring huge chunks of Emerald that he took from the Aztecs back home with him. However, one of his ships was shipwrecked, and delicately carved Emeralds in the shape of flowers and fish and other rare Emeralds, including an Emerald the size of a man’s palm, became lost forever.
Throughout history, emeralds have been prized and worn by royalty and celebrities. In the first century BC, Ptolemy, the King of Egypt, had an emerald engraved with the portrait of Lucullus, the great Roman general. He then presented it to him when Lucullus visited Egypt. Cleopatra’s mines (which now yield only poor quality emeralds) turned out many stones, a number of which are displayed in museums around the world, among other stones found 2000 years ago. Alexander the Great had a large emerald set into his girdle. Charlemagne had a collection of emeralds, and Henry II, when he was made King of Ireland in 1171, was given a large emerald ring. Queen Elizabeth II had an amazing collection of emerald jewelry including an emerald diadem. In modern times, Marlene Dietrich wore her own collection of dramatic jewelry set with huge cabochon emeralds (two bracelets and a clip brooch) in many of her movies. Grace Kelly, another icon, was given a 12 carat emerald-cut diamond engagement ring from Prince Rainier. We have also seen the elegant Elizabeth Taylor in her emerald jewelry in National Geographic's emerald story. Richard Burton gave her the emerald and diamond brooch as an engagement present, which she wore with an emerald necklace he gave her as a wedding present. Earrings, a bracelet, and a ring followed. Some of the emeralds in Taylor’s set were from the Grand Duchess Vladimir in Russia. John F. Kennedy gave Jacqueline Bouvier a 2.88 carat diamond emerald ring. And Sharon Stone was given a three diamond, 3 1/2 carat emerald-cut diamond engagement ring by Phil Bronstien.
Mystical Powers of Emerald
*The information provided here is for entertainment and reference purposes only. It is based on centuries of folklore, most of which came about before the age of modern medicine. It is not meant as actual medical information. For advice about any of the illnesses listed, please visit a qualified physician.
The ancients associated Emerald with the Greek goddess Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, it and was said to protect lovers from unfaithfulness. If the heart was loyal, the gem would glow in a beautiful green color, but if the heart was went astray, it would turn a different, lifeless color. In addition, it was believed that wearing an Emerald would improve one’s memory and intelligence, enabling one to think clearly about the past, present, and future.
Emerald plays a vital role in religion, as well. Green is the holy color of Islam, and the states belonging to the Arab world possess green banners symbolizing the unity of Islam. In the Catholic Church, green has a special meaning as well, since it has always been considered the most natural and elementary color in liturgy. Some say that an Emerald in a shape of a bowl fell off the Satan’s crown. That bowl was later used by Christ at the last supper, and Joseph of Arimathea caught Christ’s blood dripping from the cross in that bowl, founding the order of the Holy Grail.
Since as far back as there is evidence of emeralds, there has been evidence of its healing powers. Some said emeralds would heal if simply worn, others said gaining help required gazing deeply into the green for a while. In every language, there were reports of the emerald helping eyesight. The Sumerians said that if an emerald was worn in a ring on the little finger of the left hand, it would cure inflammation of the eyes. During the time of Hippocrates, emeralds were crushed into a fine powder and made into an eye lotion.
The emerald’s healing powers have been associated with the skeletal system, the flesh and skin, the cardiovascular system, the adrenal glands, the kidneys, liver and intestinal system. The stone is also considered to be very cleansing and prevents infection and diseases. It was once believed that a mother who wears emeralds keeps her child safe from complications during childbirth. Paracelsus recommended the emerald be ground up with laudanum, an opium derivative, as a medicine for certain fevers and ailments. There are many ailments that are believed to be cured by emeralds. Disorders that emeralds have been used for include colic, burns, ulcers, headaches, tension, influenza, epilepsy, high blood pressure, heart disorders, neuralgia, cancer, skin disorders, dysentery, syphilis, fevers, nausea, vomiting, indigestion, asthma and anemia. The emerald was also once prized as an antidote in cases of poisoning. Even today, the powder of poorer quality emeralds is used in folk medicines in China
For the mind and the spirit, the remedial use of emeralds has many positive attributes. It is said to detoxify negativity and transform it into positive emotional energy. It stabilizes, soothes, and offers a sense of security, harmony and a closeness to God. It increases one’s life purpose in relation to the universal plan, and aids in emotional life and life transitions. It keeps the mind in excellent condition and also promotes a healthy memory. In today’s world, it is therefore an excellent stone for someone who is involved in public speaking. Emeralds are known to be calming and balancing, promoting creativity and eloquence and restoring faith and hope. The are believed to bring good fortune and are used to kindle kindness and sympathy. They are also used to improve one’s intuition, thereby increasing one’s perception. They bring truthfulness and are symbols of love. There have even been times in history when the emerald was believed to be able to control one’s passions and lusts. Today they represent the balance between Perfect Love and Perfect Trust while carrying the virtue of protection.
Physical Properties and Science of Emerald
Emeralds are found in granites, pegmatites, and schists, as well as alluvial deposits. Some emeralds find their way into gravels where the action of the water tumbles and smoothes them to they resemble shiny pebbles. The first known emerald mines were in Southern Egypt and show evidence of being worked in since 2000 BC. Some of the finest stones today come from Columbia, the best ones from the Chivor and Muzo mines. Much smaller quantities of medium-light color emeralds come from Brazil. Emeralds also come from Austria, India, Australia, Brazil, South Africa, Egypt, the USA, Norway, and Pakistan. In the last few decades, increasing quantities of emeralds have also been found in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania. These stones tend to be a very strong color, as are the stones from India, Pakistan and the Soviet Union.
Only the finest quality emeralds are clear and flawless. Most have tiny mineral inclusions or fractures, referred to as “jardin,” from the French word meaning garden. This refers to the moss or branch like appearance of the flaws. Flawless emeralds are rare and extremely valuable and usually only found in small sizes. There are fewer fine large emeralds in the world than there are diamonds! Most large emeralds have cracks and flaws, or are cloudy in color. It is common to oil these emeralds to disguise the flaws and enhance the color. The inclusions are sometimes not visible to the naked eye, especially in high quality stones. In these, they are very faint and only show up in a 10x, 20x, or 40x lens.
Emeralds are brittle and easily fractured during handling and setting. They are classified with a hardness of 9. They are not as hard as diamonds, but do last a long time. They scratch easily but the scratches can be wiped off. Emeralds range in color from light to dark green. The shade of green is determined by the presence of chromium oxide and vanadium. Throughout history, the emerald’s green color is said to have “entranced humankind.” Its color is a symbol of new life and the promise of spring, which is why it is the birthstone of May. Some call the green color of an emerald rich grass green, or limpid, velvety grass green, or deep transparent grass green with a luster. A square cut to the emerald actually emphasizes the richness of color by leading the eye into it rather than deflecting attention away from it. Some people actually prefer the off shades of green that are not perfect.
In ancient times, many gemstones were called emeralds just because they were green. Today there are about six or seven types of stones that are called various different kinds of emeralds. A true emerald however, is called simply an emerald, with no qualifying name in front of it.
Do not leave your emerald ring on while washing dishes or using soap as an emerald will attract grease and soap. After a while, these substances will accumulate on the bottom of the gemstone, causing it to lose its lively brilliance. Also do not wear your emerald when you might be engaging in physical activity that might scratch the stone. To clean your emerald, use room temperature running water and a soft toothbrush with mild soap like hand soap or Woolite. Brush repeatedly on the underside of the emerald to remove accumulations of dirt and grease. You will see the emerald begin to brighten. It should then be rinsed with warm water, and patted dry.
Do not clean an emerald in ultrasonic cleaners, steam cleaners or acetone. These may cause damage to the stone or the setting. An emerald should never be exposed to high heat. A good rule of thumb is that if the cleaning solution you use is too hot for you to put your hand in, you should not place your emerald in it. Avoid using strong soaps, jewelry cleaner liquids or other cleaners as most of these are not compatible with the oil treatment of Emeralds. Cleaning should be done no more frequently than is necessary, and never more than several times a year. After many years of wear, you may wish to have your Emerald re-oiled. Most local Jewelers can provide this service.