May is the month for emeralds!
The lush green of emerald has soothed souls and excited imaginations since the antiquity. The name comes from the ancient Greek word for green, “smaragdus”. Rome’s Pliny the Elder described emerald in his Natural History, published in the first century AD as “nothing greens greener”. About emeralds, Pliny said, “no stone has a color that is more delightful to the eye, for, whereas the sight fixes itself with avidity upon the green grass and the foliage of the trees, we have all the more pleasure in looking upon the emerald, there being no gem in existence more intense than this”. Following Pliny’s advice, the Roman Emperor, Nero, watched gladiator fights through emerald-encrusted sunglasses.
Emerald is the green to greenish blue variety of beryl, a mineral species that also includes aquamarine as well as beryls in other colors. The degree of green is what makes one stone an emerald and another stone a less expensive green beryl. It is all about the degree of tone and saturation.
There are other green gems, but emerald is the one that’s always associated with the lushest landscapes and the richest greens. Ireland is the Emerald Isle. Seattle, Washington, is the Emerald City. Thailand’s most sacred religious icon is called the Emerald Buddha, even though it’s carved from green jadeite.
The first known emerald mines were in Egypt, dating from at least 330 BC into the 1700’s. Cleopatra was known to have a passion for emerald and used the stones in her royal accessories.
Emeralds from what is now Colombia were part of the plunder when sixteenth-century Spanish explorers invaded the New World. The Incas had already been using emeralds in their jewelry and religious ceremonies for 500 years. The Spanish, who treasured gold and silver far more than gems, traded emeralds for precious metals. Their trades opened the eyes of European and Asian royalty to emerald’s majesty.
There are many legends involving emeralds. For example, emeralds when worn, would help the wearer to reveal truth and be protected against evil spells. Emerald was once also believed to cure diseases like cholera and malaria. Wearing an emerald was also believed to reveal the truth or falseness of a lover’s oath as well as make one an eloquent speaker.
Legend also states that emerald was one of the four precious stones given by God to King Solomon. These four stones were said to have endowed the king with power over all creation.
Its color reflects new spring growth, which makes it the perfect choice of a birthstone for the month of May. It’s also the gemstone for twentieth and thirty-fifth wedding anniversaries.
Without question, some of the most magnificent jewelry in the history of the world has been made out of emeralds. It has always been one of the most prized gemstones.
Late 19th century spectacles, known as Astaneh-ye-ferdaws (Gate of Paradise), featuring Mughal gems, gold, silver, diamonds and emeralds.
The El Dorado emerald ring, featuring a 36.53-carat Colombian ‘El Dorado’ emerald, which sold for $2,165,000 on April 29, 2014. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Indian emerald and diamond necklace, circa 1900. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s. Designed as a fringed collar of foliate design, decorated with rose cut diamonds in a kundun setting, supporting a graduated fringe of emerald cabochon drops, together with a pair of matching earrings. Signed J. Chaumet.
Marjorie Merriweather Post’s platinum brooch from the 1920’s, featuring a spectacular 60 carat carved Mughal emerald surrounded by diamonds which is now owned by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. The central stone in the brooch is a mid-17th century carved emerald that was purchased by Marcus and Co.’s agent in Bombay in the 1920s. Oscar Heyman & Bros. made many of the jewels marketed by Marcus & Co. during the 1920s. There is a drawing for the brooch in the Oscar Heyman Bros. archive.
Brooke Astor’s Beloved Emerald and Diamond Ring and Necklace, photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.
A pair of exquisite emerald and diamond earrings. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.An emerald, pearl and diamond ring by JAR. Photo courtesy of Christie’s.Carved emerald ring with 18 karat yellow gold band. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s. From the Lily Safra Jewels for Hope sale.ttfn,Mrs. Jones