Intriguing emerald


The word emerald comes from the Latin smaragdus, which means green. Emeralds are one of the globally recognised ‘precious’ stones, along with diamonds, rubies and sapphire. The Incas and Aztecs of South America regarded the emerald as a holy gemstone.


The gemstone emerald is a variety of the mineral beryl, coloured green by chromium and sometimes vanadium. Aquamarine also belongs to the family of beryl minerals.


Emeralds were mined in Egypt since 1500 BC, and India and Austria since at least the 14th century. Colombia is the world’s most prolific producer of emeralds, constituting over half of global production, and the emeralds from that area are a vivid green. However, fine quality emeralds are also sourced from Zambia – which carry a blue undertone – as well as Zimbabwe, Brazil, Afghanistan and Russia among others.


Most emeralds have inclusions and it is extremely rare to find a natural emerald without flaws. These fissures or internal cracks do present a challenge to the cutters. Most modern gemstones are treated to remove surface flaws and enhance colour by “oiling”;this method involves immersing them in colourless oil. In fact, a ‘flawless’ natural emerald is more valuable than a diamond of the same specifications. Jewellers don’t like referring to these inclusions as imperfections, and prefer the term internal ‘jardin’ from the French word for garden.


The rectangular or ‘emerald cut’ is the most recognised, but emeralds can be cut into almost any shape for jewellery. Because colour is integral to establishing an emerald’s value, the cut must maximise the effect of hue, tone and saturation. The colour of all gemstones consists of these three components:

  • Hue – the first impression of the colour; some hues are more sought after than others.
  • Tone – relates to the gem’s intensity of colour, ranging from light to medium to dark.
  • Saturation –how vivid and vibrant the colour is.


Emeralds are believed to keep thoughts pure and serene; and are symbolic of devotion and eternal love. It is the recognised birthstone for those born in May.


Their value appreciates, so choose the best emerald that you can buy. Your jeweller is the best person to advise you on your perfect stone and its ideal setting.

Cover image: Emerald and diamond diadem designed by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria, 1845. (Private Collection. Photograph Alastair Laidlaw)