Precious Stones The Big Five
Part 1 The Emerald
By Sam Serio
The emerald is probably the most rare of all precious
stones and is considered by some to be even more valuable than the diamond. Compared with
other precious stones the emerald in its occurrence in nature is unique, for it is found
in the rock in which it was formed. Unlike diamonds, sapphires and rubies, it never occurs
in gem gravels. The earliest known locality where emeralds were found was in Upper Egypt
near the coast of the Red Sea. The best stones, however, are found in Columbia, South
America. Fine specimens have also been found in the United States in North Carolina.
While the usual shade of color seen in emeralds is alluded
to as emerald green, there are other shades, such as grass green, sea green and green
slightly tinged with yellow. The shades most highly valued are those of an intense fresh
green sometimes compared with that seen in a meadow in spring.
Beryl is a mineral known to gem lovers under several
different names, the most valued of which is the Emerald. The mineral beryl composing the
various gems is practically the same in composition, hardness, and other properties, and
the gems may be differentiated only by their color. In composition beryl is a silicate of
aluminum and glucinum. On the scale of hardness beryl is graded 7 ½ to 8, and is thus
much softer than the diamond, ruby, or sapphire. It is owing to this fact that the emerald
scratches easily and that care must be taken that when worn it is not subject to chafing
by diamonds or other harder gems.
Beryl as a mineral is of quite common occurrence, and the
crystals of the mineral in its cruder form often grow to enormous size. There is one such
single crystal preserved in the Boston Museum of Natural History, which is three and one
half feet long and three feet wide and weighs several tons.
Beryl in this common form occurs in many localities, but
the mineral in its rarer form of emerald is comparatively of very rare occurrence. The
emerald or green beryl, as it should be scientifically known, has long been the most
highly prized of the green gems. In brilliancy it exceeds all other green gems excepting
only the very rare green sapphire. The most valuable specimens exhibit a vivid grass-green
shade, and it is to this color that they owe their great value. Other considerations, such
as freedom from imperfections, are quite secondary in determining the value of the stone.
In fact a perfect emerald is almost never found, and this circumstance has passed into an
Eastern simile which runs, As scarce as a perfect emerald, this being a symbol
for the acme of rarity. The emerald is light in weight and an emerald of a given size will
be about a third larger than a diamond and forty-five per cent larger than a sapphire of
equal weight. The distinctive color of the emerald is probably due to a trace of chromium
in its composition.
Fine emeralds are generally cut cushion shape with step
cutting, and in the East are often cut cabochon. Fine emeralds have advanced very rapidly
during the last few years, both on account of the growing demand of fashion for the gems
and the scarcity of really fine specimens.
Many curious legends of gigantic emeralds have been handed
down to us, principally culled from the narratives of early travelers, who thought every
transparent green stone they saw to be an emerald.
The ancients valued the emerald highly, not alone for its
beauty, but for its supposed occult properties and its marvelous power of healing all
diseases of the eye they also believed that if the eyes of a serpent met the gleam of
the emerald, it immediately became blind. Moore alludes to this superstition in the lines:
Blinded like serpents when they gaze
Upon the emeralds virgin blaze.
The Emperor Nero, who was shortsighted, had an eye-glass
formed of an emerald, through which he gazed and gloated over the cruel sports of the
Many interesting stories are told of the first emeralds
taken by the early conquerors of Peru to Spain, and a certain Joseph D Acosta is
said to have returned to Spain in 1587 with two chests of emeralds, each of which weighed
over one hundred pounds. The truth of this story may be questioned, but it is a fact that
the stones were highly prized and much used by the Incas and Aztecs in the extraordinary
civilization which once existed in Peru. The emerald was highly prized by the ancients and
by gem lovers of the middle ages, and this accounts for many interesting legends and
superstitions relating to the gem.
As for today, the emerald is still very highly valued as
one of the most precious stones. The emerald is Mays birthstone and is a favorite
stone for fine jewelry craftsmen throughout the world.