Welcome to May, one of the finest months to live in our neck of the woods (flowering trees, warm spring days, and lovely evening walks along the brick sidewalks…ahhh). It’s also the month for one of my favorite gemstones: emeralds. If you’re curious about what makes these precious gems so unique — and valuable — read on for this month’s birthstone report…
Emeralds are some of the oldest mined gemstones, with the first known emerald mines originating in Egypt as far back as 330 B.C. Rabbinic legend states that God gave King Solomon four gemstones that conveyed to him the power to rule over all creation, and one of these gemstones is believed to have been an emerald. Cleopatra particularly favored these gemstones and used emeralds frequently in her royal adornments.
Columbia is perhaps the most well known and reliable sources for the highest-value intense-green emeralds in the market. The Incas, in what is now Columbia, had been using emeralds in their jewelry and religious ceremonies for more than 500 years before Spanish explorers invaded the New World. The Spanish began exporting the gemstones for trade with European and Asian royalty, bringing fine Columbian emeralds into the hands of some of the most talented lapidaries and jewelers on the globe.
Some absolutely exquisite pieces resulted from this market, namely The Moghul Emerald. This 217.80 carat emerald dates from 1695 is was likely mined in Columbia and exported to India. It features intricate carved detailing on both sides: on one, an elegant Arabic script with a Shi’a Muslim prayer, and on the other, a naturalistic floral design of a rosette surrounded by poppies. The emerald was most recently sold at auction by Christie’s of London in 2001 for $2.2 million.
Emeralds are also reliably mined in Zambia, though Zambian emeralds typically favor a more bluish-green tone. Chromium, vanadium, and iron are the trace elements that cause emerald’s color. The presence or absence of each and their relative amounts determine the exact color of the beryl crystal. Emeralds are the green variety of the mineral beryl. Beryl also trades in the gem names aquamarine (the light blue variety) and morganite (a blush pink tone) and can be found in yellow and light green shades. Gem graders can be quite strict about what defines a crystal as an “emerald” as opposed to its significantly less valuable classification, green beryl. In order to be truly an emerald, the gem must display a vibrant green hue: if it’s too light, the gem is graded as green beryl.
Nearly all cut emeralds will have some type of visible inclusion in the gemstone. In fact, jewelers will often refer to these visible inclusions by a lovely monniker: le jardin, or the garden within the emerald, because they can add a certain organic luminescence to the gem. An emerald’s value can vary immensely depending upon its color tone, saturation, clarity, and overall cut. Truly eye-clean emeralds are exceedingly rare and therefore immensely more valuable, and the more verdant the tone the higher the gemstone is graded.
A word to the wise: emeralds are notoriously brittle. One should always take great care to protect an emerald from scratching or cracking. If you drop an emerald on the floor, it’s very likely to crack or even shatter into pieces. For this reason, I always caution those hoping for an emerald engagement ring to consider the expected wear upon the gemstone as it’s very likely that the emerald will need to be replaced within one’s lifetime if it’s worn every day. One lucky client had hers break after forty years of marriage, which was a fabulous run for an emerald. We replaced it with a lovely new one and she is happily wearing the ring again — hopefully for another forty years!
Personally, I adore emeralds. I’m not a fiery faceted gemstone kind of girl, so for me the flatter emerald facets and luminescent imperfection of le jardin are so much more alluring than a brilliant cut diamond. 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. Stop by to see the emerald and diamond Art Deco-style pendants we have in our showroom or consider a custom design of your own. We’ll create something extra special to celebrate this extra special gemstone.
Alexandria & Company is an Old Town-based workshop and design studio specializing in creating and restoring fine jewelry and silver hollowware. They are the in-the-know jewelers of Alexandria and have been serving clients out of their small workshop for decades. Tucked in their historic building on South Royal Street, the team at Alx&Co. brings a personalized, modern approach to their craft – this is not your average stodgy jeweler or antique shop. Visit them during their walk-in hours or online to view their collection of handmade fine jewelry or to drop off a repair project; or, if you’re feeling creative, make an appointment to talk about that custom design project you’ve been imagining.
121-B South Royal Street
Alexandria, Virginia 22314
Design Studio Walk-In Hours (all jewelry services): Wednesday – Saturday 12-6pm
Silver Workshop Walk-In Hours (all silver repair and restoration services): Wednesday or Friday 12-6pm, or by appointment
Appointments encouraged for custom design.