Rich in Meaning and Color: A Guide to Emerald Evaluation

Indeed, no stone has a color more delightful to the eye, for whereas the sight fixes itself with avidity upon the green grass and foliage of the trees, we have all the more pleasure in looking upon the emerald, there being no green in existence more intense than this.” -Roman Scholar, Pliny, on the Emerald Gemstone, First Century, A.D. Encyclopedia, Natural History

30-3715_2 An important 13.63-carat emerald and diamond ring

The realm of colored stones is a seemingly limitless pool of fiery oranges, rich blues, royal purples and every color in between. However, there exist three stones known as the “big three” whose qualities, rarity, and importance have constantly surpassed all others: sapphires, rubies, and emeralds.

In this examination, we will discuss the various aspects of the emerald, and explore how they can give us insight into what truly comprises an excellent colored gemstone.

Undeniably a cornerstone in the jewelry market, the finest emeralds possess an incredibly pure and brilliant green hue. In fact, a supremely clean and vibrant emerald can, in many cases, outrank diamonds in terms of value and rarity.

When considering an emerald purchase, it’s important to understand specific attributes identify an ideally-suited emerald. This comprehensive guide of the emeralds key factors will reveal the principle aspects one should consider and pay careful attention to upon emerald evaluation and acquisition.

So let's delve into the fascinating history, technical nuances, and understanding of this jewels multitudinous characteristics and learn what comprises an exceptional emerald.

What are Emeralds?

The emerald is a variety of the mineral species, beryl. Beryls are comprised of beryllium aluminum cyclosilicate. When this chemical makeup combines with the trace element chromium (and sometimes iron or vanadium), an emerald is formed. Emerald is perhaps the most famous member of the beryl family, alongside aquamarine.

30-6529_1 An emerald and diamond ring that is comprised of 0.47 carats of bright, lively emeralds

Emerald History

The history of emeralds is nearly as captivating as the gemstone itself. Encompassing immense importance, the emerald has become imbued with rich symbolism and coveted by numerous cultures across time.

The very first documented emeralds hail from Ancient Egypt, dating from 330 B.C. and whose mines operated well into the 1700s. During this time, Egypt was the only known source of emeralds for Asia and Europe. However, when the Spanish invaded the Americas in the 1500s, it was discovered that various Indian tribes had long enjoyed, for at least 500 years, extraordinary emeralds from present-day Colombia. Utilized and worn in ceremonial objects, it was undisclosed up until this point that there existed this rich supply of excellent emeralds apart from those in Egypt, whose hue and color was much greener and brighter.

30-5055_1 A diamond and platinum bracelet that is compromised of 3.77 total carats of no-oil Colombian emeralds

Due to the higher quality of these newly discovered Colombian emeralds, it’s no surprise that they were quickly plundered by the Spanish, who traded them in exchange for silver and gold and exported the extraordinary stones into the European market by the early 16th century. The vast quantity of sparkling Colombian gems then infiltrated awaiting consumerist groups in France and Spain. After, they made their way into Persia and India whose top admirers were amongst the highest ranking individuals and royals. In these lands, the gemstones were instantly incorporated into the royal treasures of Arabian sheiks and Indian Moguls, whose barren land was void of lush forests and therefore whose eye was instantly drawn towards the unfamiliar, lush green hues.


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Among other cultures, the emerald has been worn for centuries with the unshakable belief that it contains the ability to reveal truth, protect against evil spirits, and cure diseases - among many other legends.

Emerald Quality Factors

Emerald Color

The emerald is most regarded, coveted, and graded by its verdant, green color. In fact, it is the emeralds color that most heavily determines its value (hand in hand with clarity). Described and published by Roman philosopher, Pliny, in the 1st century AD, as “...nothing greens greener,” it’s no doubt that the emerald is most prized for its lush color.

30-2992_1 A 3.04-carat Colombian emerald that displays the ideal color for which these stones are so heralded: medium tone, vivid saturation, and an even, pure green hue.

For the emerald, color is predominantly determined by the region in which it was mined. Those emeralds from Muzo, the mines that are considered to produce the finest Colombian emeralds, are known to display the finest and most desirable display of color that is referred to by many as “grass green.” These display the purest, brightest, and evenly distributed green hue; these emeralds are not dull or muddy in appearance and the brightest areas of color do not include any areas of grayish or brownish tints.

Even so, there exists a range of color for emeralds that extends from those of a bluish-green type to those with a dark green body color, with every hue in between. This is called the emerald's depth or range of color.

Emerald Color Range Photo courtsey of EMCO, Fine Colombian Emeralds Emerald Color Range
Photo courtsey of EMCO, Fine Colombian Emeralds

A color of an emerald is then broken down by three characteristics: hue, tone, and saturation. The hue is the emerald’s basic body color - does it contains hints of brown or blueish green? Next, the tone is the degree of how light or dark the stone is. Finally, saturation refers to the strength of the color of the emerald - is it very vivid and bright? Or does the emerald present itself as dull and weak? Combined, these three aspects contribute to the emeralds place on the color range and its overall value. Colombian emeralds, therefore, contain the best pure green hue, medium to medium-dark tone, and very good saturation to produce the ideal pure green or “grass green” color.

The price of an emerald is largely determined by its color. For example, a deep-green emerald with a very bright appearance will carry a much higher premium than a very light, pale emerald with weak saturation.

The color of an emerald is inextricably linked to its country of origin - one cannot describe an emeralds color without mention of its source. Different trace elements, which give the emerald its color, are often found in different mines. For instance, vanadium typically is the coloring agent for Brazilian emeralds, chromium for Colombian, and iron for light-colored Brazilian.

Emerald Clarity

If you have ever examined an emerald, you may have noticed tiny imperfections, or little spots, inside the stone. These are called inclusions and they make up internal clarity characteristics that exist inside the emerald, or begin in the interior and extend to the emerald’s surface. Like a fingerprint, the inclusions of an emerald are unique to each gemstone. Specifics such as feathers, internal graining, crystals, and chips are all types of inclusions that can potentially comprise an emerald’s appearance, based on their size, quantity, and placement.

30-3715_1_1 A monumental 13.63-carat Emerald with exceptional clarity

The vast majority of emeralds contain inclusions, making specimens that contain little to no inclusions all the more rare valuable. In fact, many experts argue that is these inclusions that are the essence of the emerald gemstones themselves.

The degree of clarity characteristics present in an emerald is linked to its transparency, or the degree to which light passes through the gemstone. Inclusions can often block the passage of light and therefore affect its transparency.

In the jewelry market, those emeralds who display little to no inclusions are often referred to as “eye-clean.” These emeralds, unequivocally the most rare and valuable, are utterly clean and transparent to the unaided eye.

Emerald clarity and color often work hand-in-hand to determine value. Just as an emerald with purer green hue is more valuable than that of a paler color, an emerald with less inclusions is often much rarer than a heavily-included gemstone. For example, if an emerald with very good, bright color is heavily included, it’s value will often drop compared to an emerald of the same size and color that presents far fewer clarity characteristics.

A popular method in the jewelry trade is to artificially treat emeralds with oil to reduce the appearance of inclusions in emeralds, resulting in a more clean and valuable appearance. This technique will often be referred to as “fracture filling” or "oiling" and must be repeated over time as the oils will tend to evaporate. Because oiling emeralds is such a common and popular practice, natural emeralds (those that have never been artificially treated) who present an eye-clean appearance, are extremely valuable and rare. In fact, those of a significant size are nearly unobtainable.

30-5055_2 A bracelet comprised of five "no oil" matching Colombian emeralds

Popularity of Emeralds

Undeniably, since the discovery of the Colombian variety in the 16th century, emeralds have prevailed as one of the world's most popular -and sought-after - gemstones. With a green hue that is impossible to miss, the extraordinary vividness of color possibility for the emerald is a true treasure. The surge of popularity can still be seen today in the jewelry market, with a pendant from Elizabeth Taylor's personal collection selling for a record $280,000 and the 18.04- carat no oil Rockefeller Emerald selling for just over an astonishing 5MM.

As a truly lasting gemstone, the spirit and captivation of the ideal, pure green hues continue to captivate jewelry experts and consumers alike. Browse our extensive collection of antique and estate untreated emerald jewelry for sale today.

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