The symbol of spring and rebirth, the emerald has a color of green that communicates harmony, love of nature and a primeval joy of life. The word emerald was derived from the French “esmeraude,” which comes from the Greek root "smaragdos,” meaning simply “green gemstone.” For centuries, emerald green has been the color of beauty and eternal love. Even in ancient Rome, green was the color dedicated to Venus, goddess of love and beauty. Many cultures and religions today hold a special position for the color. For instance, green is the holy color of Islam; all states of the Arabian league sport green banners symbolizing the unity of their religion; and green is among the liturgy colors in the Catholic church. The emerald gem is May’s birthstone, and it is the traditional gift for couples celebrating their 20th and 35th anniversaries.
Emeralds come in a variety of light and dark shades of green, often with subtle background hues of other colors such as yellow, blue, brown or gray. Most often, the purer and richer the green color, the more valuable the stone. Flawless emeralds are exceptionally rare, and therefore command great prices (even higher than diamonds, in some instances). Most naturally grown emeralds, however, have numerous inclusions that weaken their structure and cloud their color. Flaws and cloudiness, called “jardin,” are very common in emeralds, so many are treated in some way to remove surface flaws and enhance color. The most common technique is to oil the stone with a green-tinted oil that strengthens the stone and fills in surface cracks.
Emerald gemstones have been prized for thousands of years for their lush green hues and rare beauty. Venus, the goddess of love, is said to have loved the stone, and ancient Romans associated the emerald with her because it symbolized reproduction. Nero is said to have watched the Roman games in the coliseum through a set of highly prized emerald glasses. It's also said that Isis, the mother goddess, wore a green emerald on her headband. Supposedly, all who looked upon it would be able to conceive and were guaranteed a safe trip through the land of the dead. The gem is also considered the magical stone of forest spirits (elves).
In ancient Egypt, emeralds were mined close to the Red Sea. This tranquil green gem was highly prized by priests and the wealthy, and it is said that Cleopatra loved it more than any other gem. In fact, gemstone mines called “Cleopatra’s Mines” were exploited by Egyptian pharaohs between 3000 and 1500 B.C., and were found empty when they were rediscovered centuries later. Even the ancient Incas and Aztecs in South America, where the best emeralds are still found today, worshipped the emerald as a holy stone. With the conquest of South America by the Spaniards in the sixteenth century, emeralds became more plentiful in Europe. Pizarro and Cortez took over the existing emerald and gold mines of the Inca and Mayan civilizations. They shipped these fortunes back to Spain, who in turn shipped them to trading ports throughout the world, turning Spain into one of the leading world powers of the time.
Phrases about emeralds appear in the Veda, ancient sacred writings of Hinduism, including “Emeralds promise good luck” and “The emerald enhances your well-being.” Treasure chests of Indian Maharajas and Maharanis contained wonderful emeralds. One of the largest emeralds in the world is the "Mogul Emerald.” Dating back to the year 1695, it weighs 217.80 carats. One side is inscribed with prayers, while the other side is engraved with opulent flower ornaments. This legendary stone was auctioned off at Christie’s of London for 2.2 million U.S. dollars to an anonymous buyer. Other famous emeralds include a cup made from pure emerald that was owned by Emperor Jehingar. It is currently located in the New York Museum of Natural History, as is a Colombian emerald crystal weighing 632.00 carats. The entire collection is owned by the Bank of Bogota and contains five valuable emerald crystals weighing between 220.00 and 1,796.00 carats.
Throughout the ancient world, emerald symbolized eternal hope, rebirth and the arrival of spring. The ancients ascribed numerous magical and mystical properties to this most precious of green gems. It was believed to give a person psychic powers, in that the gem could tell if a lover’s affections were true. Some cultures believed the gem rewarded its owners with love, intelligence, eloquence and a soothed soul. Middle Age seers used emeralds to foretell the future, as well as to ward off evil spirits and cure ailments ranging from bad eyesight to infertility. During the Renaissance, emeralds were used as a test for friendship among the aristocracy. It was believed that an emerald given to a friend would remain perfect as long as the friendship endured. The stone was also said to improve memory and bring great wealth to its wearer.
Emeralds have long been thought to have healing powers, especially for eyesight. It is said that in business, emeralds can be used to promote sales and cash flow. It is also used to attract love by quickening the heart. The emerald is believed to put one in touch with the mind and have positive effects on psychic powers. It is said to increase those powers when used in meditation. Wearing an emerald bracelet on the left wrist is said to protect you when traveling in forests.
Brazil is by far the world's largest producer of emerald, with a wide range of quality. The finest emeralds have traditionally come from Colombia, but Russia's Ural Mountains also have produced top-quality gems. Other sources for the stone include Afghanistan, Australia, Egypt, India, Pakistan, South Africa, United States, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Emeralds belong to the beryl group of stones. They have large, perfect, six-sided crystals with a hardness of 7.0-8.0 on the Mohs Scale.