Emerald: The Symbol of Spring
Emerald, May's birthstone, has been prized for thousands
of years for its lush green hues and rare beauty. Throughout
the ancient world, emerald symbolized eternal hope,
rebirth and the arrival of spring - and some cultures
believed the gem rewarded its owners with love, intelligence
and eloquence as well.
The ancients ascribed numerous magical and mystical
properties to this most precious of green gems. In ancient
Rome, for example, emeralds were believed to have a
soothing effect on the soul. Modern scientists have
since shown this myth to have some basis in fact: tests
indicate that the human eye is more sensitive to green
than any other color. 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. The stone was also said to improve memory
and bring great wealth to its wearer.
Derived from the Latin word for green, "smaragdus",
emerald is also the traditional gift of choice for couples
celebrating their 20th and 35th wedding anniversaries.
The finest emeralds have traditionally come from Colombia;
both the Incas and Aztecs mined rich emerald deposits
in the rugged Andes Mountains. But Russia's Ural Mountains
also have produced top-quality gems. Brazil is by far
the world's largest producer of emerald, with a wide
range of quality. Other sources for the stone include
Afghanistan, Australia, India, Pakistan, the United
States, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Emeralds come in a variety of light and dark shades
of green - and often with subtle background hues of
other colors like yellow, blue, brown or gray. Generally,
the purer and richer the green, the more valuable the
emerald. The gem ranks 7.5-8 on the Mohs hardness scale.
This means that emerald, while relatively hard, can
still be scratched, chipped or split fairly easily.
Most emeralds have numerous flaws, or "inclusions",
which weaken their structure. Flawless emeralds are
exceptionally rare, and therefore command great prices
(in some instances, higher than diamonds).
When shopping for emeralds, keep in mind that the gems
are judged by size, color, clarity and cut (although
because of the stone's penchant for inclusions, a lesser
clarity is acceptable - as long as light is still reflected
through the gem). Color is extremely important, and
is broken down into three considerations: hue (the basic
color of the stone, including any tints other than green);
tone (the "depth" of color, ranging from "light"
to "dark"); and saturation (the purity of
the green and the level of other hues, if present).
Fissures, or cracks, are common in emeralds. Try to
avoid those that penetrate too deeply into the stone,
thus making it more susceptible to splitting.
Like most gemstones in the market today, emeralds are
usually treated in some way to remove surface flaws
and enhance color. The most common (and acceptable)
technique is to oil the stone with a green-tinted oil
to fill in surface cracks. The oil hardens and strengthens
the stone, and improves its green color as well.
In caring for your emerald, avoid ultrasonic cleaners
that can remove the oil, or harsh cleansers that can
damage its relatively soft surface. Clean with a soft,
damp cloth and warm water, and a soft bristle brush
if needed. The gem has been known to crack when exposed
to extreme temperatures, so keep this in mind when wearing
your emerald. Regularly check that setting prongs aren't
loose or cracked, and have a jeweler re-oil every few