Grass-green variety of beryl that is highly valued as a gemstone. Its physical properties are those of beryl. Its refractive and dispersive powers (i.e., its capacity to deflect light and to break white light into its component colours) are not high, so cut stones display little brilliancy or fire (flashes of colour). The colour that gives this gem its value is due to the presence of small amounts of chromium. The most important production of fine quality gem material is from Colombia; emeralds are also mined in Russia, Australia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. Synthetic emeralds are identical to natural crystals and may rival them in colour and beauty.
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Emeralds are a variety of the mineral beryl (Be3Al2(SiO3)6,) colored green by trace amounts of chromium and sometimes vanadium. Beryl has a hardness of 7.5 - 8 on the 10 point Mohs scale of mineral hardness. Most emeralds are highly included, so their brittleness (resistance to breakage) is classified as generally poor. The word "emerald" comes from Latin smaragdus, via Greek smaragdos, its original source being a Semitic word izmargad or the Sanskrit word, marakata, meaning "emerald" or "green".
Emerald, like all colored gemstones, is graded using four basic parameters, the four Cs of Connoisseurship; Color, Cut, Clarity and Crystal. The last C, crystal is simply used as a synonym that begins with C for transparency or what gemologists call diaphaneity. Prior to the 20th Century jewelers used the term water as in "a gem of the finest water to express the combination of two qualities, color and crystal. Normally, in the grading of colored gemstones, color is by far the most important criterion. However, in the grading of emerald, crystal, is considered a close second. Both are necessary conditions. A fine emerald must possess not only a pure verdant green hue as described below, but also a high degree of transparency to be considered a top gem.
Scientifically speaking color is divided into three components; hue, saturation and tone. Yellow and blue, the hues found adjacent to green on the spectral color wheel, are the normal secondary hues found in emerald. Emeralds occur in a range of hues from yellowish green to bluish green. The primary hue must, of course, be green. Only gems that are medium to dark in tone are considered emerald. Light toned gems are known by the species name, green beryl. In addition the hue must be bright (vivid). Gray is the normal saturation modifier or mask found in emerald. A grayish green hue is a dull green hue. In the trade, a fine emerald will have a vivid primary green hue only slightly modified by yellow and/or blue with no visible gray mask.
Emerald tends to have numerous inclusions and surface breaking fissures. Unlike diamond where the loupe standard, i.e. 10X magnification is used to grade clarity, emerald is graded by eye. Thus, if an emerald has no visible inclusions to the eye (assuming 20-20 vision) it is considered flawless. Stones that lack surface breaking fissures are extremely rare and therefore almost all emerald is treated, "oiled", to enhance its apparent clarity. Eye-clean stones of a vivid primary green hue (as described above) with no more than 15% of any secondary hue or combination (either blue or yellow) of a medium-dark tone command the highest prices.
Most emeralds are oiled as part of the post lapidary process, in order to improve their clarity. Cedar oil, having a similar refractive index, is often used in this generally accepted practice. Other liquids, including synthetic oils and polymers with refractive indexes close to that of emerald such as Opticon are also used. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission requires the disclosure of this treatment when a treated emerald is sold. The use of oil is traditional and largely accepted by the gem trade. Other treatments, for example the use of green-tinted oil, is not acceptable in the trade. The laboratory community has recently standardized the language for grading the clarity of emeralds. Gems are graded on a four step scale; none, minor, moderate and highly enhanced. Note that these categories reflect levels of enhancement not clarity. A gem graded none on the enhancement scale may still exhibit visible inclusions. Laboratories tend to apply these criteria differently. Some gem labs consider the mere presence of oil or polymers to constitute enhancement. Others may ignore traces of oil if the presence of the material does not materially improve the look of the gemstone.
Given that the vast majority of all emeralds are treated as described above, and the fact that two stones that appear to be similar in quality may actually be quite far apart in treatment level, a consumer considering a purchase of an expensive emerald is well advised to insist upon a treatment report from a reputable gemological laboratory. All other factors being equal, a high quality emerald with an enhancement level graded moderate should cost 40-50% less than an identical stone graded none.
A rare type of emerald known as a trapiche emerald is occasionally found in the mines of Colombia. A trapiche emerald exhibits a "star" pattern; it has raylike spokes of dark carbon impurities that give the emerald a six-pointed radial pattern. It is named for the trapiche, a grinding wheel used to process sugarcane in the region. Colombian emeralds are generally the most prized due to their transparency and fire. Some of the most rare emeralds come from three main emerald mining areas in Colombia: Muzo, Coscuez, and Chivor. Fine emeralds are also found in other countries, such as Zambia, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and Russia. In the US, emeralds can be found in Hiddenite, North Carolina. In 1998, emeralds were discovered in the Yukon Territory, Canada.
Emerald is a rare and valuable gemstone and, as such, it has provided the incentive for developing synthetic emeralds. Both hydrothermal and flux-growth synthetics have been produced, and a method has been developed for producing an emerald overgrowth on colorless beryl. The first commercially successful emerald synthesis process was that of Carroll Chatham. Because Chatham's emeralds do not have any water and contain traces of vanadate, molybdenum and vanadium, a lithium vanadate flux process is probably involved. The other large producer of flux emeralds is Pierre Gilson Sr., which has been on the market since 1964. Gilson's emeralds are usually grown on natural colorless beryl seeds which become coated on both sides. Growth occurs at the rate of 1 mm per month, a typical seven-month growth run producing emerald crystals of 7 mm of thickness (Nassau, K. Gems Made By Man, 1980).
Hydrothermal synthetic emeralds have been attributed to IG Farben, Nacken, Tairus, and others, but the first satisfactory commercial product was that of Johann Lechleitner of Innsbruck, Austria, which appeared on the market in the 1960s. These stones were initially sold under the names "Emerita" and "Symeralds", and they were grown as a thin layer of emerald on top of natural colorless beryl stones. Although not much is known about the original process, it is assumed that Leichleitner emeralds were grown in acid conditions. Later, from 1965 to 1970, the Linde Division of Union Carbide produced completely synthetic emeralds by hydrothermal synthesis. According to their patents (US3,567,642 and US3,567,643), acidic conditions are essential to prevent the chromium (which is used as the colorant) from precipitating. Also, it is important that the silicon containing nutrient be kept away from the other ingredients in order to prevent nucleation and confine growth to the seed crystals. Growth occurs by a diffusion-reaction process, assisted by convection. Typical growth conditions include pressures of 700-1400 bars at temperatures of 500 to 600 °C with a temperature gradient of 10 to 25 °C. Growth rates as fast as 1/3 mm per day can be attained
Luminescence in ultraviolet light is considered a supplementary test when making a natural vs. synthetic determination, as many, but not all, natural emeralds are inert to ultraviolet light. Many synthetics are also UV inert.
Synthetic emeralds are often referred to as "created", as their chemical and gemological composition is the same as their natural counterparts. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has very strict regulations as to what can and what cannot be called "synthetic" stone. The FTC says: "§ 23.23(c) It is unfair or deceptive to use the word "laboratory-grown," "laboratory-created," "[manufacturer name]-created," or "synthetic" with the name of any natural stone to describe any industry product unless such industry product has essentially the same optical, physical, and chemical properties as the stone named.
Wispy veil-like inclusions are common in flux-grown synthetic emeralds.
Emerald is regarded as the traditional birthstone for May, as well as the traditional gemstone for the astrological signs of Taurus, Cancer and sometimes Gemini. One of the more quaint anecdotes on emeralds was by the 16th-century historian Brantome, who referred to the many impressive emeralds the Spanish under Cortez had brought back to Europe from Latin America. On one of Cortez's most famous emeralds he had the text engraved Inter Natos Mulierum non sur-rexit mayor (Among them borne of woman there hath not arisen a greater Man. XI, 11) which referred to John the Baptist. Brantome considered engraving such a beautiful and simple product of nature sacrilegious and considered this act the cause for Cortez's loss of an extremely precious pearl (to which he dedicated a work A beautiful and incomparable pearl) and even for the death of King Charles IX who died soon after.
According to Rebbenu Bachya, and the King James Version, the Hebrew word Nofech in Exodus 28:18 means Emerald, and was the stone on the Hoshen representing the tribe of Judah. However, the Septuagint translates the word as Anthrax, meaning coal, probably in reference to the colour of burning coal, and therefore many rabbinical sources, and most scholars, consider Nofech to mean a red garnet – traditionally called a carbuncle, which happens to be the Vulgate's translation of the word. There is a wide range of views among traditional sources about which tribe the stone refers to.
There are many complexities to identifying the Emerald as being the third stone or perhaps another stone on the breast plate. Multiple translations of the bible have created confusion about the nomenclature of the different stones. Another important fact is that in actuality there are two different breastplates made within a period of 800 years, and where it is assumed the first breastplate did not carry an emerald but a green felspar, and a real emerald in the second breastplate. Finally the twelfth stone in the Breastplate (which in the original text was actually listed as the 6th stone) has more generally been identified as beryl which was already included in the group of stones generally referred to as Smaragdus by Theophrastus in the Greek era. Further unreferenced claims regarding the possibility of what gemstone the Emerald could really have been include jasper, and even rubies.
In some cultures, the emerald is the traditional gift for the 55th wedding anniversary. It is also used as a 20th and 35th wedding anniversary stone.