How to Choose a Quality Emerald

How to Choose a Quality Emerald

Emeralds have a captivating beauty. They radiate hope, faithfulness, and love that lasts for all eternity. Emeralds are frequently used in engagement rings and are one of the 4 most precious stones on earth.

All emeralds are green but each gem varies in the depth and shade of its colour, as well as its overall quality. If you want to choose a good quality emerald for an engagement ring, you need to understand the history behind these exceptional gems and how they are made. You also need to carefully consider each emerald’s colour, clarity, and cut.

The History of Emeralds Has Its Roots in Egypt

Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 B.C. and quickly established the country as a center for culture and learning, as well as an exporter of grain and papyrus. During this time of prosperity, the Egyptians dug some of the first emerald mines in the world.

Egyptian miners called the rough green gems that they found smaragdos which literally means “green gem”. Ancient jewellers quickly began to cut and polish the gems and include them in necklaces, armour and even sculptures. Soon all the rich and noble in the country owned smaragdos of varying sizes and qualities.

Ancient egyptian emerald necklace

The Egyptians and later the Romans who came after them didn’t just appreciate emeralds for their beauty. They also believed that the gems could help them foresee the future, distinguish between truth and falsehood, defeat evil spirits and cure diseases.

In the 1500s, Spanish explorers sailed to the New World and discovered a new source of emeralds. They found native South American Indians who had emeralds that were larger and even more beautiful than Egyptian emeralds. The Indians used these gems in jewellery and numerous traditional ceremonies.

The Spanish explorers carried many emeralds home with them and soon other European ships began to make their way to South America to pick up loads of emeralds and other goods that could be resold in their home countries.

Emeralds quickly became popular all across Europe and began to be set in crowns, necklaces, rings and other forms of jewellery. The gems also began to develop a new symbology that included unwavering hope, new beginnings, and love that is eternally faithful.

Where Do Most Emeralds Come From?

Emeralds can be found all over the world, but the majority of them come from Colombia in South America.

Colombian emerald miner

The Colombians have an ancient legend that attempts to explain why the country has so many emeralds. The legend begins with a god named Are creating two immortal humans to populate the earth. Are named the man Tena and the woman Fura.

One sad day, Tena and Fura lost their immortality and began to age. They were heartbroken, not because they were growing older, but because death would eventually separate them from one another. Are saw their deep sadness and to keep them from being separated, Are transformed them into two mountains that would remain together for eternity. The legend goes on to say that Fura’s tears formed emeralds deep within these mountains and the surrounding areas.

Most of Colombia’s emeralds come from the Minero River Valley. There are two mountains that tower over the valley protecting it from the full force of the sun, rain and wind. The Colombian people call these mountains the Tena and Fura Peaks, but contrary to what the legend suggests, modern science says that this area is rich in emeralds because it lies near the “Ring of Fire”.

The Ring of Fire is a circle that runs along the rim of the Pacific Ocean and covers roughly 40,000 km of land. This land is full of volcanoes and is constantly being shaken by earthquakes. The heat and force of these natural wonders form emeralds beneath the earth’s crust and then tectonic plates carry the gems over into the country of Colombia.

Between 70-90% of all the emeralds in the world come from Colombia. Some of Colombia’s emeralds are badly flawed and end up being used to strengthen alloys in industrial settings. The remaining emeralds enter the jewellery market and bring their unique beauty to engagement rings and other types of jewellery.

How Are Emeralds Made?

Emeralds are the green variety of a mineral called beryl. Beryl can be found in many different types of rock, including mica and limestone. This versatile mineral is composed of four primary elements: beryllium, aluminum, silicon, and oxygen.

Rough Emeralds

These four elements are present in magma, as well as in hydrothermal veins of hot water that flow miles below the earth’s crust. As the water or the magma cools, molecules of beryllium, aluminum, silicon, and oxygen bond together and form hexagonal crystals of beryl.

Beryl is naturally transparent, but as it forms, it is coloured by trace amounts of metal. Chromium, vanadium and iron are three metals that colour beryl green. If the beryl has a light green colour, it is simply known as green beryl, but when it has a strong, vivid green colour it becomes known as an emerald.

How Hard Are Emeralds Compared to Diamonds?

Scientists use the Mohs Scale of Mineral Hardness to define the hardness of all minerals, including beryl and emeralds. The softest mineral on the Mohs Scale is talc. It rates as a number 1 and is softer than a fingernail.

Mohs Scale How Hard Are Emeralds Compared to Diamonds

The hardest mineral on the Mohs Scale is diamond. Diamonds have a rating of 10 and are stronger than steel.

The hardness of emeralds varies slightly from gem to gem but they usually rate as a 7.5 or 8 on the Mohs Scale. This means that they are also harder than steel and can withstand the bumping and scratching that comes from being used in jewellery.

Emeralds Only Come in the Colour Green

Emeralds always have green as their primary colour but they can have blue or yellow overtones. The exact shade of an emerald’s green colour and its overtones are determined by how many trace metals are in the gem.

Most emeralds have three trace metals: chromium, vanadium, and iron. The amounts of these metals and how they are distributed throughout the crystal gives the emerald its overall colour.

Emeralds can be divided into the following 3 categories based on their colour and overtones. Keep in mind that these categories do overlap to some extent.

Yellow-green emeralds –  Chromium and vanadium work together to give emeralds their green colour. If an emerald doesn’t have enough of one of these trace metals, it can have yellow overtones. These overtones can be obvious or barely noticeable. As a general rule, yellow-green emeralds are considered less valuable because the yellow overtones detract from their vivid green colour.

Yellow-green emerald

In many cases, yellow-green emeralds that lack a vivid green colour are not considered true emeralds. Instead they are referred to as yellow-green beryl.

Blue-green emeralds – An emerald that has a significant amount of iron in it will usually have blue overtones. These blue overtones will make the overall gem to be a darker shade of green. Blue-green emeralds can be very beautiful, but they still aren’t quite as valuable as an emerald that has a pure green colour.

Blue-green emerald

Pure green emeralds – When an emerald crystal has the perfect combination of chromium and vanadium in it and very little iron, it has a pure green colour. Pure green emeralds have almost no noticeable overtones and are generally the most valuable emeralds of all.

Pure green emerald

Diamonds and sapphires can be found in several colours, but rubies are always red and emeralds are always green. These 4 gemstones are the only precious gems in the world and each of them is beautiful enough to include in an engagement ring.

What is Pleochroism and How Does It Affect the Colour of Emeralds?

The word pleochroism has its origins in Greek and means “more than one colour”. A gem with pleochroism changes colours slightly when it is viewed from different angles. Pleochroism occurs when a gem has more than one trace metal in it.

Pure green emeralds have very little noticeable pleochroism, but emeralds with distinct yellow or blue overtones often have dichroic pleochroism which means that the gems have two visible colors.

When jewellers cut emeralds that have pleochroism, they must study the gem’s colour and how pleochroism affects it so that the cut emerald will have the best green colour possible.

The Most Famous Emeralds in the World

Emeralds have been around for more than 3,000 years and a number of them have become famous. Here are four famous emeralds that stand out for their beauty, size, or history.

The Bahia Emerald – Brazil has emerald mines in two different states: Minas Gerais and Bahia. The majority of Brazilian emeralds are of inferior quality and end up being used for industrial purposes, but occasionally miners find clusters of emerald crystals that have their own unique beauty. The Bahia Emerald is one of these emerald clusters.

The Bahia Emerald was mined in 2001. It includes approximately 8 different emerald crystals embedded in a lump of host rock. One of these crystals is the largest emerald crystal ever mined.

Bahia Emerald
The Bahia Emerald has a total weight of  341 kg and its emerald crystals have an estimated weight of 1,700,000 carats. The Bahia Emerald has a rather mysterious history.  Shortly after it was mined in Brazil, the Bahia Emerald suddenly appeared in the United States where it became the center of a legal battle that lasted for almost 7 years. The Bahia Emerald is now with its rightful owner awaiting further developments.

Chalk Emerald – In the 18th century, various maharajas and princes of the Gaekwad Dynasty ruled an early-Indian state called Baroda. These royal rulers owned the Chalk Emerald and passed it down from generation to generation.

The Chalk Emerald was mined in Colombia and weighed about 38.40 carats. When it was owned by the maharajas and princes of Baroda, the Chalk Emerald was the central stone in a delicate emerald and diamond necklace. In 1949, the Gaekwad Dynasty ended, the state of Baroda officially joined the country of India in 1949, and the Chalk Emerald was sold.

Chalk emerald

The Chalk Emerald eventually made its way to the United States where it was recut and set in a ring designed by Harry Winston, Inc. The Chalk Emerald now has a cushion cut and is surrounded by sixty pear-shaped diamonds.

In 1972, the Chalk Emerald’s owners, Mr. and Mrs. O. Roy Chalk, donated the Chalk Emerald ring to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum where it continues to be enjoyed by thousands of people.

The Crown of the Andes – The Crown of the Andes is a votive crown made from gold and emeralds. Hundreds of years ago, votive crowns were a popular way to thank a deity for a blessing that was given.

The Crown of the Andes

This particular votive crown was made in the late 1500s in Popayán, Colombia. At this period there was a deadly outbreak of smallpox in Colombia, but the city of Popayán was mercifully spared. The people of the city created the Crown of the Andes to express their heartfelt gratitude and gave it to the statue of the Virgin Mary that stood in the local cathedral. The crown stands 34 cm high, contains 450 emeralds and weighs a little over 2 kg.

In the early 1900s, the Crown of the Andes was sold and today it belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

The Cambridge Emeralds – In 1818, Augusta of Hesse-Kassel the Duchess of Cambridge entered a charity lottery while she was traveling through Germany. She won! Her prize was a set of over 30 cabochon emeralds. Cabochon emeralds are distinctive in that they are only shaped and polished instead of being cut and faceted like most gems.

The Cambridge Emeralds

Augusta passed the Cambridge emeralds on to her daughter who passed them on to her daughter, Queen Mary. Queen Mary had 15 of the emeralds set in the Vladimir tiara which was made of gold and diamonds. Later she requested that the royal jewellers make the remaining emeralds into brooches, necklaces, bracelets, and earrings.

In 1953, Queen Elizabeth II inherited all the Cambridge emeralds and she wears them on a regular basis. 

3 Important Factors That Will Help You Choose the Best Emeralds

If you want to be able to choose a high-quality emerald that is full of natural beauty, you need to consider the colour, clarity and cut of each emerald.

1. Choose the right shade of green

Most jewellers agree that an emerald’s colour is the most important factor that influences its overall value. An emerald’s colour is evaluated using three specific characteristics: hue, tone, and saturation.

  • The emeralds’s hue – An emerald’s hue refers to its overall colour. Hue includes the shade of green that the gem is and any overtones that it has. The most beautiful emeralds have a vivid green colour. If they have overtones, it is preferable that they be blue overtones and not yellow.High-quality emeralds also have even colouring with little to no colour zoning. Zoning occurs when the trace metals inside of the gem are distributed unevenly and cause spots or “zones” that are a lighter or darker shade of green than the rest of the stone.
  • The emerald’s tone – Tone refers to the depth of an emeralds’s colour. An emerald can have a light, medium or dark tone which means that it will be a light shade of green, a moderate green or a dark green in colour. The most valuable and most attractive emeralds have a medium to moderately dark tone.
  • The emerald’s saturation – Saturation is a term used to describe the purity of an emerald’s colour. An emerald that has a vivid green colour with little to no overtones has good saturation. An emerald with poor saturation will have strong overtones and a dull green colour.Emeralds that have good saturation look the best in jewellery because they reflect light well and have more brilliance.

2. Make sure that there are few noticeable inclusions

Emeralds almost always have a lot of inclusions. These inclusions can be mineral fibers, tiny droplets of a liquid, particles of other crystals and even tiny cracks. Most of these inclusions were in the environment where the emerald was formed and they became caught inside the gem.

emerald inclusions

Since it is almost impossible to find an emerald without any inclusions, it is important to find a gem that only has a few inclusions or as we could say in jewellery terms, a gem that has good clarity.

An emerald’s clarity refers to how many inclusions the gem has, what type of inclusions they are and where they are located inside of the gem.  An emerald with good clarity will have a limited number of small inclusions that do not detract from the gem’s overall beauty.

Most emeralds have a significant amount of depth to their colour which naturally helps to hide their inclusions. As jewellers work with rough emeralds, they take into account the gem’s colour and cut the gem so that its colour masks its inclusions to an even greater degree.

Finding an emerald with a small number of inclusions is important for its beauty, but also for its strength. Emeralds that have a lot of inclusions are generally brittle and tend to crack more easily than gems that have fewer inclusions.

3. Don’t underestimate the importance of the cut

The third factor that you should consider as you look for a high-quality emerald is its cut. An emerald’s cut plays an important part in determining the beauty and quality of the gem.

emerald cut

Rough emerald crystals are six-sided hexagons. Jewellers take these hexagonal crystals and study them thoroughly before they begin to cut them. The jewellers consider the crystal’s colour and the overtones that it has from different angles. They also take detailed notes about the inclusions in the crystal, as well as any major cracks or chips that it has.

The jewellers then give the emerald a cut that captures its best beauty. Emeralds can be given a cushion, round, princess or even pear-shaped cut, but many emeralds are given an emerald cut. An emerald cut gives the gem a rectangular shape with steps and linear facets along each side. Most emeralds that have an emerald cut also have cropped corners to improve their strength.

No matter what shape it gives the gem, an emerald’s cut strongly influences its final beauty. A good quality cut helps to hide the emerald’s inclusions, minimizes pleochroism and brings the gem to life by increasing the reflection of light.

What is Considered to Be a High-quality Emerald?

A high-quality emerald has a vivid green colour with a medium to medium-dark tone. It will also have a limited number of inclusions that are well masked by its colour and cut. A high-quality emerald will also have a good cut that maximizes the gem’s beauty and increases its overall strength.

Oval Emerald Engagement Ring


An emerald that has these characteristics commands the highest value per carat and will be outstanding in any engagement ring.

Emeralds Are Less Expensive Than Diamonds

Emeralds have a density of 2.67-2.78 g/cm3, while diamonds have a density of 3.51 gm/cm3. This means that diamonds are heavier than emeralds and a 1-carat emerald will be slightly larger than a 1-carat diamond even though both gems have the same weight.

Since emeralds are lighter than diamonds and their price per carat is generally lower than diamonds, you can have a larger emerald for a similar budget.

Only Buy an Emerald That Comes With a Colored Stone Report

Diamonds receive a certificate to guarantee their quality, but all colored stones, including emeralds, receive a Colored Stone Report. Colored stone reports list all of the gem’s details and help guarantee that it is a high-quality stone.

We recommend that you only purchase an emerald with a colored stone report that was issued from a reliable gem lab, such as the Swiss Gemmological Institute SSEF, Gübelin Gem Lab, GIA, and the IGI.

Colored Stone Report IGI

All of the emeralds that we sell have a report from the IGI (International Gemological Institute). These colored stone reports provide the following information:

  • Species – The type of stone
  • Variety – Whether it was formed naturally or synthetically.
  • Shape and cut – A description of the stone’s shape and cut.
  • Weight – Its weight in carats.
  • Measurements – The stone’s dimensions in millimeters.
  • Colour – A description of its colour and overtones.
  • Transparency – Whether the stone is transparent, semi-opaque or opaque.
  • Characteristics – Notes about inclusions, zoning and any other outstanding characteristics.

Most colored stone reports also include a clear picture of the gem.

Emeralds Should Only Be Bought From Fair trade Mining Companies

Emerald mines are usually pit mines that go deep underground, but they can also be strip mines on the surface of the ground.

Both of these types of mines are harmful to the environment and can be dangerous places for the miners to work.

Because of this, it is essential that you purchase an emerald from a fair trade and responsible mining company.

A fair trade mining company cares for its miners and the environment. It will always pay its miners fairly, invest in safety equipment, implement the latest safe mining practices, and work to be eco-friendly.

Fair Trade Mining

When you purchase an emerald from a fair trade and responsible mining company, you support them in their efforts to care for their miners and the environment in a responsible way. We make sure that the emeralds that we sell are from fair trade mining companies.

Accepted Emerald Treatments and Deceptive Dyes

Rubies, sapphires and many other gemstones are given heat treatments to improve their colour and decrease the visibility of their inclusions. Emeralds are unique, though, in that they will crack and break apart if they are heated to high temperatures.

emerald treatments

Since emeralds can not withstand heat, they are usually treated with oil. A variety of oils can be used, but jewellers have traditionally used natural cedarwood oil. Cedarwood oil works best because it is colorless and has a refractive index that is similar to emeralds.

During an oil treatment, the emerald is gently heated to open its pores, then immersed in oil and subjected to low levels of pressure. The oil infiltrates the gem where it fills up tiny fissures, enhances the colour and helps to fade inclusions.

In recent years, jewellers have begun substituting the oil in their emerald treatments for polymer resins. Polymer resins withstand wear and tear better, as well as give the emerald more stability. It is possible that with time, polymer resins will permanently replace oil as the preferred method of treating emeralds.

The jewellery industry accepts oil and now polymer resin treatments as standard treatments for emeralds, but the oil and resins used in these treatments must not contain dyes.

Every year, miners find emeralds that have colour flaws and a lot of green beryl that is not green enough to qualify as emeralds. These flawed emeralds and green beryl have little value in the jewellery market.

There are jewellers that take these stones and give them an oil or polymer resin treatment that includes green dyes. These treatments improve the stone’s colour artificially to the point that they can be sold for a higher price and used in jewellery. It is important to understand that the colour of these dyed stones is not identical to natural emeralds and the dye can fade over time.

We do not sell emeralds that have been treated with dyes and we encourage you to only purchase emeralds that have been given the standard treatments of either oil or polymer resins.

Emeralds Can Also Be Made Synthetically

Scientists made the first synthetic emerald in the late 1930s. Making this gem was extremely slow, difficult and expensive, so emeralds were rarely made and scientists continued working to improve the production process.

synthetic emerald

Emeralds are still one of the hardest gems to grow in a lab, but between the late 1980s and early 1990s, Russia developed an efficient way to produce synthetic emeralds. Russia is currently one of the major producers of synthetic emeralds in the world.

Synthetic emeralds are usually grown using the hydrothermal process. In this process, beryllium, aluminum, silicon, and oxygen are added to hot water that is then allowed to cool under pressure. Very, very slowly emerald crystals form as the water cools. A synthetic emerald crystal grows about 1 mm every month and it takes 7-9 months for the crystal to grow large enough to be useful.

Synthetic emeralds are almost identical in chemical makeup and appearance to their natural counterparts, but we prefer the beauty and quality of natural emeralds and have chosen to not sell synthetic ones.

Emeralds Usually Go Best With White Metals and Diamonds

An emerald’s best characteristic is its colour: a vivid green colour that has natural depth.

emerald in white gold engagement ring

So what precious metals and gemstones can be paired with emeralds to enhance their beautiful colour?

Emeralds go especially well with white precious metals

Emeralds can be set in yellow or rose gold rings, but the colours of these metals often detract from the emerald’s colour. One way to prevent this from happening is to pair emeralds with white gold or platinum rings. These white precious metals highlight the emerald’s depth of colour and help bring out its best shade of green.

Diamonds are the best gems to use with emeralds

Emeralds give off their best beauty when they are set next to diamonds because the white beauty of diamonds enhances their natural green colour. We recommend that you pair emeralds with diamonds that have clarity between VVS2 and VS2 to guarantee that all the gems have minimal inclusions and maximum beauty.

How to take care of your emerald engagement ring?

Emerald engagement rings are simple to care for. You should wash them regularly with warm water, a mild detergent, and a soft toothbrush to remove any light residues or small pieces of dirt that they might have collected during use.

How to clean your emerald ring

If the ring is extra dirty, you can soak it in warm water for a few minutes before washing it. Remember to rinse your ring well and then dry it thoroughly with a soft lint-free cloth.

You should also have your ring occasionally cleaned by a jeweller.  During this cleaning, the jeweller will check the gems and settings to see if they need any repairs.

The Symbology and Traditions of Emeralds

Anyone born in May has the emerald as their birthstone. This is quite appropriate since May falls in the middle of spring when trees are budding and plants are alive with new green growth.

Emeralds are also used to celebrate 55th wedding anniversaries. A marriage that lasts 55 years through good times and bad is definitely full of hope, faithfulness and eternal love – and emeralds symbolize each of these precious qualities.

Emeralds Are Classic Gems That Continue to Be in Style

Emeralds have been used in jewellery for more than 4,000 years, but have they gone out of style? Definitely not! They continue to bring their gorgeous green beauty to engagement rings all around the world and more importantly than that, they symbolize the love, hope, and faithfulness that any loving couple has whether they are heading toward their 1st year of marriage or their 55th.

emerald and diamond split shank engagement ring