Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Brief History of Emeralds



For those born in May, the emerald is a well-known symbol. Dark green in color and May’s birthstone, the emerald is part of a larger group called beryl, which consists of a wide variety of colored minerals that include aquamarine and morganite. The reason that beryl minerals vary so widely in color is that the imperfections in the stone are what give it its colors. Without any imperfections, beryl is a colorless crystal. These imperfections are caused by the way the beryl is formed. You can check out this previous blog post on natural gemstone formation to learn more about how crystals are formed inside the earth.


Call them imperfections, but anyone who's ever been up close and personal with an emerald knows its stunning beauty. It's not difficult to imagine how its deep green color combined with its luster became an object of admiration and fascination thousands of years ago.

Although emeralds have been revered by many throughout history, we probably associate the history
of this stone with one person more than anyone else: Elizabeth Taylor. Not really. While the actress certainly owned her fair share of expensive gemstones, including her $100 million collection of emeralds, we know she’s not the first great woman to give them a reputation.

Let’s talk about Cleopatra.
Cleopatra loved emeralds so much that she decided to take over the Greek emerald mines near the Red Sea during her reign. After claiming them as her own by naming them after herself, she decked herself in emeralds from head to toe, becoming closely associated with this gemstone.
The mines that yielded their deposits to Cleopatra had been active for decades and possibly even centuries before her arrival, but by the time they were rediscovered in the 17th century, their supply had been long exhausted.
However, you can still visit Cleopatra's Mines at the Wadi El Gamal National Park.

During the time of Cleopatra, emeralds were widely circulated throughout all of Egypt's upper classes. Commonly found in jewelry for both the living and the dead, and thought of as a symbol for protection, emeralds had their place within the elaborate tomb burials ancient Egypt is known for.

Of course, Egypt wasn't alone in its pursuit for emeralds. Just as they were coveted in Egypt for their beauty and perceived protective powers, emeralds, among other rare stones such as rubies and diamonds, played a large role in medieval status as well as healing, protection and fertility throughout Europe.

Although the belief in the magical powers of emeralds was obviously misguided, the emerald group, beryl, did actually offer one medicinal use. Because concave beryl has some magnification properties, the mineral was used as the first prototype for the modern eyeglasses in the 13th century. Historians believe that it is from "beryl” where the German word "Brillen" (eyeglasses) arose.

Emeralds have been widely sought for various reasons since humans have been able to mine. Even today, emeralds can fetch quite a considerable sum. A 1-carat cut emerald can cost upward of $1,000, sometimes ten times that depending on its source.

The world’s most expensive emeralds come from the Muzo region in northeast Colombia, where they
were popular even in ancient times. During the 16th century, when the Incas widely populated the Andes Mountains in South America,
emeralds were used jewelry and religious ceremonies, and later heavily plundered by the Spanish.

The Incas probably derived their emeralds from the Quito region in Ecuador, roughly 800 miles south of the modern day mining regions of Colombia.
Just like the Egyptians and many other civilizations around the world, the Incas revered gemstones such as emeralds very early on, and used them to craft jewelry, plates, chalices and other everyday items. Additionally, they attributed many curative powers to gemstones, from repairing ones vision to curing death. Most commonly, they used emeralds to ward off poisons.

The mention of emeralds dates back to biblical times, where they can be found in both the Old and New Testament. Alongside rubies, topaz, diamonds and onyx, emeralds are one of the most-mentioned gemstones in the Good Book. Legend has it that the emerald was one of the stones gifted to King Solomon by God himself.

Gemstones such as emeralds have a rich history that's steeped both in realism and mysticism. From their natural beauty and worth to their medicinal and protective powers, the history of emeralds can be endlessly explored.
We only touched on some aspects of emerald history today, and would love to hear what you know about this beautiful gemstone. Use the comment box below!

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