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The AJC Guide to Emeralds

With their intense, green hue and eye-catching beauty, emeralds have always been highly sought after and widely used in fine jewellery.
Antique emeralds

Provenance

Typically, emeralds are from Columbia, India and Zimbabwe. Columbia accounts for 70-90% of the world’s emeralds.

A carver in Muzo, Columbia, polishes an emerald in his workshop located in his house
A carver in Muzo, Columbia, polishes an emerald in his workshop located in his house
Credit: Javier Corso/Oak Stories/Al Jazeera

Symbolism

It has long been a tradition to give emeralds on 20th and 35th wedding anniversaries. They are also the birthstone for May. Emeralds are a popular alternative to diamonds in engagement rings.

Clarity & Strength

Emeralds have a good hardness – around 7.5/10 – but their structure can be more prone to inclusions (internal fissures) than other popular gemstones. If these cracks reach the surface, the stones become vulnerable to damage, so they need to be treated with care.

While it’s best to leave your emeralds at home if you’re going in for vigorous activities such as gardening or sports, jewellers have devised ways to protect these beautiful gemstones. The Emerald Cut – a rectangular step cut with its corners cut off – was created to protect the stones. For added protection, emeralds are often surrounded by diamonds, which act like little miniature bodyguards with their extremely hard structure.

The emerald cut
The emerald cut

Unlike diamonds which are graded using a loupe, the clarity of an emerald is assessed by the naked eye. The fewer inclusions, the greater the clarity and the more valuable the stone.

Antique emerald rings
Model wears an 18ct Gold, Emerald & Diamond Cluster Pendant on 18ct Gold Chain, a Large 18ct Gold, Emerald & Diamond Rectangular Ring, an Art Deco 18ct White Gold, Emerald & Diamond Rectangular Ring and an Art Deco 18ct Gold & Platinum, Emerald & Diamond Ring


Colour

It is always worth looking at an emerald in person as they appear more vibrant to the naked eye than in a photograph.

As a general rule, the more intense the green, the more valuable the emerald. But here’s the technical stuff:

Emerald grading scale
Emerald grading scale

The sum of all this is that eye-clean stones of a vivid primary green hue, with up to 15% of any secondary hue or combination (either blue or yellow) of a medium-dark tone, command the highest prices.

How to Clean

Emeralds need a bit of extra TLC when it comes to cleaning them. Never ever put them in jewellery cleaner liquid or any solvents (avoid wearing emeralds while doing household cleaning, for the same reason)! Many emeralds are treated with oil and solvents will strip this away. Soak in mild, soapy water then polish with a soft toothbrush. Dry the clean stone with a soft cotton cloth.

Iconic emerald-lovers

Elizabeth Taylor acquired some legendary emeralds from Richard Burton.

Elizabeth Taylor loved wearing emerald jewellery
Elizabeth Taylor loved wearing emerald jewellery
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and one of Taylor's iconic emerald rings
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and one of Taylor’s iconic emerald rings
Elizabeth Taylor'e emerald earrings
Credit: Vanity Fair

First lady, Jackie Kennedy, and King Edward VIII’s famous American wife, Wallis Simpson, all had emerald and diamond engagement rings.

Today, Victoria Beckham, Halle Berry, Zoe Saldana, Irina Shayk and Olivia Wilde have emerald engagement rings.

Victoria Beckham wearing her emerald engagement ring
Credit: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

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