Emeralds have long been valued for their beautiful deep, rich, green color. Ancient poets wrote about emeralds beautifully; ancient Roman writer Pliny the Elder said of the gem, “nothing greens greener,” and Cleopatra was such a fanatic for emeralds, she overtook Greek emerald mines near the Red Sea, using the best stones for her royal jewelry. The ancients even believed the stone had magical powers-- that its soothing green color would relieve eye pain-- and many contemporary believers in color-therapy would actually agree!
Cleopatra's ancient emerald mines. Photo credit- GIA.
Gemological Facts & Quality Factors
Emeralds are a type of beryl, a species of gem that also includes aquamarines and other fancy-colored beryls. What differentiates emeralds from other types of beryl is a rich green color saturation. Just like diamonds, emeralds are graded for quality based on the 4Cs of color, clarity, cut, and carat; the scales are a little different, but the gist of the process is the same. GIA doesn’t “grade” emeralds, but does evaluate them with identification reports that determine whether they’re natural or man-made, their treatments, their characteristics, and the level of clarity enhancement that’s been done to the emerald (more below).
This bluish-green emerald has a beautifully saturated color. Secrète Fine Jewelry set this irresistible gem in an 18k white gold band with generous portions of white diamonds for our DuPont Circle engagement showcase.
The most desirable emerald colors are pure green or slightly bluish green, with vivid saturation that is neither too dark nor too bright. A rich grass green is an ideal color, with bright neon greens and very dark forest greens being less desirable. Where white diamonds are graded on a scale of D-Z, there is no comparable color scale for emeralds because hue, tint, and saturation make up more of a complicated scheme than a simple spectrum.
This show-stopping emerald and diamond necklace in 18k white gold is from the Secrète archives. It showcases emeralds in two shades and two shapes.
The cut of an emerald is also something to consider. You may have heard the term “emerald cut” to refer to octagonal step-cuts in diamonds and other gemstones, but in fact, emeralds can be cut in any shape. Many colored gems like emeralds, sapphires, and rubies may be cut a little “deeper” for their carat weight (compared to diamonds) to help give the appearance of color-saturation; if you slice a stone too thin, it will appear lighter, so giving an emerald a little more depth in the cut can increase the depth of color. Emeralds also have natural fissures that a gem-cutter must know how to navigate when determining a shape for the finished stone. Furthermore, beryl is more brittle than sapphires, making it all the more important for an expert cutter to do the job.
This amazingly flawless natural emerald was the centerpiece for a bold engagement ring we made at Secrète in our Bethesda workshop twenty years ago. Emeralds this clean are incredibly rare.
Emerald clarity is a little more complicated. It is actually acceptable for emeralds to have some visual inclusions to the naked eye, which may seem odd to those familiar with diamonds and other gems like sapphires, rubies, or many semi-precious gems which are really only acceptable when they are “eye-clean.” Inclusions that affect an emerald’s transparency, making it opaque or “mossy,” affect the value of the stone more negatively than those that don’t affect the transparency; in other words, bad emerald inclusions are clouds in opaque or semi-opaque stones, and better inclusions are feathers or little lines in clear glassy green. Gem-lovers will refer to the inclusions in a beautiful, transparent emerald as its jardin, because lovely little natural character is like a garden within the gem. Because it is so common for emeralds to have visual inclusions, “eye-clean” emeralds are very rare and therefore more desirable.
Secrète made this custom emerald engagement ring this year for an adorable Washington, DC couple.
Many emeralds are treated to improve the appearance of clarity. These treatments range from professionally-applied, long-lasting solutions to crudely applied materials like coconut oil, all to minimize the appearance of flaws. Obviously, the most valuable emeralds are the ones with no fissures to begin with, and emeralds that have been highly treated to alter their appearance are worth less.
Photo credits- GIA.
Finally, carat weight corresponds with value, so value increases (quality-for-quality) with larger stones. Emeralds are often categorized into grades like AAA, AA, A, B, and “commercial.” While these are industry-standard terms, they’re typically not assigned by major gemological labs and the descriptors can vary from dealer to dealer. It’s important for you to be educated about what makes an emerald excellent before you make a purchase. While it’s less common for a colored gem like an emerald to be “certified” than it is for a diamond, a good jeweler can have an independent gemologist evaluate a stone for you or refer you to an independent appraiser for assurance.
This snapshot was taken by a member of Secrète's team while sourcing a 3.00ct AAA-grade emerald for a DC engagement ring client. We source all of our gemstones with every effort to be conflict-free, favoring woman-owned family-run businesses wherever possible.
Emeralds in Jewelry
Emeralds have infinite applications in jewelry, but there are several factors to consider when designing or chosing emerald jewelry. Emeralds are the birthstone for May, but their rich color and stunning beauty makes them desirable beyond their birthstone appeal.
This lovely emerald and diamond men's band was a gift from one husband to another after his original band from over 30 years ago had been lost. Secrète's master jeweler took extra care to match the original perfectly. We love the subtle glow of these channel-set emeralds-- glamorous, but still masculine.
Emeralds are also very versatile in with metal color choices. Against yellow gold, the warmth of their leafy color comes alive. When paired with white gold or platinum as became popular in the Art Deco era, emeralds take on a cooler look, and subtle bluish tints can sparkle within the green. Emeralds also contrast beautifully against the complimentary peach-tones of rose gold. Emerald is rare among colored gems of having such completely different looks with different metal colors, each of which is stunning.
Designer Elyahu Araki created this beautiful emerald and diamond men's signature ring in 18k rose gold. We love the color contrast from the grassy stone to the rosy metal.
Emeralds and other members of the beryl family rank a 7.5-8 on the Mohs hardness scale, so they’re not quite as durable as corundum (sapphires and rubies) and certainly less hard than diamonds. For this reason, some people fear emeralds would be too fragile for a piece of jewelry that’s subject to potential scratching (ex, a ring worn every day is more prone to damage than earrings worn only on special occasions). This shouldn’t necessarily discourage anyone from choosing an emerald for an engagement ring, especially when a talented jeweler can come up with secure settings immuned against even the clumsiest brides. (For more about gem durability and engagement rings, check out another of our blogs here.)
Emeralds are also the gemstones for the 20th and 55th anniversaries. These stones are sophisticated and vibrant at the same time, and that’s a beautiful symbol for the type of love that lasts for decades.
Jackie Kennedy’s engagement ring from JFK is a lovely two-stone emerald and diamond Retro Era dream, featuring a 2.84ct emerald, a 2.88ct emerald-cut diamond, and additional carats of accent round and marquise diamonds. Photo credit- Glamour.
Most of us here in Washington, DC, have laid eyes on the Hooker Emerald, on display in the Smithsonian’s gem exhibition at the Museum of Natural History. This jaw-dropping 75.47ct Columbian emerald has an interesting history including conquistadors and sultans, and its current diamond-accented brooch setting was created by Tiffany’s for the 1950 Christmas catalog. Photo credit- The Smithsonian.
The Mackay Emerald Necklace is another Smithsonian treasure. Weighing in at over 160ct, this giant Columbian emerald is housed in a platinum and diamond Art Deco setting made by Cartier. Photo credit- The Smithsonian.
Halle Berry’s engagement ring is an amazing example of a lovely emerald set in a modern, bold bezel. Photo credit- Brides.
Princess Eugenie charmed the world with her royal wedding and turned heads with the beautiful emerald Greville Emerald Kokoshnik Tiara (AKA the Boucheron Tiara). It was a gift to the Queen Mother and has rarely been worn in public since it became a part of the royal family’s jewel collection. Photo credit- US.
Create Your Own
Looking to create your very own emerald creation? Contact us today! We can work with you to design something special in person in our Washington, DC, and Bethesda, Maryland, locations, or via email to design from afar.
These vintage emerald rings are from the Estate Collection at Secrète in DuPont Circle. Whether you love them as they are with all their antique charm or want to reimagine their potential, Secrète believes these lovely little gems still have something beautiful to offer!