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Emeralds And Health

Updated: Jan 21, 2022

How Emeralds Are Used For Health

Pieces of Brazilian emerald suspended in a quartz-pegmatite crystal matrix.

Throughout history many gemstones, including emeralds, have been thought to possess powerful healing properties. Since emerald is one of the earliest minerals collected by man, throughout the ages a large number of medical “virtues” have been attributed to it. Traditional beliefs indicate that emerald benefits the eyes, treats a host of minor ailments, prevents serious illness or death by poison, and boosts mental health.

Eye Ailments

In early days, gems were classified by color, and the color of a gem was thought to have an effect on the type of malady it was capable of healing. From antiquity, green was regarded as the color most beneficial to the eyes.

According to Pliny’s Natural History (c. 77 A.D.), no other stone is better at creating a sense of calm as it restores the eyes:

“Indeed, no stone has a color that is more delightful to the eye, for whereas the sight fixes itself with avidity upon the green grass and foliage of the trees, we have all the more pleasure in looking upon the emerald, there being no green in existence more intense than this. And then, besides, of all the precious stones, this is the only one that feeds the sight without satiating it… If the sight has been wearied or dimmed by intensively looking on any other subject, it is refreshed and restored by gazing at this stone. And lapidaries who cut and engrave fine gems know this well, for they have no better method of restoring their eyes than by looking at the emerald, its soft, green color comforting and removing their weariness and lassitude.”

The front page of the text of “Natural History” by Pliny.

Pliny goes on to relate that the Roman Emperor Nero had notoriously bad eyesight. Nero’s reign (54 – 68 A.D.) focused primarily on diplomacy, trade, and increasing the cultural capital of the Empire. In accord with the latter, he ordered the building of theatres and promoted athletic games. According to numerous sources, he used an emerald to view both theatrical productions and gladiatorial competitions from his comfy seat in the stands. King (1865) opines that the “stone must have been hollowed out at the back and thus have acted as a concave lens in assisting his sight to distinguish clearly what was going on so far below the imperial seat. But this virtue then must have been ascribed to the material, not to the form of the stone.”

Fortunato Pio Castellani, 19th century jeweler extraordinaire and lay historian, was intrigued by the jewelry and craftsmanship of the ancients. In his “Gems, Notes, and Extracts,” he indicates that:

“It appears that the ancients applied the term ‘beryllus’ also to a magnifying glass, and perhaps they used aquamarina for the same purpose. This supposition is rendered probable from two reasons; the first is that in the German language spectacles are called ‘brille,’ and no other derivation has been for this word than the Latin ‘beryllus;’ the second is that Nero is said to have looked at the spectacle in the theatres through a very large emerald… Nicola de Cusa, Bishop of Brixen, who died in 1454, gave the name of Beryllus to one of his works for this reason, that ‘by means of its assistance, people could understand things otherwise incomprehensible… The beryl is a bright, transparent, colourless stone, to which a concave or convex form is given by art, and by means of which whoever looks through it sees things otherwise invisible to the naked eye’.”

A carved bust of Roman Emperor Nero who was said to use an emerald to aid his sight.

Over time, the belief in emerald’s salubrious effect on our vision expanded to include a host of injuries and diseases connected to the eyes. Curiously, although emerald was known to have a beneficial effect on human eyes, it was thought to cause blindness in serpents and poisonous reptiles. According to Ahmed Teifashi, an Arabian gem dealer in the 13th century (Kuntz, 1913):

“After having read in learned books of this peculiarity of the emerald, I tested it by my own experiment and found the statements exact. It chanced that I had in my possession a fine emerald of the zababi variety, and with this I decided to make the experiment on the eyes of a viper. Therefore, having made a bargain with a snake-charmer to procure me some vipers, as soon as I received them, I selected one and placed it in a vessel. This being done, I took a stick of wood, attached to the end a piece of wax, and embedded my emerald in this. I then brought the emerald near to the viper’s eyes. The reptile was strong and vigorous, and even raised its head out of the vessel, but as soon as I approached the emerald to its eyes, I heard a slight crepitation and saw that the eyes were protruding and dissolving into a humor.”

Fertility and Childbirth

The Egyptians were the first to use emerald as a cure for infertility and it was employed for this purpose for many centuries thereafter. To prevent miscarriage, pregnant women were encouraged to wear emeralds around their necks. It was also believed to alleviate the pain of childbirth if strapped to the thigh of the expectant mother (Kuntz 1915).

The Gachala, a Colombian emerald, clocks in at a staggering 858 carats. A stunning symbol of fertility.

Emeralds are also said to honor Astarte, the Phoenician goddess of fertility, love, and war. The Greeks most likely changed her name into the more familiar Aphrodite. Some of Astarte’s symbols are represented by horns, stars, and doves – symbols of love and fertility.

Serious Illness and Death by Poison

Emerald has long been used to cure serious diseases such as malaria, cholera, and dysentery. One physician prescribed an emerald to be worn suspended near the abdomen and another placed in the mouth as a cure for dysentery. According to Kuntz (1915), a “tincture of emerald is recommended by the Arab physician Abenzoar as an internal remedy for the cure of dysentery, the dose prescribed being six grains.”

In the 16th century, Anselmus Boetius de Boodt, author of one of the most influential mineralogy texts ever written, provides us with the recipe for preparing the Tincture Smaragdi:

“Pound the Emerald in an iron mortar, sift the powder through muslin, then cover it with spiritus urinae (sal volatile): the spirit must be distilled off, leaving the powder of a grey colour, but which will communicate that of the emerald to spirits of wine.”

A sketch of 16th century physician Anselmus de Boodt, who wrote extensively of the curative powers of emeralds.

Emerald was also thought to prevent epilepsy. According to Agricola (1546, translation by Bandy and Bandy 1955):

“It combats epilepsy as though it were a deadly enemy until it either overcomes the lesser power of the disease or is overcome by a greater power. In the former case the stone remains whole and intact but in the latter case it is fractured into many small pieces. For this reason, kings and priests suspend it from the necks of boys and wear it in rings in order to test whether it will have the power to expel this horrible disease.”

Emerald was also effective in lowering life-threatening fevers regardless of their cause. Kuntz (1915) informs us that “coral and safran, if wrapped in the skin of a cat, were believed to have marvelous powers; and when emeralds were added to the coral the talisman would drive off a mortal fever. To have the proper effect, however, it must be attached to the neck of the patient.”

In the not too distant past, many of Europe’s best-appointed dining tables were furnished with an article called an arbre d’epreuve (proving tree) or a langier (serpent’s tongue). This item, often made of precious metals, had suspended from it ten or more stones, which were believed to have the power to detect or neutralize any poison in the food being served. Precious stones, including emerald, were part of proving trees, although novelties such as shark’s teeth and toadstones were also employed.

Detailing of Saint Valentine curing someone struck with epilepsy. It was common to believe that emeralds could cure this disease.

Before the food or wine was served to royalty or other important personages, a liveried servant would dip the stones into them looking for signs of poison. It was believed that the stones would sweat, change color, or exhibit other phenomena if poison was present—although it was also common practice to employ an official taster for further insurance.

In the 16th century, emeralds and other stones were also incorporated into tonics to countermand the effects of either poison or the plague. According to Kuntz (1913):

“Bueus asserts that if the weight of eighty barley-corns of its powder were given to one dying from the effects of poison, the dose would save his life. The Arabs prized emeralds highly for this purpose, and Abenzoar states that, having once taken a poisonous herb, he placed an emerald in his mouth and applied another to his stomach, whereupon he was entirely cured.”

A relief of the Dominican monk Albertus Magnus who expounded on the benefits of emeralds to health.

All told throughout history, emerald has been prescribed as an effective cure for a host of ailments including kidney stones, liver disease, skin diseases, wounds, hemorrhages, hemorrhoids, belching, hiccoughs, heart ailments, diabetes, rheumatism, sore throat, toothaches, headaches, and insomnia.

Mental Health Benefits

After noting the restful effects of the color green on the eyes, the ancients apparently decided that the benefits of emerald went beyond those organs and attributed equally salubrious effects on the brain and psyche. According to Kuntz (1915) emerald was prescribed as an antidote for melancholia to be taken three times a day for nine consecutive days. The father of the modern botany and zoology, Dominican monk Albertus Magnus (c. 1193-1280), also informs us that emerald improves memory and calms restless souls.

With so many meanings prescribed to emeralds, it should come as no surprise that emeralds have a lengthy history as expressions of love. Discover that next in Emeralds and Love, Engagement, and Marriage.

Emeralds & Love

Emeralds As Expressions Of Love

Elizabeth Taylor received multiple pieces of emerald jewelry from Richard Burton during their life together.

Emeralds have long been associated with love and fidelity in many cultures throughout the world. According to practitioners of New Age Metaphysics, it opens the heart chakra and promotes harmony and domestic bliss by enabling the wearer to both give and receive unconditional love.

We have some evidence that emeralds have been used as engagement rings in the past, a natural choice given that emerald is associated with hope, desire, and chastity. For their initial betrothal, Richard Burton gave Elizabeth Taylor an emerald and diamond brooch as an engagement present. She wore it often and it was followed by many other significant pieces of emerald jewelry.

Who first beholds the light of day In spring’s sweet flow’ry month of May, And wears and emerald all her life, Shall be a loved and happy wife. – Kuntz, 1913

Queen Isabella of Castille, the recipient of the “Five Emeralds.”

Hernándo Cortés, conqueror of the Aztecs, is said to have presented his betrothed with a gift of “Five Emeralds” as a wedding present in 1529. According to King (1867),

“The first was in the form of a rose, the second in that of a horn, the third like a fish with eyes of gold, the fourth was like a little bell with a fine Pearl for the tongue, and on the rim was the inscription in Spanish, ‘Blessed is he who created thee.’ The fifth, which was the most valuable, was a small cup with a foot of gold, and with four little chains of the same metal attached to a large Pearl as a button.”

A pair of antique emerald and pearl drop earrings.

Although Queen Isabella, King Charles V’s wife, was desperate to own them, Cortés apparently refused to relinquish the emerald carvings. For this, he earned her enmity and it was rumored that he paid dearly for this folly over time.

Emeralds were also used as betrothal rings because of their purported ability to change color when a lover was unfaithful. And although emeralds were associated with Venus the Goddess of Love, they symbolized virginity, chaste love, and newfound desire, not sexual passion in full bloom. Agricola (1546, translation by Bandy and Bandy 1955) tell us that:

A statue representing King Bela of Hungary.

“Any lewd act is very dangerous to a smaragdus. If either a man or a woman wears this gem during cohabitation and it touches the flesh, even when set in a ring, it will be shattered.”

And according to Kuntz (1913):

“So sensitive was the stone believed to be in this respect that Albertus Magnus relates of King Bela of Hungary, who possessed an exceptionally valuable emerald set in a ring, that, when he embraced his wife while wearing this ring on his finger, the stone broke into three parts.”

Emerald and other gems were used by Shakespeare as metaphors for rich color or exceptional beauty. Below is an excerpt of a verse purportedly written by Shakespeare and dedicated to the woman who became his wife in 1582.

To the Idol of Mine Eyes and the Delight of Mine Heart, Anne Hathaway

(3rd Stanza)

A portrait of Anne Hathaway.

“Talk not of gems, the orient list,

The diamond, topaz, amethyst,

The emerald mild, the ruby gay;

Talk of my gem, Anne Hathaway!

Although emerald is the traditional gift for the 55th wedding anniversary, it is also occasionally used as for the 5th, 20th and 35th anniversary as well.

Next, we explore South American Emerald Legends, and reveal some truly outstanding emeralds!

South American Emerald Legends

A Guide To Emeralds In South America

A male resplendent quetzal with vibrant emerald feathers.

Long before the European conquest of the New World, emeralds from Colombia were prized by indigenous cultures throughout Central and South America, including the Incas, Aztecs, Toltecs, and the Mayans. Emeralds played an important role in the celebrations and religious rites of these cultures, and they were also used extensively for personal adornment.

Mexico and South American Emerald History

One of the great missing emeralds of Peru, The Emerald Goddess was the centerpiece of a Shrine to the Goddess Umina.

In Mexico, the emerald was called Quetzalitzli because its color resembled the brilliant green plumes of a bird called the quetzal. According to Kuntz (1915), quetzal feathers were a symbol of royalty. Although the emerald was held in high esteem, its use was not confined to royalty alone.

To the Inca of Peru, emeralds symbolized the tears of the moon goddess. Garcilasso the Inca was the son of an army captain and an Incan princess. According to King (1867) and Kuntz (1913), he wrote of a legendary emerald almost as large as an ostrich egg that was worshipped by the people of Manta (Peru):

This emerald goddess bore the name of Umiña, and, like some of the precious relics of the Christian world, was only exhibited on high feast days, when the Indians flocked to the shrine from far and near, bringing gifts to the goddess. The wily priests especially recommended the donation of emeralds, saying that these were the daughters of the goddess, who would be well pleased to see her offspring. Sir Francis Drake was believed to be in possession of The Emerald Goddess after commandeering a Spanish galleon. In this way an immense store of emeralds rewarded the efforts of the priests, and on the conquest of Peru all these fine stones fell into the hands of Pedro de Alvarado, Garcilasso de la Vega, and their companions. The mother emerald, however, had been so cleverly concealed by the priests of the shrine that the Spaniards never succeeded in gaining possession of it. – Kuntz, 1913

Later though, with European explorers ravaging the Americas, the massive emerald was said to have fallen into the hands of Sir Francis Drake, an English sea captain, when he commandeered La Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion (The Cacafuego) a Spanish Treasure Galleon off the coast of Peru in 1578.

The Muisca, a pre-Colombian people, had settled in and around present-day capitol Bogota.

The source of the legend of El Dorado is attributed to the Muisca (Chibcha) Indians, indigenous people of Colombia. The Muisca were agriculturalists with the technological know-how to melt and cast gold and copper ornaments, mine emeralds, weave textiles, and make pottery.

Among the Muisca, emerald was a symbol of fertility. It was also revered as a mythological ancestor to their tribe. Padre Simon, a 17th century chronicler, reports the following story (Furst 1981):

A Muisca gold figurine of a mother holding her child, circa 600-1600 A.D.

“In ancient times it was announced that the sun would fertilize a maiden from the town of Guachetá and the fruit of her womb would be the true child of the sun king. Hoping for this happening of such grandeur, the chief’s daughters often went to the hills near the town in the mornings hoping to be the chosen one, as did occur. After the term of her pregnancy, [one] princess gave birth to an emerald, which she kept in her bosom, [and which] eventually turned into a beautiful boy whom she named Goranchacha.

He stayed with his mother until [he was] 24 years old. When he was a grown man, he traveled to sacred lands of Ramiriquí and Sogamoso to take charge of the tribe. He started to build a temple to the sun god Tunja, but the task was interrupted with news of the arrival of the Spanish on the coast and then this legendary person disappears altogether.”

One of the standout pieces of Muisca gold works representing the Legend of El Dorado.

The El Dorado legend was built around a Muisca ceremony, also partly legendary, in which the king or high priest was covered with gold dust and then washed in a sacred lake at sunrise. The ceremony purportedly took place at Lake Guatavita, which is located high in the Andes about 50 kilometers north of Bogotá.

The mythical lake that was the setting of the El Dorado legend.

Evidently, emeralds played a significant role in the proceedings, because the Muisca also cast immense quantities of emeralds into the waters of the lake during the ceremony (Kuntz 1915):

“It was also related that at these semi-annual festivals the Caciques [kings or high priests] and the principal chiefs, bearing valuable gifts of gold-dust and emeralds, were paddled out in canoes (or on rafts) to the exact middle of the lake, this point being determined by the intersection of two ropes stretching from four temples erected at four equidistant points on its banks.

An advanced civilization, the Muisca people had a thorough understanding of astronomy and the calendar as it was so important to their agriculture. This spindle whorl would have been used in these endeavors.

[Once they] arrived at this spot, the offerings were cast into the lake, and the Cacique of Guatavita, whose naked body had been coated with an adhesive clay, over which gold-dust was sprinkled in profusion, sprang into the water, and after washing off the gold-dust, swam to the shore. At the moment the “Golden Cacique” made his plunge into the lake, the assembled people scattered along its banks turned their backs toward the water, shouted loudly, and threw their propitiatory offerings over their shoulders into the lake.

The El Dorado myth began in the 1530s, when conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada first encountered the Muisca. With time, the story grew and evolved until El Dorado became a fabulous city with streets paved in gold.

Spanish conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada made the first European contact with the Muisca.

The indigenous Muisca were probably guilty of embellishing their own accounts of El Dorado because it encouraged the Europeans to pack up and leave their environs, pressing onward in their quest to find the fabulous city of gold and emeralds. The legend of El Dorado tantalized European explorers for more than a century. During the 19th century, entrepreneurs attempted to recover the legendary treasures of Lake Guatavita with varying degrees of success. Kuntz (1915) chronicles one of the more successful ventures:

“One of the early attempts at least resulted in the recovery of so much treasure that the Government’s three percent share is said to have amounted to $170,000.”

Many emeralds, some of them from South America, have entered a powerful realm of meaning when they are used as Amulets & Talismans. We explore those next!

Amulets & Talismans

Emeralds As Powerful Protectors

An emerald gemstone to be used for talismanic purposes.

Throughout history many gemstones, including emeralds, have been thought to possess powerful protective properties. An apotrope is an amulet or talisman that protects the owner by warding off evil. Ancient apotropic tradition has influenced our modern ideas about birthstones, religion, and our beliefs in the healing powers of gemstones and New Age Metaphysics.

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, there is a small distinction between an amulet and a talisman. An amulet is a charm that is worn to prevent harm and promote health and wellbeing. Emerald amulets have been worn as rings, bracelets, and necklaces for at least six millennia.

Among other “virtues,” emerald amulets have been thought to prevent demonic possession, calm storms at sea, strengthen love, promote intelligence, and confer the ability to foretell the future. To be the most effective, emerald amulets are supposed to rest against the skin.

Ancient emerald mining in Egypt depicted in a drawing. Photo credit:

An example of an Egyptian revival emerald brooch.

The ancient Egyptians believed that precious gemstones, including emerald, contained powerful genies that had been turned into stone. They used beads of emerald, carnelian, agate, lapis lazuli, and amethyst in necklaces to protect the wearer from all manner of evil. The indigenous Indians of the New World valued emeralds for their ability to boost fertility. The inhabitants of South Seas islands believed that beryl could be used to control the weather–bringing rain to friends and drought to foes.

One of the key gemological treatises from the Middle Ages was written by the Bishop Marbodus of Rennes (1035-1123). Marbodus borrowed heavily from ancient sources including Pliny and Theophrastus. Like them, he believed that gemstones, including beryl, possessed inherent “virtues” that could benefit the wearer if treated as an amulet (as in King, 1860):

Cut with six facets shines the Beryl bright, Else a pale dullness clouds its native light; The most admired display a softened beam, Like tranquil seas or olive’s oily gleam. This potent gem, found in far India’s mines, With mutual love the wedded couple binds.

Modern interpretation of a Chinese knot in earrings set with emeralds.

The Chinese prized an amulet that consisted of an emerald, a ruby, a diamond, a pearl and a piece of coral—each representing a different deity—which were wrapped together in a paper that bore the names of the deities, the moon, and the 27 constellations or houses of the moon. The amulet was hung at the entrance of the home to protect those who resided there.

For centuries, emeralds were thought to change color if their owner was threatened by peril or surrounded by falsehood. In the 16th century, the famous mineralogist and physician, Anselmus Boetius de Boodt, authored one of the most influential mineralogy texts ever written–the “Gemmarum et Lapidum Historia.” In this major opus, de Boodt described about 600 minerals. He also provided information on their properties, imitations, and occult applications. According to de Boodt, “[emerald] discovers false witnesses by suffering alteration when meeting with such persons.”

A modern interpretation of a navaratna pendant.

Of all the amulets, the Navaratna (sometimes called a Naoratna) is probably the most famous—and they are still worn today. For centuries, Hindu astrologers have looked to the stars to advise their clients on what stones–or combinations of stones–were best for them. The Navaratna, which means “nine gems,” is an amulet set with a single emerald, ruby, diamond, pearl, blue sapphire, topaz (or yellow sapphire), cat’s eye, coral, and zircon (or hessonite).

Each of these gems is associated with a celestial planet or deity and emerald is associated with the planet Mercury. All of the gems are said influence the destiny of the wearer in either a positive or negative way. In the past, no Maharaja was without a Navaratna or an astrologer to advise him on how to employ his gems for maximum personal benefit.

One of the mysterious emerald tablets of Thoth with ancient inscriptions.

The word talisman is derived from the Arabic “tilsamen,” and it refers to a magical image. A talisman is a special charm that is created when an image is engraved on the surface of a “sympathetic” stone—i.e., a stone with “virtues” that bolster the power the image or engraving. Not only was great care was taken to match the proper stone with the appropriate symbol, but the images themselves were carved at times and dates determined to be the most auspicious. In some cases, magical herbs were also placed under gemstones when they were mounted.

The first emerald talismans originated in ancient Egypt when emeralds were carved into good luck charms such as scarabs. According to Budge (1965), the carved emerald scarab also included an image of Isis and it was invested with power at a sacred rite called the “Ceremony of the Beetle.” In Greek and Roman times, signet rings were engraved with astrological symbols. Fernie (1907) quotes the Magick of Kiram, King of Persia and of Harpocration (1685):

An ancient calligraphic green beryl pendant. Photo credit: Christie’s.

“Engrave thereupon the Bird Harpe; and under its feet a Sea Lamprey; and wear the Stone against disturbance, and dreams, and stupidity. It causes Rest to Lunaticks, and to them that are troubled with the Cholick; and it is better if the Fat of the Sea-Lamprey be put underneath; for such is Divine.”

According to Ragiel’s Book of Wings (Kuntz, 1913), “a frog engraved on a beryl, will have the power to reconcile enemies and produce friendship where there was discord.”

More recently, emeralds have been engraved with portraits, floral patterns, and religious inscriptions. A famous talismanic emerald, called The Mogul, was drilled on four sides so that it could be sewn onto the sleeve or turban of the last great Mogul emperor Aurangzeb.

Much of these beliefs have transferred into the traits that we associate with Astrology & Birthstones. We explore that next!

Astrology and Birthstones

The Meaning Behind Gemstones In Astrology

An astrological zodiac chart etching from an ancient text.

Many people know their birthstone and their astrological sign, but few actually understand the significance of the relationship between gemstones and the cosmos. This pairing is not a modern one either, with centuries of cultures the world over finding associations between gemstones and what they saw in the sky.

Kuntz (1913) informs us that for many centuries, many cultures the world over believed that the stars and the planets were thought to have an unusual relationship with gemstones:

The influence over human fortunes ascribed by astrology to the heavenly bodies is conceived to be strengthened by wearing the gem appropriate to certain planets or signs, for a subtle emanation has passed into the stone and radiates from it.

An ancient text indicating the influence of the cosmos on the human body.

Gemstones were associated with astrology because they were thought to retain the astral influences of the planets and stars much longer than any other substance. In the early 17th century, Wilhelmus Eo wrote (Kuntz 1913):

“Metals and precious stones usually lie with their first seeds deep down in the earth and require continuous moisture and a mild heat. This they obtain through a reflection of the sun and the other stars in the manifold movement of the heavens…therefore also the metals and precious stones are nearest related to the planets and the stars, since these influence them most potently and produce their peculiar qualities, for they are enduring and unchangeable and show therein their concordance [with the stars and planets].”

An engraving of Apollonius of Tyana, by F. Cleyn, 1659. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Evidently, the Greek philosopher and teacher, Apollonius of Tyana extolled the secret “virtues” of gemstones and changed his rings daily based on the laws of astrology. According to Philostratus Jarchus, he was able to extend his lifetime by at least 20 years by aligning gemstones with the appropriate planets.

In the Greek and Roman periods, signet rings were frequently engraved with astrological symbols. The wearing of the appropriate zodiacal gemstone was believed to strengthen the influence of the natal sign and to provide a medium for the transmission of stellar influences. Emeralds were also associated with Mars, the god of war; Venus, the goddess of love; and Mercury, the god of trade, commerce, sleep and dreams.

A gold signet ring of Michael Zorianos.

The belief that each month of the year was associated with a specific natal birthstone can also be traced to the writings of Josephus and St. Jerome, who wrote in the 1st and 5th centuries respectively. Both of these authors indicated that there was a connection between the 12 stones of the High Priest’s breastplate, the 12 months of the year, and the 12 zodiacal signs. Some researchers believe that initially all twelve stones were acquired by an individual and worn in the proper month or zodiacal period.

“If born in Cancer’s sign, they say, Your life will joyful be always, If you take with you on your way, An emerald.”

According to Kuntz (1917):

A birthstone chart with traditional stones.

“Besides the zodiacal, or natal rings, there were also made in medieval times a number of planetary rings, the metal supposed to be especially under the guardianship of the Sun, Moon, or five planets known to the ancient world, being in each case chosen as the material for the ring of the special planet. These rings were frequently set with the precious stone assigned to the planet, and thus a series was obtained of seven rings, each of a different metal and set with a different stone. The sun-ring was of gold with diamond or sapphire; the silver moon-ring bore a rock crystal or a moonstone; the ring of Mars was of iron set with an emerald; for Mercury, the ring was of quicksilver and bore a piece of magnetic iron; Jupiter’s was of tin, the setting being a carnelian…”

In India, the practice of Jyotisha requires complicated calculations to ascertain the positions of the stars and planets with reference to an individual’s horoscope, the days of the week, and hours of the day. Emerald is associated with the planet Mercury in the practice of Jyotisha, which is also called Hindu astrology, Indian astrology, Vedic astrology, and Sidereal astrology.

An image of the Greek god Mercury, an astrological ruler.

If Mercury is well-placed in an individual’s horoscope, the effect of emerald is thought to be positive, leading one to be happy, fortunate, rational, highly respected, and wise. If Mercury is ill-placed in an individual’s horoscope, the effect of an emerald could be negative, leading one to lack vitality and concentration, be prone to deception, or suffer from speech and hearing impediments. It is not recommended that Mercury gems such as emerald be worn with pearl or moonstone except in a navaratna.

To be most effective, a natal gemstone must be at least two carats to have an effect on an individual’s destiny. According to some sources, mercury astral talismans should first be worn on Wednesday two hours after sunrise after reciting the following the mantra nine times: “Aum bum budhaya namah.”

A Colombian emerald with lovely translucency.

There is a wealth of differing opinion on the nature of the “true” birthstones. Some of the disagreement stems from historical confusion about the true nature of emerald, and other differences relate to the various astrological systems employed by different cultures. In most cases, natal stones or birthstones have not been considered as important to mankind as the inherent medicinal or healing qualities of gemstones.

Nevertheless, according to the widely used American National Association of Jewelers list (1912), emerald is the birthstone of all who are born in the month of May. It is also the mystical birthstone for January and the planetary stone for Taurus. In Arabic, Hindu, Polish, and Russian cultures, it was also the birthstone for May. In Hebrew, Italian, and Roman cultures, however, it was the birthstone for June. It is the talismanic stone for Gemini, and the astrological birthstone for Cancer and Taurus. Emerald is associated with spring and symbolizes beauty and renewal. Emerald is associated with Friday, but it is the talismanic gem for Monday.

As we will see in the next section Indian Gemology, much of this knowledge has found its way into different cultures in very interesting ways.

Indian Gemology

The Influence Of Indian Gemology

The cover of the classic Indian architectural tome “Manasara.”

There is ample evidence that the cultures of the Indian subcontinent studied gems for millennia. The Manasara, a classic architectural manual, has shown us that as long as 5,000 years ago, Indian architects used gemstones to decorate and protect the palaces of kings. Furthermore, many rulers developed special uses and meanings for many of their coveted gemstones, including many emeralds.

The Vedas, which are the oldest Indian scriptures, contain several references for the use of gems in ceremonial rituals and everyday life. They describe the powers of precious stones to influence subtle energies and connect the Earth to the rest of the universe. Because precious stones were intimately associated with the gods, they had the power to heal and influence destiny.

A page from the ancient text of “The Vedas.”

A gift of a precious stone to the gods was bound to produce good fortune. According to the Rig Veda, “by giving gold the giver receives a life of light and glory.” In similar vein, another text, called the Haiti Smriti, reveals that:

“Coral in worship will subdue all the three worlds. He who worships Krishna with rubies will be reborn as a powerful emperor; if with a small ruby, he will be born a king. Offering emeralds will produce Gyana or Knowledge of the Soul and of the Eternal. If he worships with a diamond, even the impossible, or Nirvana, that is Eternal Life in the highest Heaven, will be secured.”

Reproduction of a classic Egyptian style ring featuring a hexagonal cut emerald set in gold.

The ancient name for emerald comes from the Sanskrit word for “green.” Most experts believe that the first emeralds were imported into India from Egypt. Since emeralds were highly prized, they were readily incorporated into sacred Indian texts and traditions. According to one tale from the Puranas (Tagore, 1881), all gems, including emerald, originated when a demon named Vala destroyed himself. This tale brings to mind the location of the famous Egyptian mines (Sinkankas, 1981):

The bile of Vala had been acquired by the snake Sesha, the monarch of all snakes, but, frightened by an attack from Garura, the king of all birds, Sesha dropped the bile on the shores of an ocean and, ever since, that place has been a mine of emeralds.

A map of Ancient Egypt and the settlement along the Nile River.

The Manusmriti is an ancient work of Hindu law which dates to about the 1st century A.D. In George Bühler’s translation (Laws of Manu, Sacred Books of the East, Volume 25), there are several items pertaining to the care and use of gems:

Cleaning of gems: Chapter 5: 111.

“The wise ordain that all (objects) made of metal, gems, and anything made of stone are to be cleansed with ashes, earth, and water.”

Punishment for stealing gems: Chapter 8: 323.

“For stealing men of noble family and especially women and the most precious gems, (the offender) deserves corporal (or capital) punishment.”

Fines for improperly cutting gems: Chapter 9: 286.

The cover page of the Buhler translation of “The Laws of Manu.”

“For adulterating unadulterated commodities, and for breaking gems or for improperly boring (them), the fine is the first (or lowest) amercement.”

One of the most famous Indian works on gemology is S.M. Tagore’s “Mani-Mala” or “Treatise on Gems.” Although it was written at the end of the 19th century, it drew heavily on the Puranas, which were written and compiled from 400 to 1000 A.D. According to Tagore, the various colors of the emerald were similar to those of certain plants and animals. Tagore also indicates that emeralds have five principal qualities: purity, weight, coolness, freedom from dust, and beauty. Among other benefits, they have the power to purify the soul, increase wealth, and bring success in wars.

A portrait of S.M. Tagore, famed Indian expert on gems and gemology.

Tagore warns of seven emerald defects that must be avoided at all costs:

“An emerald which is not cool, is called a Rukshma; it leads to disease.”

“That which has a yellow spot is called Bishfota. Death from wounds inflicted by a weapon may be apprehended from wearing it.”

“An emerald to which a stone fragment is inseparably attached is baleful in its influence.”

“An emerald that is dirty is called Bic’ c’ háya; it may bring on a variety of diseases.”

“An emerald containing gritty fragments is called Karakara; it causes the death of the owner’s son.”

A chart representing the fundamental understandings of Jyotisha.

“An emerald which is ugly is called Jathara; it renders one liable to bites.”

“An emerald, the color of which is like that of Mashakalai is fatal to the wearer.”

Today, emeralds and other gemstones are used in Vedic Astrology or Jyotisha, a practice that also requires complicated calculations to ascertain the positions of the stars and planets with reference to an individual’s horoscope, the days of the week, and hours of the day.

With so much information about emeralds, we next reveal our most helpful knowledge about emerald jewelry, starting first with Emeralds as Heirlooms.

Emeralds as Heirlooms

Emeralds As Heirloom Jewelry

An heirloom diamond and emerald jewelry set with large emeralds and intricate design. Photo credit: Sotheby’s.

Emerald was one of the first gemstones to be mined and traded. An old emerald connects its owner to a rich history that winds through exotic lands, ancient civilizations, and mighty empires. In all corners of the globe, emeralds have been used as amulets and talismans, religious symbols, astrological stones, magical stones, and healing stones. Emeralds have long been associated with courtship, love, and fidelity, and they are considered a life-affirming stone to the practitioners of New Age Metaphysics. For centuries, emeralds have provided inspiration for poets, playwrights and historians.

Given all this enthusiasm for the “loveliest of the green stones,” it is surprising that emerald heirlooms are relatively uncommon. This is due to emerald’s rarity and value, but it also has something to do with emerald’s relative fragility compared to gemstones such as diamond, sapphire, and ruby.

Choosing An Emerald Heirloom

A platinum art deco ring set with a bezel-set emerald.

Emeralds are very durable. They have a hardness of 7.5 to 8 on the Mohs scale, which means they resist scratching. However, emerald is not as tough as it is hard. Emeralds can be brittle, especially if they are heavily included. If you want your emerald to be enjoyed for multiple generations, make sure you select a high clarity stone with limited fractures. Although it is not common, emeralds can also exhibit imperfect cleavage, a characteristic that has been recognized since antiquity.

Some jewelers believe that emeralds are simply too rare and valuable to be worn on a daily basis or in a way that will expose them to considerable wear. They may suggest that you select a pendant if you want to create an heirloom that lasts for generations. Emerald rings may not be capable of enduring several lifetimes of daily wear—especially if they need frequent cleaning to maintain their brilliance and sparkle.

A vintage emerald and diamond ring. The stone can be seen as heavily included.

These issues aside, emerald makes an excellent choice for a family heirloom. The rarity and enduring value of emeralds make them a sound investment. To illustrate the point, let’s compare emeralds and diamonds. The price of diamond is maintained by controlling releases from huge reserves accumulated over decades. There are no great reserves of emerald, and it remains valuable because the Earth yields so very little of it.

An heirloom emerald necklace by Van Cleef & Arpels from 1936.

Compared to diamonds, emeralds are also highly individual gems. Quality in diamonds depends upon objective standards including a lack of color, a particular range of cutting angles and proportions, and freedom from inclusions–even ones that are invisible to the naked eye. Emeralds, on the other hand, are valued for their individuality and strength of color. Buyers are free to choose stones according to their own tastes and preferences.

Fine emerald rough is so rare that many stones are not cut into standard shapes or proportions. Instead, the dimensions of the rough crystal, the distribution of color, and the location of inclusions determine the shape of a finished gem. Natural emeralds rarely, if ever, exhibit the total absence of visible inclusions expected in high quality diamonds. This means that every emerald comes with its own unique “birthmarks.” Some inclusions may actually increase an emerald’s value, as in the case of trapiche emeralds.

A lovely heirloom emerald and diamond gold ring.

This all means that emerald shoppers can select a unique gem that reflects their individual taste and style. The uniqueness of each emerald also means that emerald jewelry carries strong sentimental value. A gift as rare as emerald is a gesture of deep devotion and every piece of emerald jewelry is one-of-a-kind.

For these reasons, emerald jewelry is a good choice for a family heirloom. Your selection may initiate a family legacy of love and value that delights one generation after another.

Throughout time, emeralds have appeared in many special pieces of jewelry, in varying styles. We explore that history next in Emerald Jewelry Through the Ages.

Emerald Jewelry Through the Ages

The History Of Emerald Jewelry

An ancient Egyptian bangle with small inset gemstones in an intricate design.

Jewelry made with precious materials has always been part of our fashion repertoire because of its value, its rarity, and its enduring beauty. We have included a brief catalog of Jewelry periods and styles to give you an idea of how emeralds have been cherished and worn throughout the ages.

Antique Jewelry

Emerald jewelry made more than one hundred years ago is considered antique, and jewelry from twenty to one hundred years old is more properly termed “vintage.” Fine antique emerald jewelry is very scarce and valuable. Many of the truly great emerald jewels reside in museums, vaults, and state collections. If a quality antique piece does come on the market, it demands high prices, especially if it features large natural stones or if it has an unusual history.

Ancient Egyptian Jewelry and its Modern Revival

An ancient map of the Nile River with oases depicted on each side.

Despite ancient misconceptions about the relationship between emerald and other green stones, we know that true emeralds were mined in ancient Egypt. To the ancient Egyptians, green was a sacred color associated with the fertility of the land annually flooded by the Nile.

In the earliest times, only the pharaohs were allowed to wear emeralds. Some were set in rings, which were worn on the tips of the finger as opposed to the base. Egyptian kings were also buried with an emerald, a symbol of eternal life. In fact, a fine necklace from the 14th century B.C. was reportedly found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen.

The emeralds of ancient Egypt were thought to have special healing properties. They were also used as amulets and talismans. Emeralds and other gemstones were thought to house powerful genies that had been turned into stone. The Egyptians used beads of emerald, carnelian, agate, lapis lazuli, and amethyst in necklaces to protect the wearer from all manner of evil. The first emerald talismans were carved into scarabs. According to Budge (1965), the carved emerald scarab also included an image of Isis and was invested with power at a sacred rite called the “Ceremony of the Beetle.”

An Egyptian revival necklace featuring carved scarabs set in filigreed gold.

Emeralds were used extensively in Egyptian revival jewelry of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The spectacular horde unearthed from Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 inspired Art Deco designers who enthusiastically embraced Egyptian themes and motifs.

The Jewelry of Classical Greece and Rome, and its Revivals

This mosaic from Pompeii illustrates Roman jewelry fashions around the 1st century C.E.

Emeralds were well known in classical Greece and Rome and like the Egyptians, the Greeks and Romans attributed healing, talismanic, and astrological powers to their gems. Much of the jewelry of the period is characterized by the extensive use of engraved seals and gemstones.

Authentic jewelry from this period is exceptionally rare, but we do know that classical artisans were fine metalsmiths. Ancient goldsmiths practiced the art of granulation, a difficult technique that ornaments surfaces with gold beads. Granulation is most often associated with the Etruscans, who occupied northern and central Italy before the rise of Rome. They learned the technique from the Phoenicians, who in turn carried it from Egypt, but it was the Etruscans who raised the art to its greatest heights.

An ancient Roman emerald, pearl, and gold ring.

Renewed interest in classical themes and motifs was experienced during the Renaissance. More recently, increasing demand for classically inspired jewelry has spurred the production of contemporary granulation-based emerald settings, and modern goldsmiths are happily rediscovering this ancient art.

The European Middle Ages

A 3rd century gold and emerald earring.

The Roman legacy in Europe continued in the Early Middle Ages with techniques of filigree gold, cloisonné work and the use of cabochon gems. The jewelry of this period was primarily associated with clothing and it included clasps, brooches, belt buckles, and buttons. Cameos and intaglios inherited from the Romans were used a great deal in jewelry.

By the High Middle Ages, precious stones had become more widely available, at least in important European cities that traded with the East, and the gem and jewelry industry was increasingly regulated.

An English crown, probably owned by Richard III or Anne of Bohemia, circa 1370.

In 1331, an edict was passed in Paris against the use of paste gems. In 1355, jewelers were forbidden to put tinted foil under gemstones to improve their color. Although sumptuary laws mandated that precious gems be reserved for the clergy or aristocracy, the use of jewelry and the amount worn increases throughout the period.

In 1363, Edward III of England’s statute de victu et vestitu decreed that craftsmen, yeomen, their wives, and their children were not permitted to wear articles of gold or silver. Knights were not allowed to wear rings or brooches made of gold or set with precious stones. Only merchants, owners of land and their families were allowed to wear clothes and headdresses adorned with silver and precious stones.

Anne de Beaujeu, detail from the triptych of the Maître de Moulins (c. 1498).

In court jewelry, crowns, hats, and other head ornaments were encrusted with fine stones, including emeralds, rubies, sapphires, pearls, and diamonds. Men wore jewel-encrusted clothes, necklaces, and belts. In the late 14th century women’s hair was padded over the ears and held in place with heavily jeweled gold hairnets. Jeweled reliquaries were worn around the neck and a variety of brooches and badges were worn on dresses with low necklines that were embroidered with silk and sewn with jewels.

Jewelry of the Indian Subcontinent

An Indian Mughal pendant piece that could be used as kundan jewelry.

The ancient cultures of the Indian subcontinent were fascinated by gemstones. Ancient texts contain references for the use of emeralds in ceremony and everyday life. An emerald offered to the gods was thought to produce “Knowledge of the Soul and of the Eternal.”

Although indigenous Indian kingdoms had strong jewelry traditions, ironically, the best recognized and most collectible of all antique Indian jewelry styles was developed by foreign conquerors called the Mughals. During the Mughal period, from 1504 to 1707, the Muslim imperial courts that dominated northern India were awash in opulent personal ornaments. Mughal jewelry mixes colored stones and diamonds in elaborate, abstract patterns. Mughal patrons favored the colors red, green, and white, so rubies, emeralds, diamonds, and pearls were the predominant gems. In many cases precious stones were accompanied by intricate and colorful enamel work. Complex gold settings were worked in a uniquely Indian style called the kundan technique.

A carved emerald that could be used for many ornamentation purposes in Mughal pieces.

During the Mughal period, men wore as much jewelry as women. Mughal jewels included rings, necklaces, and earrings, as well as sumptuous sword hilts, scabbards, aigrettes (turban ornaments), brow pendants, anklets, and nose ornaments. Even furniture and the interiors of palaces were adorned with precious gems. The great production center for Mughal jewelry was the beautiful “Pink City” of Jaïpur in Rajasthan, which even now remains a major hub for traditional Indian jewelry manufacturing. Authentic Mughal jewelry is rare and extremely valuable. When it does enter the market, it is typically through one of the major auction houses.

A great deal of modern Indian jewelry is made to imitate the Mughal style, which has grown in popularity outside of India as well. India has a thriving indigenous jewelry market, and a large percentage of a family’s accumulated wealth is sequestered in the gold ornaments of the women. Today India consumes emerald in quantities, and is also a major source of the emerald beads used in jewelry.

The European Renaissance

A portrait of King Henry VIII in a selection of his elaborate jewels by Holbein.

During the Renaissance, metalsmithing and stone cutting in Europe made great strides and jewelry ownership began to spread beyond the aristocracy and clergy. Although Henry VIII wore as many gems and jewels as his wives, by the end of this period, women’s adornment was far more elaborate than men’s—although the men still wore heavily embroidered clothes.

Renaissance jewelry borrowed heavily from classical motifs in sculpture—nymphs, centaurs, griffins, satyrs and other classical subjects enter the iconography of jewels. Heavy gold chains and collars were popular, especially among women, and elaborate pendants gradually overtook the traditional brooch.

Eleanor of Austria wearing the jewelry fashions of the day (c. 1525).

It is during this period and the next that vast quantities of emeralds began to flow into Europe from the New World. The conquistadors scoured the New World for emeralds and other plunder, fueled in part by fabulous legends of great wealth. Joseph d’Acosta wrote that the ship that returned him to Spain in 1587 carried at least two hundred pound of emeralds.

Initially, emeralds from the New World were worn exclusively by members of the Spanish royalty. The fashion at Castile in the 16th century was for dark clothes with white lace collars so tall that only the face and hands were exposed. Emerald jewelry helped to brighten the drab attire. By the end of the 16th century, this style had spread to nearly all the European courts, as did the craving for emeralds.

17th and 18th Century Jewelry Traditions

A French chatelaine with a watch and large pendant drop.

Around the first quarter of the 17th century, women reacted against the stifling dresses and multitudinous ornaments that had characterized the Renaissance style. Fashions emphasized instead soft, flowing draperies and simpler jewels to match.

By the 18th century, brilliant stone cuts had been invented by Vicenzo Peruzzi. Women preferred diamonds to reflect candlelight at night and colored stones during the day. Chatelaines were a woman’s most important piece of daytime jewelry. Not only were they used to sport a watch, but also an étui or pendant case containing sewing equipment such as thimbles and scissors. This utilitarian item was also called an “equipage.”

Men wore elaborate buckles on shoes, at the waist, and to fasten bands of velvet or embroidered cloth around the neck and the wrists.

The Period of 1789-1870

Empress Josephine portrait wearing one her famous festoon necklaces.

It can be said that the 19th century began with the French revolution, and Empress Joséphine, Napoléon’s wife, gives us ample illustration of the jewelry and clothing fashions of the day. Deep décolletages were perfect for displaying the large pendant or heavy festoon necklaces, which were in vogue. Parures were also in vogue, and both Empress Joséphine and her successor, Empress Marie-Louise, had notable ones made of rubies, diamonds, and emeralds.

The period is characterized by romanticism and a Gothic revival. Napoléon’s Algerian campaigns also influenced European jewelry, and elaborate knots and tassels were incorporated into designs for earrings, brooches, pendants, and gold hairpins.

Victorian Jewelry

An example of a Victorian emerald, diamond, and sapphire ring.

The Victorian era can be broken into three distinct periods: the Early Victorian or Romantic period (1837-1860), the Mid Victorian or Grand period (1860-1885), and the Late Victorian or Aesthetic period (1885-1901).

In the early 19th century, the ideal woman was a decorative showpiece, the vessel on which the wealth and prosperity of the family was prominently displayed. Jewelry was regarded as an essential component of the dress of the middle and upper classes. Among those classes, it was traditional for the groom to present the bride with a casket of jewels, called a corbeille, as part of the marriage agreement. The corbeille of the extremely rich and famous were detailed in ladies’ fashion magazines, which were consulted by all for information on what was new and socially acceptable.

A demand for superior craftsmanship emerged along with a taste for the exotic, which was spurred through contact with the cultures of the British colonies. During Queen Victoria’s long reign, jewelry featured intricate metalwork; fabulous stones; and Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and Middle Eastern motifs.

A Romantic period diamond and enamel pendant.

In the Early Victorian or Romantic period, the inspiration for jewelry came from nature. Delicate motifs and themes from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance were very popular. Bracelets were a popular item, and many were worn on each arm. Larger, more ornate necklaces dominated evening wear, but demure lockets were worn during the day.

By the Mid Victorian or Grand period, jewelry design had become bolder and more flamboyant. Greek, Etruscan, and Egyptian themes became popular, due to exciting new archeological finds. By the 1880s, colorless stones became the rage. Because this period corresponded with the death of Queen Victoria’s husband, morning jewelry, featuring jet, onyx, garnet, and amethyst, also became popular.

A Victorian mourning brooch that features a lock of hair of a passed loved one.

By the Late Victorian or Aesthetic period, when more women were enrolling in university and pursuing the right to vote, fashion changed once again. Women began to limit their displays of jewelry. To wear diamonds in the day was considered the height of bad taste. Coral and semi-precious stones could be worn by day, but precious metals and gemstones were reserved for formal evening attire.

Elaborate and often rather formal, High Victorian jewelry is popular among antique collectors. Emerald jewelry that mimics the Victorian style is also widely manufactured and sold today.

Edwardian Jewelry

An Edwardian ring with intricate and detailed metalwork.

Victoria’s successor, King Edward VII, inherited an empire at the peak of its power and influence. Edwardian England gave birth to a distinct and influential jewelry style.

Edwardian jewelry owes much of its character to platinum, a rare and unusually strong metal that entered the jewelry trade at the end of the 19th century. Although the Spanish recovered platinum from South America during the 17th century, it was nearly two hundred years before metalworkers mastered the techniques for refining and casting it. Once they did, jewelers were quick to exploit platinum’s unique properties.

This Edwardian necklace is designed in platinum to create sweeping scrolls and the affect of bows.

Platinum’s tremendous strength allows it to endure wear even when it is drawn into a thin wire and slender shapes. Fine mesh, dainty garlands, and satiny ribbons, all so delicate they would collapse like wax if they’d been cast in gold, became a trademark of Edwardian jewelry. Edwardian designers adopted a clean, light style that made ample use of classical motifs borrowed from Greece and Rome. With a huge influx of diamond coming from the newly discovered South African deposits, Edwardian jewelers enhanced their pieces with many small diamonds. Diamonds and platinum also offered a pleasing backdrop for fine emeralds.

While fine examples of Edwardian jewelry are costly at auction, the style is frequently imitated in modern jewelry fashions.

Art Nouveau and Jugendstil Styles

Lalique dragonfly pendant with signature enamel work.

While Edwardian jewelry flourished in England, continental Europe created a family of styles that are particularly popular with today’s jewelry collectors. These styles were known as Art Nouveau in France and Jugendstil in German-speaking countries.

Instead of the prim ribbons and garlands of Edwardian England, the continental styles featured organic lines and themes. Faceted, carved, and cabochon-cut stones, including fine emeralds, were set in complex metal settings and often decorated with fine enamel. Subjects from nature were especially popular, and turn-of-the-century jewelry often featured delicately rendered flowers, insects, fish, lizards, snakes, and birds.

Vintage Jewelry

Vintage emerald jewelry includes the colorful glamour of Art Deco and more massive Retro pieces. Vintage styles are highly collectable among connoisseurs, so fine pieces can command prices far in excess of the value of the gems and the precious metals that they are made of.

Art Deco Jewelry

An Art Deco emerald ring set in gold with diamond accents.

The term “Art Deco” stems from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs, held in Paris in 1925. The Paris exhibition, which included furniture, interiors, and household objects along with jewelry, introduced the world to a radical new style. Gone were the delicate tracery of Edwardian jewelry and the whimsical animals and writhing tendrils of Art Nouveau. In their place came bold, contrasting colors, broad fields of glittering diamonds, and a muscular geometry that reflected the exuberant energy of the machine age. Yet for all that it celebrated modernity, Art Deco jewelry borrowed freely from ancient jewelry traditions around the world. Chinese, Egyptian, and African motifs were reinterpreted in modern materials.

Art Deco jewelry was aggressively modern, but its up-to-date techniques and aesthetics also combined an unfettered imagination and exquisite craftsmanship. It is no wonder that Art Deco jewels are still held up as icons of the jeweler’s art, or that grand jewelry houses including Cartier, Mauboussin, Boucheron, and Van Cleef and Arpels cemented their reputations with such work.

Emerald and diamond double clip from the Art Deco period. Photo credit:

Art Deco designers used the undiluted blue, green, and red of sapphires, emeralds, and rubies against platinum settings or black enamel. Sapphire, emerald, and ruby combinations were a favorite of Cartier, and jewels with these gems carved into the shapes of fruits and leaves were called “tutti-frutti.”

Long dangling earrings were popular, along with cuff bracelets, intricate platinum-set rings, and necklaces and pendants of all sizes. Two types of jewelry belong especially to the Art Deco style: the double clip and the sautoir.

The Art Deco style prevailed from the mid 1920s through the mid 1930s, when wartime sobriety tempered its exuberance and wartime manufacturing siphoned off skilled craftsmen for less peaceful purposes.

Retro Jewelry

A Retro emerald ring set in gold with sweeping diamonds.

Over the course of the turbulent 1930s, Art Deco transformed into a style now called “Retro.” The bold geometry introduced in Art Deco jewelry persisted, but in a more massive and metallic incarnation. Art Deco jewelry was heavily studded with diamonds and colored stones, but metal dominates in the jewelry of the Retro period. Retro jewelry features broad curved, rolling, or scrolled surfaces and blocky shapes rendered in glossy metal. Bullet shapes, fat ribbons, and cylinders are also common motifs.

Gold was used extensively in designs of the Retro period, since platinum supplies were siphoned off for the war effort. Pink gold’s coppery hue is still linked with the Retro style in public imagination. Emerald was a popular stone in Retro jewelry designs, which included large cocktail rings, necklaces, and charm bracelets. Retro jewelry often featured small gemstones, which were frequently channel set.

With a thorough understanding of emerald jewelry as it developed across history, we now jump into Diversity in Modern Emerald Jewelry.

Diversity in Modern Emerald Jewelry

Types Of Modern Emerald Jewelry

A Kundan emerald jewelry set with diamonds and pearls in gold.

New jewelry-making technologies and global communication have given today’s emerald lovers more jewelry design options than ever before. The enduring beauty of the antique and vintage styles has spurred frequent revivals, and modern manufacturing and setting techniques have made jewels far more affordable than before.

The way we wear jewelry is diversifying as well. More European and American men are wearing jewelry, and we have developed many new jewelry fashions–including thumb rings, toe rings, and studs for body piercing. Emerald jewelry comes in a plethora of styles and forms. We have assembled a short catalog of modern designs to illustrate some of this diversity.

Emerald Earrings

Earrings come in a vast assortment of styles. The only limit to earring design is weight; they cannot be too heavy to wear with some degree of comfort. Another great virtue of earrings is motion. Even the simplest earrings—studs—come alive with the slightest turn of the head. Hoops, drop, and chandelier earrings move freely, causing emeralds and other faceted gems to dance and glitter.

A pair of emerald and diamond stud earrings.

Earrings have been worn by both genders since the beginning of recorded history. Since the 1980s, even conservative businessmen have come to embrace this ancient fashion. Studs and other earring-like jewels are also used to adorn body piercings, a new form of artistic expression among the younger generation.

Stud Earrings Stud earrings seem fairly straightforward, but even simple studs require design choices. The key decision involves choosing how the stones–including emeralds–are set. Prong settings have a light and delicate appearance, and bezel settings are more substantial looking. Bezel settings also accentuate a gemstone’s apparent size, which can make them especially appropriate for smaller stones. Then there is the choice of metal–yellow gold versus white gold or platinum–depending on the wearer’s preferences and the color of the gems.

A pair of emerald mini hoop earrings.

Earring Jackets Jackets are add-on components that enhance stud earrings. Design options are almost limitless. A pair of emerald jackets can add a blaze of bright color to a set of neutral colored pearl or diamond studs.

Hoop Earrings After studs, hoops are the simplest of all earring designs and they are often are set with colored stones such as emeralds. Designs vary, but all need to be lightweight to be comfortable. Mothers of small children avoid large hoop earrings because tiny hands may grasp at their intriguing sparkle.

A modern pair of emerald drop earrings.

Drop Earrings Drop earrings offer designers many options for displaying precious stones such as emeralds. These earrings typically have a section that hugs the ear, with one or more segments suspended from it. Drop earrings have great movement, and they can be casual or dressy depending on the occasion.

Chandelier Earrings Chandelier earrings are an elaboration of the dangle or drop earring. Chandeliers are relatively long, large earrings that feature tier upon tier of small drops in a fine textured, open arrangement. Although they have been overwhelmingly popular for the last several years, the design has been used for centuries.

Contemporary chandelier earrings have renewed interest in briolette cuts, which were fashionable in Victorian and Edwardian jewelry. Chandelier earrings featuring emerald briolettes are especially stunning when worn on dressy occasions.

Emerald Rings

A modern pear-shaped emerald engagement ring.

Rings are the most popular jewelry item in today’s market. They’re convenient to wear, they show off single stones to advantage, and their wearer can enjoy seeing them as easily as anyone else. They also hold a great deal of symbolic power. If you have an interest in amulets and talismans, birthstones, healing stones, religious stones, and spiritual stones, the emerald ring you choose can reflect many of your personal ideals and preferences.

Rings represent continuity, commitment, and loyalty. The traditional engagement ring has spread as far as China and Japan, making it the most prized item in many jewelry wardrobes. Emeralds are a perfect choice because they are associated with love and fidelity.

As North American, European, and East Asian men begin to wear more jewelry, men’s rings are occupying more space in jewelers’ inventories. Contemporary men’s rings often feature bold geometry and clean, crisp lines, although adventurous and confident men are beginning to experiment with more elaborate designs as well.

An emerald and diamond three-stone modern engagement ring.

For all of their advantages, rings present one or two challenges to the wearer. Because we use our hands regularly, rings are more vulnerable to wear than most other articles of jewelry. Over the past few years, the public has been introduced to the concept of “right hand rings.” Since the majority of the population is right-handed, these rings must be able to withstand considerable wear.

Some jewelers discourage their customers from buying emerald rings if they are intended for everyday wear. Although emerald is considered very durable, some consider a top quality emerald too rare and valuable to be worn as rings. Emerald has a hardness of 7.5 to 8 on the Mohs scale, which means it is resists scratching. However, emerald is not as tough as it is hard. Emerald can be brittle, especially if it is heavily included. Although it is not common, an emerald can also experience imperfect cleavage parallel to the basal plane of the crystal.

Variations in ring style and structure are too many to catalog in full, but we’ve included a few especially popular styles below:

A channel-set princess cut emerald eternity band.

Band Rings The band is one of the oldest and simplest ring styles. Popular setting techniques for band rings include channel setting, bezel setting, and pavé setting. Variations on the band theme are many. One of the best loved is the eternity band, which is completely encircled by small, channel set stones. Stacking eternity bands in diamond, sapphire, emerald, and ruby are very fashionable today.

Solitaire Rings Like the band ring, the solitaire is a simple, classical style. While the band ring emphasizes metal or closely set small stones, the solitaire is meant to exhibit a single central stone of superb quality. In its purest form, the solitaire ring consists of a plain band supporting a prong set center stone. In some contemporary solitaire rings the central stone is bezel set, which serves to increase the apparent size of the center stone. Another modern variation is the striking tension set ring, where the stone seems to float in midair.

A modern interpretation of a three-stone emerald cluster ring.

Three-Stone Rings The three-stone ring is a favorite among emerald lovers. In a three-stone ring, two well-matched accent stones flank a center stone, and emeralds are often accented with diamonds.

Cluster Rings Instead of a single centerpiece stone, cluster rings feature groupings of smaller stones, arranged in an artful pattern. Cluster rings can be set with multiples of a single type of gemstone or with an assortment of stones. Emeralds are often combined with diamonds in cluster settings, but may also be accompanied by any number of other colored stones. Cluster rings often mix stones of different shapes, including rounds, ovals, pears, and marquises. Using smaller stones in clusters makes a generous display of gems more affordable, since several small stones will cost less than a large single stone.

A stunning emerald cocktail ring set in gold.

Bombé Rings The bombé ring is a variant of the cluster ring, featuring a dome of small, closely set stones, with or without a prominent center stone. The style was popular during the 1920s and 1930s, and reemerged during the 1980s. Bombé rings garner lots of attention, especially when set with dazzling stones such as emeralds.

Emerald Pendants and Necklaces

Jewels worn around the neck are often the largest and most conspicuous. Stones too large to wear comfortably in a ring or in earrings can be suspended from the neck with little discomfort or impediment to movement. The terms “necklace” and “pendant” are often used interchangeably, but necklaces and pendants are in fact two distinct things. A necklace is a piece of jewelry worn around the neck. A pendant is a jewel that is worn suspended from a necklace.

A pear-shaped solitaire emerald pendant.

Emerald Pendants A simple, single-stone pendant can be an effective way to show off an emerald, and it is appropriate for any occasion. The quality of single stone pendant depends on the quality of the gemstone. A lively, well-cut stone with vivid color will always make the best impression. Small diamond accents can help draw attention to the center stone and enhance the sparkle, if the proportions remain appropriate.

Pavé set emerald pendants offer an economical way to make a big splash with small stones. For a more elaborate effect, an emerald pendant can be adorned with a drop, which may be removable and set with gems of any kind. Diamonds and pearls work especially well when dangling beneath an emerald.

A collar emerald and diamond necklace by Cartier.

Emerald Necklaces Emerald necklaces range from discreet and simple to conspicuous and opulent. The design possibilities for emerald necklaces are almost limitless, but there are a number of common styles that are worth specific mention. Necklaces are distinguished both by dimensions and construction.

A collar is a broad, often solid piece of jewelry that rides close to the neck. A dog collar necklace is a wide strap of chains, pearls, or beads that snugly encircles the neck.

A choker is a flexible, single or multi-strand necklace that is looser and longer than a collar, hanging just at the hollow of the throat. Chokers are usually 14 – 16 inches long.

A bib necklace by Tiffany & Co. made of emerald and diamonds.

Princess length necklaces are 17-19 inches long and hang right below the hollow of the throat. This length is particularly versatile and can be worn with a variety of necklines.

Most of the longer lengths refer to pearl strands or bead necklaces: matinee at 20-26 inches, opera at 27-34 inches, and rope at 36 inches or more.

An emerald necklace that includes two pendants of unequal length is called a lavalier, after Louise de Lavaliere, a mistress of the French King Louis XIV who apparently favored the style. The Art Deco sautoir is a long necklace, usually made of beads, which has a tassel or a pendant at the end.

A magnificent Edwardian emerald and diamond lavaliere. Photo credit: Christie’s.

Emeralds can also appear in lariat style necklaces, where the two decorated ends of an open chain are tied, clipped, or otherwise fastened together and left to dangle side by side.

Emerald line necklaces feature single or multiple rows of stones that run all the way around the neck, sometimes arranged in graduated sequences. Graduated necklaces of faceted emerald beads or briolettes are now fairly common in jewelers’ inventories.

One of the most elaborate necklace styles is the garland or bib, which drapes across the wearer’s chest and can potentially house many carats of emeralds or other precious stones. Elaborate bib necklaces set with rubies, sapphires, emeralds, diamonds, and pearls are especially characteristic of the Mughal and Mughal revival styles.

Emerald Bracelets

A vintage emerald and diamond cuff set in gold.

Bracelets, like rings, are subject to knocks and scrapes, so they’re best set with highly durable stones. For this reason, bracelets set with emeralds are not as common as ones set with other precious stones. With proper care however, we believe your emerald bracelet will last for many years to come. Emerald bracelets are constructed in any number of ways, from simple strings of emerald beads to a series of complex metal links set with emeralds and other precious stones.

Bangles and Cuffs In terms of structure, the simplest emerald bracelets are the cuff and the bangle. In its most basic form, a bangle is a metal hoop just wide enough for the hand to slip through. In order to fit over the hand, bangles must be larger in diameter than the wrist, which allows them to move when worn. The motion of a bangle on the wrist can highlight the brilliance of faceted gems, but it can also interfere with daily activities, including writing and eating. To allow for a closer fit, many bangles are hinged so that they can fit over the hand in the open position, yet remain relatively still on the wrist when closed.

A single emerald and gold bangle bracelet.

The cuff bracelet is a variation of the bangle. Like the hinged bangle, the cuff fits over the hand but hugs the wrist or arm. Cuffs and bangles are among the oldest bracelets known. Examples have been found in Egyptian tombs, and both types were worn in ancient Greece and Rome. Cuffs and bangles were also worn in ancient Africa, China, and India, where they remain highly fashionable today.

Bead Bracelets The most conspicuous of emerald bead bracelets is the torsade, which consists of multiple emerald bead strands twisted together to form a sort of gemstone rope. Bead bracelets and torsades can be comfortable to wear, even when fitted closely to the wrist. One inconvenience of bead bracelets, especially the looser fitting ones, is that a strand may snag and break. As with pearls, emerald bead strands should be knotted between each bead to prevent all of them from spilling if the strand breaks.

And emerald and diamond link bracelet.

Link Bracelets Among emerald-set link bracelets, the simplest is the line bracelet, which is no more than a single row of prong or bezel-set emeralds entwined around the wrist. Link bracelets set with colored stones were a specialty of French jewelers during the 1920s and 1930s.

Emerald Clips, Pins, and Brooches

A geometric emerald and diamond brooch.

Clips, pins, and brooches were once far more common than they are today. Before the rise of buttons and zippers, they were the primary means of fastening garments. Only those with considerable rank and wealth could decorate their clips and pins with emeralds, so an emerald-clad fastener was a conspicuous status symbol.

As vehicles for displaying gems, clips, pins, and brooches offer particular advantages. They are not liable to experience hard wear or frequent impacts. Like earrings and necklaces, they can be worn near eye level for easy visibility. And they are one of the best ways to display especially large emeralds. On the other hand, most clips, pins, and brooches pierce or crimp a garment, which makes some jewelry-lovers hesitant to wear them, especially on their best clothing.

Emerald Shirt Studs and Cufflinks

Functional considerations keep most cufflinks relatively small. Like bracelets, they are subject to impact during daily wear, and durable stones are preferred. One common way of using emeralds in cufflinks is to set them in invisible settings where no prongs, rails, or bezels are apparent.

A classic pair of emerald and gold cufflinks.

Shirt studs are typically made in sets of four to six to coordinate with cufflinks. Complete stud and cufflink sets in popular styles like Art Deco are favorites with sophisticated jewelry collectors, as are old sets by renowned designers such as Cartier, Buccellatti, and Fabergé.

Like pins, clips, and brooches, shirt studs and cufflinks were indispensable before the advent of buttons and zippers. But because of their enduring role in formal menswear, they are still an important part of the jewelry market. In fact, they are often the only pieces of jewelry that a man will own—aside from his wristwatch and wedding ring.

With so many options in emerald jewelry, it’s important to understand the most important considerations. Learn about those next in our Buying Tips.

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