How to Buy an Emerald

By Nina Glaser March 17, 2015

If you’ve ever bought a diamond, you’ve heard about the 4C’s – color, clarity cut and carat weight. Like a diamond, these qualities also determine the value of an emerald, “the gem of spring,” with the most important characteristic being color. Emeralds, a variety of beryl, get their color from trace elements of chromium, vanadium and iron.

The highly treasured and highly priced emerald is evaluated for three aspects of color: 1) hue (purity); 2) saturation (strength); and 3) tone (lightness or darkness). In a perfect world, emeralds would be not too dark or light; a green that was the perfect balance of blue and yellow.

The most valuable emeralds have a green that is dark, bright and intense, with evenly distributed color. The most desirable emeralds have a dark bluish-green color that retains a translucence and brilliance.

Loose Emeralds

The Roman author, naturalist and natural philosopher Pliny the Elder said of an emerald’s color:
“…No stone has a color that is more delightful to the eye, there being no green in existence more intense than this.”

Other factors to consider in the purchase of an emerald:

  • Inclusions or fractures are natural and commonly occur in emeralds; a result of how the crystals form and harsh mining techniques. These are sometimes referred to as internal “jardin” (French for “garden.”) The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) classifies the stone as a Type III gemstone; “naturally included.” Opt for emeralds that have interior inclusions rather than surface or near-surface ones; the stone will be less likely to break.
  • Because of their delicate nature, almost all – 99 percent, according to trade estimates – of emeralds are treated with filler substances like oil, resin or polymers, or a combination of materials after they’re cut to reduce the appearance of inclusions and surface reaching breaks. Oil (colorless is preferred) is the most common treatment in emeralds, used for centuries, that enhances the gloss and color of the gem, and masks inclusions; natural resins or waxes can also be used to treat the stone as well, providing more permanent protection.
  • Fashion emeralds come in a wide range of sizes and price points, depending on its characteristics.
  • The aptly named rectangular emerald cut is the most common shape for the exclusive stone; while you’ll also find round, oval, pear and cabochon cuts.
  • A secure setting, such as a bezel or v-prong, for your emerald is best; something solid and well-made that can offer the beautifully captivating stone protection and ensure its long life.

Emerald Grading

To find the stone that’s right for you, work with a jewelry you trust who has gemological credentials and can offer a certificate from a widely accepted and reliable gem society, like the GIA or American Gem Trade Association (AGTA).  View a few gems side-by-side to see a difference in quality. Ask how the stone was treated and if the treatment of was minor (best), moderate (better) or significant (good); this is a factor that will affect the price of the gem(s) under consideration. You’ll also want verification that the treatment used was clear so as not to affect the color of the emerald.

Incidentally, the GIA offers a Colored Stone Identification Report for emeralds that describes whether a stone is natural or synthetic, identifies the type of gemstone, and lists detectable treatments. It also contains a detailed description of the gemstone, outlining shape, cutting style of crown and pavilion, transparency, color and measurements, and features a photograph of the gemstone. An Identification and Origin Report does all this, along with an opinion on the geographic origin of the stone. These thorough, unbiased analyses are easy-to-understand.

If you love emeralds, you’re not alone. The awe-inspiring gem was first discovered in Egypt 4,000 years ago, and has been loved by many. History shows Cleopatra’s passion for the gem, they adorned Russian crown jewels, a large emerald was set into the girdle of Alexander the great, and Charlemagne had an emerald collection, as did Queen Elizabeth II.

Emeralds are sourced from all over the world, with Columbia having the best quality stones that are a deep green and may feature spiral inclusions from three mines --  Chivor, Coscuez and Muzo – with  these three producers identifiable by the stone’s appearance: Chivor emeralds have deep blue tints and two-phase tubular inclusions; the emeralds of Coscuez have a faintly blue and an intense saturation; and the deep green emeralds of Muzo have slight traces of yellow or blue and often include mineral parasites that look like yellow-brown or red-brown needles,

Additional emerald suppliers include Brazil, with its light bright green stones; India, purveyor of bluish-green gems; Zambia, where the emeralds have bright color and clarity; and Zimbabwe, where smaller stones of rich green color are found. There are mines in Afghanistan, Madagascar, Nigeria Pakistan and Russia, too.

Emeralds are the birthstone for people born in May, and the anniversary stone that celebrates milestones of 20, 35 and 55 years.  It’s also a great gem for those who simply like the color green!

Posted in: Jewelry Education
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