DETAIL: In ancient Islam (both in the Near East as well as in Mogul India and China particularly during the Yuan/Mongol Dynasty) emerald was worn as a talisman thought to bring good luck. Green was also a holy color symbolizing the unity of Islam, and an amulet of emerald was often engraved with a verse from the Koran. Emerald has been cherished since about 4,000 B.C., when they were traded at the earliest known gem market in Babylon. The ancient world's source for these precious gemstones was Egyptian emerald mines near the Red Sea according to ancient Egyptian written texts dated to the life of Pharaoh Sesostris III in the 19th century B.C. Archaeological evidence suggests these mines were worked as early as perhaps 3,000 B.C. The Greeks worked these mines in the time of Alexander the Great and throughout the Ptolemaic Dynasty. These same mines later provided the last Ptolemaic monarch, Cleopatra VII, Queen of Egypt, wonderful emeralds she was often depicted and described as wearing.
Here are two very pretty, brightly colored emeralds from the Southern Ural Mountains of Siberia, hand faceted in the 18th century. Though colorful, they are classified as "brights". "Bright" emeralds are lower quality emeralds, very colorful, but not as transparent as higher quality emeralds. Emeralds are typically infested with "jardin", French for "garden". In other words, a garden of internal blemishes. The highest quality glass-clear emeralds routinely sell for tens of thousands of dollars per carat. Consequentially most transparent "emeralds" available today at retail are synthetic. The affordable alternative to a man-made emerald are natural emeralds which though not entirely transparent (i.e., "translucent"), are nonetheless quite beautiful. They are "bright" in color due to the reflection of light off the internal blemishes, which more often than not, composed of colorless crystalline material.
These very beautiful and brilliant faceted round gemstones are such translucent specimens, repleat with jardin - a little garden of internal blemishes, seams, and other internal features. It is what most natural emeralds look like. Please keep in mind that the images here are photo enlargements, and so the internal imperfections are going to seem quite pronounced. In hand these blemishes are not nearly as perceptible. The appearance is more of nicely colored gemstones which are translucent, or "partly" transparent. The gemstones were hand crafted and faceted by a 19th century Russian artisan, part of an heritage renown for the production of the elaborate gemstones and jewelry of the Czars of Medieval, Renaissance, and Victorian Russia. The faceted cut is a coarse precursor to what eventually became known in the industry as a “brilliant cut” round, the contemporary finish generally given to round diamonds.
Though these gemstones would not be considered high quality emeralds today, by eighteenth century standards these would have been regarded as desirably and costly gemstones...in fact, both the cutting as well as the characteristics of the gemstones are quite typical of the emeralds used for jewelry in the eighteenth century. As might be expected under magnification the gemstones show the unmistakable, hallmark characteristics of having been hand crafted. The coarseness of the 19th century finish is considered appealing to most gemstone aficionados, and is not considered a detriment, or detract from the value of such gemstones. These characteristics are not only expected of hand-finished gemstones, many believe that such antique hand-crafted gemstones possess much greater character and appeal than today's mass-produced, laser-cut gemstones. Unlike today’s computer controlled machine produced gemstones that approach flawlessness in a perfect finish, the cut and finish of handcrafted gemstones like these is the legacy of an artisan who lived two centuries ago.
These gemstones have great lustre, but they are not flawless, and again, could not meet the contemporary criteria necessary to be even characterized as high quality. True, the blemishes they possess are not immediately visible to the naked eye. However magnified as they are here in the accompanying photo enlargements you can pick out many blemishes both within the stones as well as irregularities in the faceting and finish. Of course these characteristics are not only expected of hand-finished gemstones, you must also consider that two centuries ago the mining techniques prevalent did not allow the ultra deep mining operations which are so common today.
Two centuries ago mankind was more or less limited to surface deposits or near surface deposits of precious and semi-precious gemstones. Higher quality gemstones which today are routinely mined from beneath hundreds of meters, even kilometers beneath the earth's surface, were simply inaccessible. It is precisely for these reasons antique gemstones must be appreciated as antiques first, gemstones second. The relatively superlative quality of contemporary gemstones routinely mined from deep beneath the earth's surface today were simply not accessible two centuries ago, or at least, only rarely so. However for most, the unique nature and character of these antique gemstones more than makes up for the blemishes found within the gemstones, as well as the cutting irregularities common to handcrafted gemstones, all of which are by and large (if at all) are only visible under magnification.
EMERALD HISTORY: The name "emerald" comes indirectly from the Greek "smaragdos", a name that was given to a number of gemstones having little in common except a green color. Emeralds have been since ancient times one of the most highly valued of all gemstones. Even today gem-quality emeralds are so rare they are considered more valuable than diamonds. Emeralds were traded at the earliest known gem market in Babylon 6,000 years ago. One of the major sources for the ancient world of the classical Mediterranean’s emerald were Egyptian mines near the Red Sea, which were worked as early as 2000 B.C., perhaps even as far back as 3,000 B.C. Ancient Egyptian texts document the use of emerald during the life of Pharaoh Sesostris III in the 19th century B.C.
To the ancient Egyptians, emerald's green color stood for fertility and rebirth, and emeralds were used to treat eye diseases. The earliest references to emerald in the classical world of the Mediterranean are attributable to Aristotle, fourth century B.C. philosopher, student of Plato, and teacher to Alexander the Great. Aristotle wrote that owning an emerald increased the owner’s importance in presence and speech during business, gave victory in trials, helped to settle litigation, and that ground into a fine powder and made into a lotion, emerald could also be used to comfort and sooth eyesight. He also stated an emerald worn as a talisman would prevent epilepsy, and recommended that all children be so adorned with an emerald amulet.
The ancient Greeks regarded the emerald as the sacred stone of the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite (as did the Romans, who knew Aphrodite as “Venus”) and of the Earth Goddess, and believed the gemstone would protect lovers from unfaithfulness. The ancient Greeks worked the Egyptian emerald mines during the time of Alexander the Great and throughout the Ptolemaic Dynasty (that period of time when Hellenic Greeks ruled ancient Egypt). In fact Alexander himself wore a large emerald mounted onto his belt. In the first century B.C. one of the (Macedonian) Ptolemaic kings had an emerald engraved with the portrait of Lucullus, the great Roman general. He then presented it to him when Lucullus visited Egypt. These same mines later provided the last Ptolemaic monarch, Cleopatra VII, Queen of Egypt, the wonderful emeralds she was often depicted and described as wearing.
Though lost for many centuries, extensive remains of "Cleopatra's Mines" were discovered about 1817; and are located near the Red Sea coast, east of Aswan. Emeralds were also quite favored in the Roman Empire, especially by Roman Emperors, emeralds oftentimes used as Roman crown jewels. The Roman Emperor Nero reportedly watched chariot races and gladiator contests through lenses made of emeralds, as he found the color to be calming. Roman texts of the second century B.C. recorded that emerald “influences every kind of business, and if you remain chaste while you wear it, it adds substance to both the body and the speech.” Romans also considered light-colored emeralds to be “unripe”, believing that an emerald becomes darker as it matures. During the Roman era emerald was discovered in Germany near present-day Salzburg, and production continued through the Middle Ages before the deposit played out.
To the early Christians, the emerald was a symbol for immortality and faith, and also was generally regarded as a symbol of kindness. These beliefs, though held by both preceding Greek and Roman culture, probably originated with Egyptian and Sumerian culture. In the ancient Near East, the ancient Babylonians believed that each emerald stone contained a goddess. The Sumerians believed that an emerald worn on the little finger of the left hand would cure inflammation of the eyes. In ancient Islam (both in the Near East as well as in Mogul India), green was a holy color symbolizing the unity of Islam, and an amulet of emerald was often engraved with a verse from the Koran. And in both ancient India as well as ancient China, emerald was worn as a talisman thought to bring good luck.
During the Middle Ages an emerald amulet was believed to keep a woman chaste. Medieval shamans and magicians believed that emeralds enabled them to foretell future events if put on the tongue or worn on the left side of the body. Emeralds were also believed to reveal what was true or false, and to give eloquence in speech and make people more intelligent and honest. Worn as a talisman, emerald was regarded as a sure antidote for enchantments and spells, was believed to repel evil spirits, and it was believed that a high quality emerald would change hues to alert the wearer to impending danger. In many legends of King Arthur, the Holy Grail (the cup used to catch Christ’s blood at the crucifixion) is described as being fashioned from a large emerald.
Charlemagne the Great (ruler of a vast eighth century Frankish Kingdom) had a large and famous collection of emeralds, and Henry II, when he was made King of Ireland in 1171, was given a large emerald ring. In the Renaissance medical practitioners ground up emerald with laudanum, an opium derivative, as a medicine for certain fevers and ailments. “Cleopatra’s Mines” in Upper Egypt provided Europe with emeralds all the way through the 16th century A.D. Though by today's standards the ancient Egyptian mines produced relatively small and poor quality gemstones, in the days of the Russian Czars, emeralds were the most prized of the Russian Crown Jewels. The famous 16th century Italian Goldsmith Benvenutto Cellini commented in his writings that emeralds fetched four times the price of diamond.
Renaissance era astrologers and mystics recommended wearing a gold ring set with emerald on the little finger to protect the wearer from mental distress, frequent injuries, or loss of wealth. In the 18th century, Colombian emeralds started reaching Europe as a result of the Spanish plunder of South American Indians. In fact treasure hunters seeking wrecks of Spanish galleons are occasionally rewarded by the discovery of emeralds lost by the conquistadors long ago. Prior to the coming of the Spanish Conquistadors, South American natives had been working emerald mines for at least several centuries, and also held the gemstone in high regard. In fact, emeralds were worshiped by the Incas who had an emerald goddess to which they sacrificed their children.
Though the world’s best emeralds are generally regarded as being Colombian, emeralds are also produced in Brazil, Pakistan, Russia, India, and throughout Africa. Very large specimens are found in Siberia (though of a lighter hue than Colombian emerald) and in India (though of generally very low quality), and in the United States emeralds have been found in North Carolina. Emeralds are a variety of the mineral beryl (as are aquamarine, morganite, goshenite, heliodore, and bixbite). Although beautiful in color, emerald tends to be very "dirty" in that it typically contains a lot of internal blemishes known as "jardin," French for "garden". Seen under magnification, emerald reveals internal blemishes that resemble the foliage in a garden, or moss.
Emerald gemstones were amongst the dearest treasures of the gem markets of Babylon, and today - nearly six thousand years later - this lovely stone remains one of the most valuable objects in the world. Even today flawless specimens of good color and size are exceedingly rare and command higher prices than diamonds of equal weight. Throughout the history of the ancient world, gemstones were believed capable of curing illness, possessed of valuable metaphysical properties, and to provide protection. Found in Egypt dated 1500 B. C., the "Papyrus Ebers" offered one of most complete therapeutic manuscripts containing prescriptions using gemstones and minerals. Gemstones were not only valued for their medicinal and protective properties, but also for educational and spiritual enhancement.
In the ancient world emerald was loved and worshipped for thousands of years as a symbol of the eternal cycle of life. Emerald was believed to possess magical regenerative properties, and was widely used for medicinal purposes in the ancient world. It was believed to prevent infection and diseases and was used by expectant mothers to keep unborn children safe from complications during childbirth. It was even used to treat cholera, dysentery, and malaria. There were many ailments that were believed to be cured by emeralds. Disorders that emeralds have been used for include colic, burns, ulcers, headaches, tension, influenza, epilepsy, high blood pressure, heart disorders, neuralgia, cancer, skin disorders, dysentery, syphilis, fevers, nausea, vomiting, indigestion, asthma and anemia. It was believed to strengthen the heart and circulatory system, as well as the bladder and kidney functions.
Emerald was also used to treat forgetfulness, epilepsy, stammering and even insanity. The emerald was also once prized as an antidote in cases of poisoning. Even today, the powder of poorer quality emeralds is used in folk medicines in China. On the metaphysical plane, emerald was used by shamans and magicians to enhance clairvoyance, thus helping to predict future events. Emerald was believed to detoxify negativity and transform it into positive emotional energy; to stabilize, soothe, and create a sense of security, harmony, faith, hope, and closeness to God. Emerald was believed to keep the mind in excellent condition and promote a healthy memory and enhance intelligence, enabling one to think clearly about past, present, and future.
Emeralds were often used by politicians and public speakers with the belief that they would promote creativity and eloquence, and to improve the wearer’s intuition, thereby enhancing perceptive abilities. Emeralds were also believed to bring good fortune (particularly in ancient China), and to foster kindness, sympathy, and truthfulness. There have even been times in history when the emerald was believed to be able to control one’s passions and lusts. They were also believed to help one express love, devotion, and adoration, and throughout the ancient world, wearing an emerald talisman was believed to drive away evil spirits.
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