Emerald's And Their History

Learn about emeralds and their fascinating history.

They have graced Crown Jewels and embellished the thrones of some of the oldest dynasties in history. As a symbol of wealth and power they are unsurpassed. With their sparkling green lustre they are considered to be more precious than diamonds. And, carat for carat, they are the most expensive gems in the world. They are emeralds, the most precious of all gems.

If you were fortunate enough to possess an emerald that would fit into the palm of your hand, it could, depending on it's quality, be worth over one million dollars. Why such a high price? A large part of the reason is that emeralds are rare gems. Emeralds are a type of beryl crystal. They are formed from a combination of the common elements aluminium and silicon with the rare element beryllium. Small amounts of trace elements, either chromium or vanadium, give the emerald its distinctive green tint.

The world's source of emerald supplies has traditionally been Egypt. For thousands of years the famous Cleopatra mines, to be found some 440 miles southeast of Cairo, were worked by the Egyptians and then the Romans and the Turks. Working long hours under the blistering heat of the Sun, and the darkness, heat and dust of the underground mines must have been a real ordeal for those ancient laborers. Yet the mines were worked continually from about 330 B.C.E right through until 1237 C.E.

In ancient times emeralds held a real fascination for the people. In addition to their exquisite beauty, they were coveted for their supposed magical and healing powers. Emeralds were, in fact, considered to be a cure for many diseases. They were also believed to be able to heighten fertility and sexual desire in females. As a result of such claims, Emeralds were greatly sought after and a profitable trade was established between Egypt and nations as far away as India.

The Egyptian monopoly on the world supply of Emeralds lasted right up until the Sixteenth Century, C.E. It was then that the Spanish Conquistadores arrived in South America. In 1558 the Spaniards located a mine at Muzo, near Columbia. There they discovered emeralds of breathtaking size and beauty. The Spaniards wasted no time in capitalizing on this find. They promptly seized the mine and enslaved the local population. These slaves were then forced to do the back breaking work of extracting the gems from the mine. Soon a vast supply of large, fine emeralds were being shipped to Europe. These jewels soon found their way into the hands of many of the ruling Empires around Europe and the Middle East. The Ottoman Turks, the Persian Shahs and even the royalty of India were featuring delicately sculpted emeralds as the showpieces of their jewel collections.

One of the ironies of the modern jewel trade is that the people who labor so hard to mine the gems are barely able to afford the food to keep themselves alive, yet alone to be able to buy an emerald. Not surprisingly, then, there is an overwhelming temptation for emerald workers to hide and smuggle gems out of the mines. This has led to an unprecedented level of security wherein security guards armed with machine guns monitor every move that the workers make. Despite this, however, there is a roaring trade in black market emerald smuggling. In fact, according to an article in National Geographic magazine, " Most emeralds move off the record, untaxed, unseen, buried in aw world market that the trade calls black. Almost every high quality emerald is smuggled at some time in it's history."

Emeralds have many surface imperfections, which are known as inclusions. This is due to the way they are grown. Such cracks on the surface of the stone can mar it's beauty and will, inevitably affect it's sale price. Dealers will, however, attempt to mask these flaws by soaking the cleaned and polished gems in a hot bath of oil. The heating forces the air out of cracks in the stone and lets oil seep in. This obscures the imperfections in the gem. After a year or two, however, the oil will have evaporated and the cracks will reappear. In addition there is a large trade in imitation emeralds. For these reasons, the prospective buyer is well advised to seek out a reputable gemologist to guarantee an emerald's authenticity. When it comes to buying emeralds, never forget that wise Latin warning Caveat Emptor - Let the buyer beware!

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