Emerald’s name derives from the Greek word smaragdos, which in turn was derived from an earlier Persian word meaning green mineral. Emerald is a beryl, and is the best known variety of beryl. Some of the world’s finest emeralds come from Colombia.
Emeralds were mined by the Aztecs and also by the Incas over 500 years ago; long before this, Roman and Greek civilizations used it. It was mined in Egypt some 3,500 years ago. To the Egyptians it was a symbol of fertility and life. As early as 1300 BC, Emeralds have been mined in Upper Egypt. Most emeralds used in historical jewelry would have been from these mines and after the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great these mines became known as “Cleopatra’s mines.”
Emeralds have a cut specifically designed to minimize loss of material when cutting, this cut is called the “emerald cut”. Composites such as garnet, soude’ emerald, quartz, spinel, or glass are used to imitate emerald. Pale emeralds can also be painted or foiled on back to improve their color. Synthetic emeralds were first produced just before World War II and have been made in commercial quantities in the United States and elsewhere.
Emeralds were reputed to cure blindness; Nero was said to have had a monocle made of emerald. It was believed to preserve the chastity of women, which, if violated, would cause the stone to burst into fragments. Emeralds were also supposed to blind poisonous snakes. It is a highly-prized stone for Muslims, as green is the sacred color of the Prophet. In Asian countries it represents hopes of immortality, courage and exalted faith.
The oldest Egyptian mines were rediscovered by the French adventurer Cailliaud in 1816. Then in 1900, Cleopatra’s mines near the red sea were found. Today emeralds can be found in countries and regions such as Russia, Pakistan, Norway, parts of Africa, Austria, Brazil, and the United States
Emerald is one of the twelve gemstones of the ceremonial breastplate worn by the high priest Aaron, representing the twelve tribes of Israel as described in the Old Testament book of Exodus, and is also known as the month of May’s birthstone meaning, love.