History and Meaning of Emeralds

A diamond may be forever, but an emerald is divine. The emerald is thought to possess phenomenal powers of healing, luck and love but the meaning depends on the civilization that treasured it. Unlike the diamond, the emerald revealed itself early and abundantly to humankind almost 6,000 years ago and has been a part of our story ever since.

Ancient records show that the stone was traded in Babylonian markets as early as 4,000 BCE. Emeralds have been traded for so long that National Geographic magazine remarked “ most emeralds move off the record, untaxed, unseen, buried in a world market that the trade calls black. Almost every high quality emerald is smuggled at some time in its history.” If you have an emerald, just imagine the story behind it!

An Oasis in the Desert

Although the emerald was recognized early on, it made its grand entrance around 4,000 years ago with the discovery of the Cleopatra mines, 440 miles southeast of Cairo. The mines were in operation well before the time of Cleopatra, but they were eventually named after her due to the queen’s affinity for them. The mines would go on to produce emeralds for all the world throughout the biblical period and the middle ages until 1237 CE.

The earliest emeralds from Egypt and Pakistan were traded by way of the silk route. It was during this time that mantras were inscribed on emeralds and served as protective talismans as part of early Sanskrit tradition. The name of Judah was engraved into an emerald on the Ephod, the ritual breastplate worn by the High Priests of Judaism and represented the house of Judah.

The Classical Era

Like Cleopatra, Aristotle was also a fan of emeralds and would refer to them in his writing. Emeralds are said to bestow eloquence during speeches on the wearer and bring victory in trials and wars. This tradition began with the Greeks.

The Greeks also assigned the emerald its most enduring meaning-the eternal symbol of love. Emeralds were regarded as the sacred stone of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. The Greeks would wear Emeralds on Friday to honor the goddess and included the emerald in their mythology. For instance, when Hermes engraved the Words of Creation, the most powerful words in the world, it was on an emerald tablet.

Following in the footsteps of the Greeks, the Romans continued the traditional of emeralds and love and used them to pay tribute to Venus. They believed that emeralds had a life of their own and as an emerald matured its color would become darker. The Romans cherished emeralds for their supernatural powers and also for their practical application. The Emperor Nero was said to own a pair of emerald sunglasses that would shield his eyes during gladiator matches.

The New World Holds a Secret

Unbeknownst to the rest of the world, South America was harboring the most beautiful and spectacular emeralds. It wasn’t until the Spanish conquistadors arrived that the rest of the world found out what they were missing.

According to legend, the Incas had a giant emerald the size of an ostrich egg who they believed was the incarnation of their goddess Umina. The Incas worshipped their emerald queen and brought her smaller emeralds (thought to be her daughters) when they sought the goddess’ intervention. When the conquistadors arrived and looted the goddess’ temple, they took all of the emerald gifts presented to her, but were never able to find the queen, despite numerous attempts.

It is also rumored that Hernan Cortez tried to bring a boat load of impressive emeralds taken from the Aztecs back to Spain, but the boat was lost at sea. The collection of beautiful hand-carved emeralds in the shape of fish and flowers and other emeralds, including one said to be the size of a man’s hand (or maybe an ostrich egg?) was lost forever.

But the most lucrative acquisition of the conquest was the a mine at Muzo near Columbia.  The Spaniards enslaved the local population for the purpose of mining emeralds.  To this day, Muzo is still an important mine and Columbian emeralds dominate in the market.

What is unique to Columbia is special kind of emerald known as the trapiche emerald. Encased within a trapiche emerald is an imprint that resembles a flower. Its presence is due to dark carbon impurities present within the emerald.

Emeralds in Modern Times

Today, most of the world’s emeralds come from Columbia, Brazil and Zambia and they are still one of the most coveted gemstones. In fact, celebrities have treasured emeralds since the golden age of Hollywood.

Marlene Dietrich loved her emeralds and wore two bracelets and a brooch set with emeralds in most of her movies. The regal Grace Kelly also had a magnificent emerald (12 carats worth!) given to by Prince Rainier. And who could forget Cleopatra herself,  Elizabeth Taylor, with her own collection of emerald jewelry. Some of her collection even came from the Grand Duchess Vladimir in Russia.

Emerald Legends

Today emeralds have been assigned all kinds of meanings. Below is a list of some of the things an emerald can represent

  • Emeralds traditionally represent true love and are said to change color when the loved one is being unfaithful
  • Emeralds were also thought to change color to alert the wearer of impending danger. Ever wonder if your emerald has tried to tell you something?
  • Besides love, emeralds are a symbol of loyalty, devotion, adoration and friendship
  • Emeralds were also regarded as supernatural and gave the wearer the ability to see into the future if the emerald was worn on the left side of the body or touched to the tongue. Emeralds also serve as protective talismans and guard against enchantments and spells.
  • The Greeks also believed that apart from giving the owner eloquence, an emerald also made the wearer more intelligent and honest.
  • Because of their green color, emeralds are associated with rebirth and spring and are said to boost creativity. They also open the door to new possibilities.

Make an emerald a part of your collection and let it protect you and guide you.

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