Everything you didn’t know about emeralds

Image of a strand of emeralds, and emeralds pairs and pendants
Emeralds are renowned for their beautiful green color and unique cut. They’re a popular gemstone that looks fantastic against every skin tone and suits every occasion. Emeralds are a beryl crystal, putting them in the same family as aquamarines and morganite, and are naturally hexagonal in shape. Emeralds get their color from trace amounts of other elements, just like diamonds or sapphires. Chromium is the most common element leading to that beautiful saturated green hue, though sometimes it’s vanadium instead.  Vanadium emeralds have only been considered a true “emerald” since the ’60s, and, even then, only within the US.

A brief history

Emeralds have been loved for their color for millennia, starting around 1500 BCE when ancient Egyptians started mining for the beautiful green gem. It’s been used in jewelry and as icons all over the world, with some pretty interesting stories surrounding the more notable stones. The Spanish explorer, Hernán Cortés, brought a sizable collection of emeralds with him from Central America, with one having a Bible passage engraved on one of its sides. Notable historian Brantôme considered this to be sacrilegious, as no one should deface something so beautiful, and claimed it was the reason Cortés lost an extremely valuable pearl. Brantôme was so incensed over this loss, he wrote an entire work dedicated to the pearl. He also claimed the engraving led to the death of King Charles IX of France, because why not.

What’s in a name?

How we eventually got to the name “emerald” is far more interesting than the socio-political bickering of 16th century Spain. The journey starts with the Semitic word “baraq”, meaning shine. This later became the Arabic word “barq” for lighting, and the Hebrew word “bareqeth” for emerald. From “bareqeth” came the Greek word “smaragdos” meaning green gem, which was used to refer to both emeralds and malachite. Latin adopted “smaragdos” and turned it into “smaragdus”, evolving into the Medieval Latin “esmaraldus”, then Old French “esmeraude” and, finally, Middle English “emeraude”, meaning “bright green precious stone”.