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Emeralds : The Green Gem of Egypt

Updated on February 5, 2010
Ancient Egyptian Emerald Mine
Ancient Egyptian Emerald Mine

Emeralds have been seen throughout history and are considered a symbol of power and wealth and are even found in the crowns of royalty.  The remarkable green color draws the eye and the sparkle of the stone makes it a gem that is just as coveted as the diamond.  While the diamond is often considered the most precious stone in the world, when compared carat to carat, the emerald is the most costly gem in the entire world.

Many people believe that emeralds can be found anywhere, but this is not the case.  Traditionally speaking, some of the oldest emeralds have come from Egypt, dating back 260 million years!  In fact, the Cleopatra mines are famous for the large number of emeralds that came out of the mines over a large span of time.  The mines are found about 450 miles south and east of Cairo. They were mined not only by the Egyptian people but also the Romans and the Turks in an attempt to remove every gemstone of value from the site.  While the mining was tiresome the Cleopatra mines were mined exhaustively for over 1,500 years from 330 B.C.E. until 1237 C.E!

The people of Egypt not only thought that the emeralds were beautiful, they thought that they had special powers.  In fact, the emerald was said to have healing powers, with the ability to cure disease.  Men and women also used the gems to help with fertility.  These touted powers made the gems even more attractive to those far and away.  These powers made the emerald even more highly sought by the average person as well as royalty.

Egypt was thought to have the only emeralds in the world until the sixteenth century when in 1558 the Spanish found a mine in Muzo, near Columbia.  In this mine there were emeralds of every size and some of them were the largest that had been found to date.  The Spanish claimed the mine and even required the locals to work in the mine to extract all of the gems that could be removed.  The result is that there were a large number of emeralds making their way back to Europe, where the royalty took note and quickly made the gems a part of their royal jewel collections.

What is interesting is that the desire to own emeralds continues today.  The gems are so highly coveted that law makers have stated that the smuggling of these gems is still a real issue.  While most people cannot afford them, everyone wants them.  The result is that a large number of emeralds have been smuggled at some point in their history, which makes each and every gem even more interesting to its owner.

One of the largest issues with emeralds is their delicate nature. Nearly all emeralds have flaws in them, it is just their nature. In an effort to make them more presentable it has been common practice to oil emeralds to help fill in the inclusions. In fact, all emeralds are oiled. The process fills the voids and cracks within the emerald making them appear less included and helping to improve their durability by reducing the chance that an internal inclusion will develop in to a surface fracture.

The oils used are clear oils and do not affect the look or color of the gem, only fill the inclusions. There are enhancements that you should be aware of though. These enhancements can include dying or opticon treating, both used to enhance the color. There is nothing wrong with these processes as long as the treatment has been fully disclosed by the seller. These treatments, much like enhancing diamonds, allow people the purchase what appear to be higher quality gems at bargain prices.

In recent years synthetic emerald stones have become very popular.  This is not an issue as long as the buyer knows that they are buying a synthetic gemstone, but it is an issue when someone believes that they are buying an authentic emerald.  Buying with caution is important, and consumers are urged to do their research and only buy from the most qualified jewelers to ensure that they get what they are paying for in their emerald purchase.

Identifying synthetic emeralds often requires specialized equipment such as a refractomoter, long and short wave fluorescence and specific gravity testers. However, if you look at your emerald under magnification and can find no flaws in it then it is usually safe to assume that it is synthetic, or even a stimulant such as green CZ. If you have any doubts though, you can always bring your emerald jewelry to us here at Jewelry By Morgan or a local, trusted, jeweler.

Emeralds have a long and glorious history of being some of the most desirable gems on the planet. Their vivid greens and the unique character make each gem special in it’s own way. If you are considering an emerald purchase we would love to help you select the right gemstone just for you.


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    • Feydakin profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Indiana

      @Kuee, I have see so much junk come from foreign countries it makes me sick.. The worst is almost anything from the Carribbean.. Those places are just tourist traps.. Unless you really know a local, or do a lot of buying, it is nearly impossible to not get ripped off..

    • M.s Fowler profile image

      M.s Fowler 

      11 years ago from United states

      Beautiful hub!

    • Kuee profile image


      11 years ago from New Plymouth, New Zealand

      Wow, when I was in Thailand, I payed a small fortune for an emerald necklace, sourced through Burma. I knew instantly the setting was crap, not good gold as promised. I paid the asking price because I knew of its supposed healing properties and wanted my mother to have this jewellry. I was only 18, so I guess they saw me coming. My mother took it with what I see now as great grace, but I offered to get it valued but she insisted it was not needed. many many years later, I discivered she had the necklace valued, and that it was totally glass. Sure I felt cheated, but I felt for my mum as I had given it to her assuring her it was the real thing. I am most interested in the use of oils, this will stay in my mind for future reference, and to pass on to other people. Excellent article. How about one on Tigers eye or maybe Malachite? Two of my fave gemstones, I used to practice lapidary, but it became financially beyond my reach, yet I remain fascinated in all gems and stones, either for beauty or powers held within.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      This is a great article and it helped me lots. Thank you and write more!


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