Emeralds: hisorty, origin and curiosities about the green gemstone
Emeralds represent the green gems par excellence and the most spread ones are of course the Colombian emeralds. The history of these precious gems has been characterized by enchanting legends, symbols and meanings.
“Even with eyes protected by the green spectacles, Dorothy and her friends were at first dazzled by the brilliancy of the wonderful City. The streets were lined with beautiful houses all built of green marble and studded everywhere with sparkling emeralds. They walked over a pavement of the same green marble, and where the blocks were joined together were rows of emeralds, set closely, and glittering in the brightness of the sun”.
This is the view seen by the protagonists of the famous children novel “The Marvelous Wizard of Oz”, written by Frank L Baum, that tells about the adventures of Dorothy, form Kansas, with a Scarecrow looking for a brain, a Tin Woodman without a heart and a coward Lion. During their journey, they reach the Emerald City and, thanks to the power of the red shoes, they are admitted to enter. The guardian of Oz gives them green spectacles that allow to see the splendor of the city, rich of bright emeralds that glitter in the sun.
Everybody, children or adults, would be fascinated by the description of the Emerald City, without avoiding to daydream and be charmed by a world of rare, bright and enchanting emeralds.
The emerald is the green gem par excellence and its same name derives for the Greek term smaragdos, that means “green gemstone”. Emerald’s hue is so brilliant and deep that, maybe, it is the main characteristic that makes it one of the the most desired gem in the world.
In the ancient time, the main mines of emeralds were in Egypt. The Cleopatra mines (named after a queen we loved so much this gem) were full of gorgeous examples and they were the main sources, till the kingdom of the sultan AlKalem.
Nowadays, as we know, the principal sources of emeralds are in Colombia, but in the past Colombian emeralds were unknown, so that the main ones were defined Oriental. This gem spread in Orient thanks to the merchants of tribes dwelling at the north-east of the Don. These savage tribes sold emeralds to populations living in Scythia, but the origin of these gems was unknown and mysterious. This people believed that emeralds originated in deep caverns, guarded by magic cruel monsters, and bravest men could be able to take emeralds only thanks to the help of dead spirits.
The tribes form the mountains were not the only one to have myths and legends about emeralds. As we told, South America had, and it presently has, many sources of emeralds and, according to the legend, ancient Peruvian tribes venerated an example of emerald characterized by very remarkable dimensions and called Emerald-goddess or Chastity goddess. People used to pay homage to the goddess with beautiful emeralds, often thrown in the water to emphasize the tribute. For this, several lakes, as Titicaca and Guatavita, got full of precious gems and, later on, they become objects of interest as it was believed they hid rare treasures.
The emerald-goddess had the power to protect against misfortune and preserve the chastity and loyalty of women. We do not have to be surprised if this superstition spread over the centuries, till the present time. Already before the Middle Ages, people believed that emerald could reveal betrayals and, for this, some men used to give jewels with emeralds to their brides, just to have an alarm bell. This power depended on the clear nature of the gem, as if it used to “despise” and turn against unclean actions. Ancients also suggested not to wear jewels with emeralds during intimate moments, otherwise these jewels wold have broken up; this legend could be proved by the emerald ring of an Hungarian king, that broke up in three parts during the wedding night with the queen.
The strong link between emerald and conception of loyalty has reached the present time. Nowadays the gem seems to have lost its “power” to disclose love betrayals – maybe it has decided not to think about matters that do not concern it – but it still is symbol of loyalty and honesty, really appropriate characteristics considering its clarity and magnificence.
These are not the only powers associated to the gem in the past. The Romans believed that emerald was healthy for the eyes. The writer Pliny sustained that this gem could help the sight, stunting possible diseases. The emperor Nero himself used to attend the luid looking thought a concave emerald. We can image what this debatable emperor wold have done to get his hands on the green spectacles of the Wizard of Oz.
We do not know the origin of Nero’s emerald-spectacles, or the origin of those ones in the Emerald City (even if, in this case, we could try to image), but it is certain that the main mines of emeralds are in South America. We are talking about the mines of Muzo, Coscuez and Chivor.
It is often said that these mines were discovered by the Spanish conquistadores, but it would better to say that they were stolen to the natives, as they already knew and venerated emeralds. The gems form Muzo and Coscuez are the most precious for their colour intensity and saturation. Chivor mines, at north-east of Bogota, have emeralds with less fractured crystals, but lighter hue. The secondary hues that characterize these emeralds can also indicate their origin, as the blue and yellow colours represent respectively the gems form Chivor and Muzo. However, it could be difficult to recognize them, as some emeralds form Muzo and Coscuez, that are really near, may vary in hue. In these cases, the preference for one gem or another depends on personal opinion, taking into consideration the quality of crystals. The emerald’s hue derives form the presence (major or minor) of some chromophore elements in the beryllium’s crystal lattice, such as chrome, iron and vanadium. Moreover, according to some observers, the emeralds with blue secondary hue seem to be deeper and warmer, as if they could trap the fire.
We do not have to be surprised if a rare and precious gem as emerald was able to fascinate and seduce ancient populations, as it does with us. Emeralds have been more that simple ornamental gems, as they represented exceptional virtues, acquiring great powers: it was a therapeutic gem, a venerated and loved goddess, it represented loyalty and honesty, becoming a real talisman. Each emerald in our catalogue is bright and clear, moreover it also reveals the echos of mystery, magic and sacredness that characterized the gem during the centuries. Therefor, it is obvious that everyone would desire to enjoy the splendor of the green gemstone, maybe fighting the monsters of Don’s caverns, or coming beck to the Emerald City with Dorothy, looking for hearts, brains, braveness and bad witches; after all, you only need a pair of red shoes.